A planned Los Angeles Metro expansion has hit a snag after a headstone turned up in a resident’s backyard. 

When neighbors in a Lawndale neighborhood learned about Metro’s plans to build a new C (Green) Line in the area, they thought it was imperative to let officials know about the gravestones. But at least one resident said that when he spoke up, he was met with dismay.  

Jay Gould said that ever since he was a child, he remembers his father talking about the burial ground in their backyard.  

“I just started digging like crazy and started finding them again,” he told KTLA’s Rachel Menitoff.

So far, one gravestone is visible, but Gould believes there may be as many as 17. After hearing about Metro’s extension along the railroad tracks and through his yard, he spoke up.

Metro expansion on hold after gravestone discovered in Lawndale backyard
Lawndale resident Jay Gould is seen in his backyard after the discovery of Earle Hoffman’s grave marker. Oct. 2, 2023. (@Gnomeking)

“I told Metro over a year ago. I’ve told them three or four times and they would be standing in the back of the room, going, ‘You’re crazy!’” he said. “There’s a reason they were buried here. I haven’t seen the bodies, but I know there’s a reason.”  

According to the City of Lawndale, the possible burial site is out of their hands because the land is in Metro’s right of way. Sean Moore, Lawndale City Manager, said Metro will almost certainly need to conduct a brand-new environmental study of the area.  

“In fact, I had asked an executive with Metro, I had asked them at a meeting a couple of weeks ago if they were aware of any gravestones or headstones or cemeteries,” Moore said. “He said that as of the last 100 years, they have no record of anything like that.”  

Like any good story, though, the intrigue continues.  

The gravestone in Gould’s backyard belongs to Earle Hoffman, a Jewish World War II veteran who died on Dec. 14, 1951. His nephew, Cory Cohen, said every year his family visits his uncle’s burial plot at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, which is almost 10 miles away.  

Metro expansion on hold after gravestone discovered in Lawndale backyard
A photo of Earle Hoffman, a Jewish WW II veteran who died in 1951, next to his grave marker in the backyard of a Lawndale home. Oct. 2, 2023.

“We would go visit Uncle Earle and his son, who died at 5, is buried right next to him, and his parents are a row away,” he told KTLA. 

Cohen added that his uncle’s entire family is buried there, and Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary confirmed that Hoffman was buried on the grounds on Dec. 16, 1951, two days after his death.  

As for his uncle’s other gravestone in Lawndale, he has no idea how that came to be. But hopes that the situation is handled with the care and respect it deserves.

“For us, just peace of mind,” Cohen said. “We want this resolved so we know where our family member is.”  

Metro told KTLA that it plans to work with the Los Angeles County Department of the Medical Examiner, the city and property owners to investigate the site, and if a burial ground is discovered on Metro’s property, it will then use archeological experts to determine whether there are human remains.  

So far, though, Metro has not answered any questions about how this discovery impacts the timing of their scheduled expansion project.  

Metro’s full statement reads as follows:

On Sept. 28, Metro was notified by the City of Lawndale that yesterday, a resident discovered a headstone on or adjacent to the Metro-owned Right-of-Way (ROW) that is currently under consideration as an alternative alignment for Metro’s C (Green) Line to Torrance project. The City Manager indicated that he was contacting the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and suggested that Metro may need to investigate as well.  

The California Health and Safety Code (Sections 7050.5, 7051, and 7054) has specific provisions for the protection of human burial remains, as well as procedures to be implemented if Native American skeletal remains are discovered. The LA County Coroner acts as lead in assessing potential burial sites. Metro is working with the Environmental Department and LA Coroner’s office to schedule a site visit and receive a report.   

Metro will work with the LA Coroner’s office, the City of Lawndale and the property owner to investigate the site and survey the property line. If it is confirmed the potential burial site is on Metro property, Metro would use on-call archeological and paleontological experts to determine if there are human remains. If human remains are discovered, Metro will follow the California Health and Safety Code provisions and provide updated information on any further investigations that are necessary.