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Study raises questions about potential graves under businesses in Tampa cemetery

Pepin Distributing Co. and a Family Dollar store in Tampa are areas of concern for a USF researcher investigating erased cemeteries.

TAMPA, Fla. — A new report from the University of South Florida suggests the footprint of Tampa’s Myrtle Hill Cemetery was once much larger than it is today, raising questions about whether graves were ever present under two businesses that sit on the land today.

"At a point and time, there were over 55 acres of Myrtle Hill Cemetery that were sold and parceled out,” said Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the USF who’s been researching erased cemeteries in the Tampa Bay area for several years.

“A number of businesses have since been built on those different parcels, and there was an easement that was related to the road that falls to the county,” she told 10 Investigates' Emerald Morrow last week.

Pepin Distributing Co. and Family Dollar are two stores Kimmerle identified as on top of the land that had been sold and redeveloped. It is unclear if there were ever graves on the site.

When 10 Investigates reached out to Pepin Distributing Co., a spokesperson said it was the first they had ever heard of the land once being part of Myrtle Hill Cemetery and that the company’s vice president will look into the matter.

10 Investigates has not yet heard back from Family Dollar’s parent company.


Kimmerle drew her conclusion about Myrtle Hill’s shrinking site using land records and historical maps. Today’s maps show the cemetery bound by E. Lake Avenue and N. 50th Street to the East. Historical maps show the cemetery filling several parcels across the other side of N. 50th Street where Pepin Distributing Co. is today. Kimmerle says property records for the Family Dollar are clear on what was on the site.

"The land deed says it was a cemetery when it was initially sold,” she said.

The Hillsborough County Commission in 2020 hired Kimmerle to research erased, abandoned and destroyed cemeteries that might be on county property after a cascade of archaeological discoveries under apartments, schools and businesses across the area.

“I believed then, as I do now, that we have a moral obligation to see if indeed any of these sites exist on land we manage,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said in 2022. “We owe that to the families and the community as a matter of human decency.”

Last year, Kimmerle presented a list of initial findings, which included about 45 cemeteries. Some of them were already known, but many lacked location data or information about burials.

Her most recent report being presented to commissioners on Wednesday focuses on four sites connected to county properties: Lewis Cemetery, Carney Memorial Site, Marti-Colon/West Tampa Cemetery and Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

This is not the first time there have been questions about burials at Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Previous reporting from 10 Investigates detailed concerns about people buried in the old St. Mary’s Cemetery along N. Florida Avenue.

Archaeologists believe there may have been hundreds of people buried at the site later taken over by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. The Diocese told 10 Investigates, but available records suggest only about 100 remains were relocated to Myrtle Hill after the cemetery closed.

Dignity Memorial, the company that owns Myrtle Hill Cemetery, was unable to offer clarification.

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

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