I could say a whole lot about this one but I’ll just say it was enough to make me cry.

Cincinnati on the Gypsy trail

By Rick Van Sant, Post staff reporter

A couple of women in expensive-looking running outfits are strolling down a road in affluent Indian Hill.   They spot an elderly resident working in her garden behind her expensive home.   The women try the front door. It's unlocked.  The women enter the house, quickly find a jewelry drawer and stash the gems under their running outfits.   They leave the house, stroll down the street and are picked up by a man in a car. The jewelry is dumped into a pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope and put in a mailbox.

The method of operation and efficiency of the heist can only mean one thing: the gypsies are back.  ''They come every year like clockwork,'' says Indian Hill Rangers Capt. Will McQueen.   ''They're here a week before Memorial Day and remain into a portion of the summer. We warn people every year, but every year the gypsies get us.''  McQueen says the gypsies recently got a couple of Indian Hill residents, including a widow who had her treasured family jewels lifted in a very quick and very professional crime.  As usual, there were no arrests in the gypsy heists.

''Nobody saw a thing,'' says McQueen. ''But there's no doubt it was the gypsies. That's the way they work.''   As gypsies come north with the warm weather, various heists and scams are reported throughout the Midwest, with the Cincinnati area a favorite gypsy stopover.  ''That's because of Spring Grove Cemetery,'' says McQueen. ''A lot of their leaders and family are buried there.''  Gypsies began burying relatives in the mammoth, beautiful cemetery last century, after reportedly taking a liking to the area because a local funeral home director had extended credit to a broke gypsy.  The Spring Grove gypsy burial tradition continues today, and while the number of burials has decreased in recent years, many gypsies still visit the cemetery, especially on Memorial Day.  ''One Memorial Day, we video taped every gypsy car that came into the cemetery,'' recalls McQueen. ''They didn't like it, but they left us alone the rest of that year.''  Spring Grove Cemetery officials refuse to discuss the gypsy burials, citing rights of privacy. However, one Spring Grove staffer conceded that gypsies are a ''touchy subject'' at the cemetery.

Gypsies, who also use St. Joseph's New Cemetery in Price Hill, like to bring lots of expensive flowers to the cemeteries.   A Cincinnati funeral director who counts gypsies among his clients, but requested anonymity, said he realizes police are on the lookout for gypsy scams and burglaries.  ''I've had no problems with the gypsies, but I don't know what they do after they leave here,'' he said.  ''Gypsies are very closed-mouth, no matter how many years you've dealt with them. They train their children not to say much.''

Retired University of Cincinnati history professor Paul Erwin has studied the gypsy burial tradition in Cincinnati and written about it in academic papers.  ''Cincinnati cemeteries have become the final resting places for thousands of gypsies whose north-south annual migrations have passed through the Queen City each spring and fall,'' Erwin reported in one of his academic papers.  ''Among gypsies, funerals are especially significant family reunion occasions and great homage is paid to the honored dead. (Gypsies) expend enormous sums (of money) on caskets, vaults and flowers for the deceased.  ''One year a local florist in Northside was paid $35,000 for flowers for Memorial Day. A businessman recalled that one day an auto agency sold the gypsies 35 new Cadillacs and they paid cash.''  

As for their source of money, Erwin noted that between Easter and Memorial Day, ''the clans would linger in the area around Cincinnati, plying their trades of metal repair, lace and basket selling, fortune telling and appropriating other goods when necessary.''  Erwin also noted that gypsies would tour Cincinnati neighborhoods, ''offering to cheaply resurface a blacktop driveway or paint a roof for homeowners, who are unaware of their scam tactics.''

Publication date: 07-15-97

© Copyright 1997, The Cincinnati Post. All Rights Reserved.

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