by Robert A. Waters
Paula Ream, who died in 1962, was much-loved. She never walked, never spoke, never did the things “normal” children did. She was born with a crippling, fatal disease called cerebral palsy.
But Paula had a family that cared. Her father made sure that she got a special chair so she could be comfortable. Her sisters changed her diapers and carried her wherever she went. Her mother worked outside the home but nurtured and loved her handicapped child.
Everyone who knew little Paula remembered her smile. The music and dancers on “American Bandstand” made her smile. Going for automobile rides made her smile. Simple things that most of us take for granted brought pleasure to the little girl who would never grow up.
She died when she was nine. Like previous generations of her family, Paula was buried in the Riverview Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
When her parents died, they were buried nearby. Other relatives passed on and were laid to rest in the same cemetery. To this day, family members visit the graves, including that of the child who never stood a chance.
That was why it was so baffling when police showed up at the door of Cass O’Dell and informed her that her sister’s child-size casket and remains had been stolen. Someone, a police chaplain said, had dug up Paula’s grave and removed everything except the vault and the metal plate that marked the grave.
Who could have committed such an unspeakable atrocity? At this time, no one knows.
“[Paula] was at the head of Babyland,” O’Dell said, referring to the section of Riverview Cemetery reserved for infants and the very young. “How did they pick her? A baby, a child who was like a baby? It’s just upsetting to all of us.”
Lancaster Police spokesman Tim Fry spoke to reporters. “This is an active investigation,” he said. “I don’t know of this happening in the twenty years I’ve been here in or around any of our burial parks.”
In recent months, bones of chickens and a circle of candles have been found nearby. This has led to speculation that local teenagers were responsible for practicing black magic or devil worship.
However, the consensus among family and many investigators is that the crime is more sinister. The grave-robbers may have been members of a cult that practices Palo Mayombe, a mystical Cuban-African religion. Experts informed local police that some practitioners use human skulls as part of their ritualistic ceremonies. The powers of a young child’s skull are thought to be even more potent than that of an adult and are highly prized, according to academics who study these religions.
Whatever the answer, the family is devastated. Fay Hamm, another of Paula’s sisters, spoke for the family. “I hope they trip themselves up and get caught,” she said. “I hope and pray for that every day. Everybody has lost a loved one, and you don’t want them to end up like that. To take Paula’s body is unbelievable.”
Lancaster City-County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible. You may contact them at 800-222-8477.