More than 70 tombstones and statuettes stolen from Eastern Washington cemeteries have been recovered from the home of a self-described Satanist.
Now, with Memorial Day coming up, Stevens County authorities are asking families to consider checking in on loved ones’ graves in cemeteries located in Chewelah and Valley, Wash., to avoid the possibility of discovering empty holes where gravestones once rested.
“We will be working to get a hold of the people (whose relatives or friends are) in the Chewelah cemetery so they are not disappointed when they find their loved ones’ gravestones are missing,” Stevens County Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Harbolt said. “It’s a little eerie.”
Terry L. Verhaag, 48, faces three counts of unlawful removal of a grave marker, based on the headstones he said came from cemeteries in Loon Lake, Valley and Chewelah. Further investigation determined that most if not all the markers came only from the latter two.
Verhaag told authorities he didn’t do anything wrong; he merely wanted to bless the grave markers with holy water.
He’ll appear early this week for arraignment, Deputy Stevens County Prosecutor Matt Enzler said.
The investigation began on May 1, when a police officer arrested Verhaag for disorderly conduct outside a Safeway store in Chewelah. Witnesses had overheard him saying he had “bodies and bones in bags.”
“Terry Verhaag also … advised that he was a Satan worshiper and at a later point advised witnesses that he was Jesus Christ and a king,” according to charging documents filed by Stevens County Sheriff’s Detective Iain Ashley.
The case remains under investigation, but Harbolt said investigators have found no evidence to support Verhaag’s claims that bodies had been unearthed.
“When you unearth a bunch of headstones, that’s approaching as bad as you can get,” Harbolt said. “But digging up grave sites? He didn’t get that bizarre. But he was approaching it.”
Verhaag was brought in for questioning on May 3. Ashley, the detective, started reading the names off gravestones found at Verhaag’s home, at 3652 W. Jump Off Joe Road in Valley.
Verhaag “told us that he knew these people and that they were family members,” Ashley wrote. “He then began to explain many other things to us including his suspicions about human sacrifices, vampires, his finger being cut off and regenerating, seeing the top half of the Statue of Liberty in Provo, Utah, in 2008 and other matters that appeared to concern him.”
Verhaag further told the detectives that he intended to take the grave markers home “and bless them with holy water,” Ashley wrote. Verhaag “also advised us that he did not think that what he had done was illegal. He was informed otherwise.”
After detectives obtained search warrants for Verhaag’s home, they found headstones in Verhaag’s pickup, in his yard and inside buildings around his property. Some were set up in a “display” in a van parked on the property.
Said Harbolt, “In his mind, he was either cleansing them or purifying them. Who knows what was going on in his mind.”
The prosecution will include a mental evaluation for Verhaag, who is well-known to law enforcement after arrests for several minor crimes, Harbolt said.
The curator from the cemetery in Valley found a list identifying where most of its grave markers should be, but Harbolt said he hasn’t received a similar list from the Chewelah cemetery.
“A lot of the unnamed ones probably will never be able to be put back where they belong,” Harbolt said. Various accessories such as vases and flags will be difficult to return, he said.
Verhaag only used a shovel and his own strength to load the gravestones into his truck and take them home. Harbolt said his back was still sore after removing them from Verhaag’s property.
“I tell my people that we are doing God’s work,” he said. “We are trying to get them back to everybody. It’s quite bizarre.”