There’s nothing quite like waking up to a message from the Phoenix Police Department that they recovered a gravestone from a cemetery in Central Heights and were seeking information to return the marker to its owner’s grave. Lee Ann Powers, of Globe, received the message from Officer Matt Bowers, through the online database findagrave.com.
Through collaborating with the Phoenix PD, local volunteer Joe Skamel and local Croatian Toni Wantland, the location of John S. Chovich’s markerless grave was located and his marker returned.
How did a gravestone from Central Heights wind up at the PPD? The marker was laying in an alleyway in a Phoenix neighborhood, and an unknown person moved it to the front yard of a house, whose owner called the police. Nothing else is known. The marker is new, although Mr. Chovich died in 1935, and so the mystery deepens.
Skamel and Powers are volunteers for findagrave. com, a volunteer-driven website for searching and adding to an online database of cemetery records, now owned by ancestry. com.
Skamel is a volunteer at Gila County Historical Museum and has been working with the City of Globe to re-map the Globe cemetery. Powers is the research assistant at Bullion Plaza Cultural Center and Museum in Miami, and her main job there is to use the microfilm of the old Arizona Silver Belt and Arizona Records newspapers and digitize them for research and preservation.
As she goes through the microfilm, she saves obituaries she finds and adds them to the findagrave memorials. John Chovich is one of those she created a memorial for, using his obituary and online death certificate. This is how Bowers found her.
Pinal Cemetery in Central Heights is a conglomeration of public and private cemeteries. The Croatian, Serbian, Elks, Masons, Alianza Hispano Americano (AHA), and Resthaven sections are privately owned.
Chovich was buried in the Croatian section in the Besich family plot, as he was married to Mary Besich Chovich. It is not clear how Besich Chovich was related to the local Besich family, but she was probably a cousin. Little is known of Chovich, except that he was born in 1896 in Dalmatia (a region of Croatia), and married Besich Chovich in Gila County in 1927. He died in California in 1935 in a mining accident.
It is against the law to deface or damage grave sites. Depending on the amount of damage, the penalty can be as little as a Class 1 misdemeanor or as much as a Class 1 felony.