On May 17, when the ground was being opened at Greenwood Cemetery for the burial of Christopher Hartnett, 51, who died Jan. 28, the excavators found something that shouldn’t have been there, even in a cemetery — a human skeleton.
Sharon Wiek, Christopher’s mother, said the Hartnett family owns six plots at the cemetery, which is managed by the City of Hayward, and only one plot has ever been officially used — for her 4-year-old son Jeffrey, who died in 1965.
Wiek was told the diggers found a skull, ribs and a femur, and the remains were not in a casket or pine box.
Hayward Public Works Director John McCue confirmed the details and added the remains were relocated to another site pending direction by the Hayward Funeral Home and Sawyer County Coroner John Froemel. Meanwhile, Christopher’s remains were placed in another family plot.
Now the question focuses on the skeleton.
“We have requested a DNA test, because I want to know,” Wiek said.
One detail that raises her interest is the location of the skeleton’s burial.
“What’s curious for me is it was right beside my Jeffrey,” she said. “It’s not random.”
McCue believes the skeleton might belong to a person who died during the Depression years of the 1930s, a time when many people were impoverished and family members may have buried the body without proper notification.
Froemel, who became the county coroner in November 2018, said he has never dealt with this type of situation.
He has contacted the Sawyer County sheriff’s department and Hayward police department and also the Wisconsin Historical Society for the proper protocol to follow.
“I found out that this is not that unusual,” he said. “The historical society said they get a lot of calls like this from around the state, because a lot of these older cemeteries were not plotted well years ago.”
The historical society put Froemel in contact with an agency in Texas that will do free DNA tests on the skeleton and possible related living family members to help confirm the identity of the skeleton.
To rule out any distant Hartnett family members, Froemel will obtain DNA samples from them.
There’s also interest in a missing person investigation, and Froemel is attempting to obtain DNA from members of that family as well.
Froemel said he and his four deputies would appear at the cemetery with McCue and exhume the remains, which will then be secured until all DNA testing is complete.
McCue said when he is given approval the remains will be reburied in another section of the cemetery.