Graves and Gravestones of Cape Cod, Part II: A Murder Site, a Native American Grave, and Two Historic Cemeteries

See Part I, if you want a running start for this article. If not, well, let’s head right to a murder scene.

Receiving Vault of Murder (Truro)

The receiving vault pulled up to was brick and built into the side of a small hill. It was used to store the dead during winter when the ground’s too frozen to plant. Lots of cemeteries have them. Few have been used by serial killers to dismember victims.

Tony Costa is suspected of killing as many as eight women on Cape Cod. Some have even tried to link him to the Lady of the Dunes (see Part I), although he hanged  himself in prison two months before her body was found. He never got to see Jaws. He was convicted of killing two women in 1969 in his marijuana field in the forest behind Pine Grove Cemetery in Truro. He cut them into pieces and buried them in the area.

Today, driving down that half-mile dirt road to the cemetery, the area still feels secluded. We drove to the back of it, the dirt road under our tires continuing out a side entrance to the original murder site. We didn’t go that far. We stopped at the vault where he is supposed to have taken the bodies apart. I talked my six year old into opening the door. She did and jumped back, giving me a triptych of photos I will always treasure. Inside it was as empty as the tomb of Christ, the graffiti face on the back wall unchanged as far back as at least 2013, based on photos online.

There’s no real evidence that Costa used this nearby structure to dismember his freshly killed victims. But that’s what the stories say. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But something needs to be haunted when bad stuff happens. Might as well be the receiving vault of a hidden cemetery adjacent to a murder site.

Grave of a Wampanoag Woman (Wellfleet)

It’s a solitary grave in the woods, a flat slab of stone covered in seashell offerings at the head of the Great Island trail in Wellfleet, close to the parking lot. It marks the remains of a sixteenth century woman of the Wampanoag people. But she hasn’t reposed in that spot since the 1500s.

Her remains were found during an excavation in 1953. They were taken to the local historical society and put on display for two decades. In 1976, after a bout of conscience, she was buried there under the stone, the epitaph of which bears a bit of balderdash about giving the Native Americans giving the land up so this country could grow. 

Now she’s the guardian of Great Island. Lay a seashell on her stone before you leave.

Cove Burying Ground (Eastham)

It’s more a clearing than a cemetery, with the headstones sparse. But it does boast three Mayflower passengers: Lieutenant Joseph Rogers (1608-1678), Constance Hopkins (1605-1677), and Giles Hopkins (1607-1690). Their gravestones don’t survive, but each has a memorial.

The burying ground dates back to about 1646, although the oldest surviving stones date back to the early eighteenth century. You’re there for the Mayflower passengers, but you’ll still find interesting winged skulls in the slate and a few illegible fieldstone markers.

Old North Cemetery (Truro)

As far as ambiance goes, you could find better historic graveyards than this 1713 Truro field. The open sky and the highway adjacent exposes it a bit. Might be cool in a thunderstorm. I mean, of course it would. Everything’s cooler in a thunderstorm.

But, man, does it have a lot of fascinating skull-topped graves, in varying styles and designs, so it’s a lot of fun tripping from stone to stone. And you’ll find stories on those stones, of ship captains and pastors, husbands and wives and children. One epitaph even tells the tale of a man lost at sea. And, of course, all of them holding in common that they all died. Deep ruminations on cemeteries by J.W. Ocker.