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A theft at Forest Lawn leaves family grieving all over again

A theft at Forest Lawn leaves family grieving all over again

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Gigante grave site Forest Lawn (copy)

The Joseph A. Gigante grave site at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo has been robbed of a dancing couple bronze sculpture that was on the front of the stone's elevation. 

Friday marks nine years since the unexpected death of Joseph A. Gigante, longtime owner and operator of Buffalo Paper and Detergent Co., at the age of 70.

Michelle Gigante normally would stop by on the anniversary to see the monument Joseph A. Gigante's devoted wife, Rozanne, and family erected as a tribute to her father at Forest Lawn.

This year, Gigante is too upset to visit because, recently, thieves managed to detach and cart off the bronze statue that topped the monument's granite base.

"What went through my head was, how can I go there now?" she said in an interview. "How can I go sit in that site and be able to handle that kind of a loss, that kind of a violation, and look at that empty stump?"

Gigante

The Gigante statue in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

The statue, which shows a couple dancing together, is worth $46,675 and is one of at least two taken in recent days from Forest Lawn, according to Buffalo police reports.

Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said police have recovered one of the stolen pieces but he declined to say more to avoid jeopardizing the probe into the thefts.

Forest Lawn officials initially gave the same reason for declining to address the incidents. But late Thursday, Joseph Dispenza, president of the Forest Lawn Group of Cemeteries, released a statement saying he was "shocked and heartbroken" by this incident or any other theft or vandalism in the cemeteries.

Police released two reports of statues stolen this month from the historic cemetery along Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. Both were reported to police on Sunday and occurred sometime earlier in the month.

Gigante said she learned of the theft of her parents' statue from her husband, Paul Todaro, who visited the monument on Sunday and discovered the piece was missing.

The statue honors her father, Joseph, who loved going ballroom dancing and listening to live music with his wife, Rozanne, at the popular entertainment venues of Buffalo's past.

"Everybody knew them as the dancers," Michelle Gigante said.

The solid bronze statue is 3 or 4 feet tall and weighs several hundred pounds. 

Rozanne Gigante wanted to honor her late husband and create a space where she and her children and their spouses could be buried when the time comes, her daughter said.

The monument is highlighted in tours at the cemetery, said Michelle Gigante, who added she regularly sees people taking pictures when she visits on a Sunday. During the warmer months, she said she stops by weekly.

"It brings great comfort," she said.

Gigante grave site Forest Lawn (copy)

The bolts and disturbed mortar was pried loose and the item was carried away with evidence of tracks in the snow.

Given the size and weight of the statue and how securely it was attached, Gigante said she doesn't know how a thief or group of thieves carried out the removal of the statue from its granite base and from the cemetery.

"It was not something you could just pick up and walk away with easily," she said.

It's not clear when the theft happened, but vehicles can't access the cemetery grounds at night because the gates are closed between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Gigante said she has since learned that, if the thieves were looking to sell the bronze for scrap, it would earn a paltry return compared to the original cost of the statue and the considerable effort involved in stealing it.

She also said she was disappointed to hear there was little the cemetery could or would do because, Forest Lawn officials told her, the monument is the property and responsibility of the Gigantes.

"My family was deeply saddened by the lack of accountability from Forest Lawn," Gigante said.

In his statement, Dispenza said state regulation dictates that such statues are the property of the families who purchase them.

"We are deeply committed to creating and maintaining the peace and tranquility of our sacred grounds, and have always worked diligently to advise and support families whose memorials have been affected by acts of nature, or more rarely vandalism," he said. "In cases of vandalism, that support includes providing the police with any and all confidential assistance they need, as we are doing now.”

A police report reveals the theft Saturday or Sunday of another bronze statue valued at $3,000. Further information on this theft wasn't available.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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