Cemeteries are tax-exempt, but sometime in the mid-1990s, Fulton County made an error and started taxing the plot of land, according to Karen Meinzen McEnerny, a member of the Friends of the Heard Cemetery. McEnerny spoke on behalf of the alliance, not the city, where she holds the position of District 6 council member.
After a period of time when no taxes were paid on the property, it was turned over to the county tax commissioner’s office. There was a statutory redemption period, however, when any heir of John Heard, the original owner, could redeem the land. Neighbors convinced an heir, Mary Ann Ellis Heard Elsner, to redeem the land and bought it from her via a quit claim deed, with the perception of preserving the cemetery.
Mills, an attorney, reportedly bought the deed on the land from his in-laws, the rightful owners, for $1. Mills is representing himself and would not comment on the suit.
The case will be heard before the Fulton County Superior Court.
Now, in an attempt to raise money for legal assistance to intervene in the lawsuit and gain support, McEnerny, Rachel Rosner, who lives near the cemetery, and others have formed Friends of the Heard Cemetery organization.
The group has reached out to and discovered 22 descendants of Heard, who all were given the right to be buried in the cemetery in Heard’s will.
“Karen and Rachel reached out to me in October and since then, it’s been gathering affidavits for descendants to sign that swear to their descendancy from Heard,” said Preston Heard of Dunwoody John Heard’s great-great-great grandson.
John Heard had 23 children.
Leslie Lowthers, a Johns Creek resident and a great-great granddaughter, said she found out about the cemetery through her uncle, who saw it on the TV news.
Lowthers said she has enjoyed speaking with her newfound cousins and sharing stories.
“I’ve talked to them on the phone and we’ve been emailing each other,” she said. “Each person has a story or picture. It’s been great finding them.”
Heard said he hoped intervening in the case would result in the family regaining the rights to the cemetery, which should have never been sold in the first place.
“I hope that the judge would declare the descendants’ rights under the deed,” he said. “Basically, it needs to be recognized that Fulton County made a mistake in the transfer of ownership.”