The burial, and then reburial, of Olga Keeper is an extraordinary story.
It’s involved a funeral, a looming court battle and then finally an exhumation at Wentworth Falls Cemetery on Tuesday (August 21) nearly three years after her death.
An aged care nurse at Bodington Hospital, Ms Keeper, of Wentworth Falls, died 35 months ago after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis and a fall. So traumatised was her engineer partner of 43 years, Alan Starkey, he couldn’t watch her go into the ground. He stayed at Leura Memorial Gardens and Crematorium with family to comfort him, while she was put in her final resting place – in a plot they had purchased together in 2000.
Or so he thought. But instead Ms Keeper’s son John Forgacs, buried her next to the man who raised him and who his mother divorced, his stepfather John Keeper – against the express wishes of his mother, who had stated in her will where her final resting place would be.
As stepdaughter Annie Hawley explains: “It’s an absolute love story with a horrible ending. I was terrified Dad, who is 84, would pass away before we got this completed. He was prepared to go to the Supreme Court about it.”
The matter was finally settled recently after solicitors, the Department of Health and Blue Mountains Council gave the go ahead for her to be moved a row back. On Tuesday the exhumation took place – Ms Keeper’s remains were taken from the grave from October 2015 and relocated to the plot bought with her partner.
“Dad had said at the time of her death on October 1, 2015, “I can’t watch her be lowered into the hole”, so I asked everyone to stay and support him,” Ms Hawley said.
“None of us realised she was buried in the wrong plot,” she said.
Mr Starkey said they had been together for four decades after falling in love at first sight. They backpacked around the world “10 times together” and he had no plans to abandon her at death.
“Everyone was against it (the exhumation) but I knew what she wanted. I couldn’t leave her there. Our plot numbers were 29 and 30… that was always set in concrete.”
Ms Keeper’s solicitor, Dr Hal Ginges, was one of the three executors of Ms Keeper’s estate, which has also since been settled. He confirmed the story to the Gazette and said there were “very few” cases like it.
“It was a sad story,” he said. “She loved her partner and her son, but she knew they weren’t always of the same mind, she needed a third person to help (as an executor). “It wasn’t easy,” he admitted.
Dr Ginges said because Ms Keeper, 75, had left “express wishes in her will” they were eventually carried out. They were able to avoid court action because of research done by his firm into similar cases.
“In most cases, and there were very few, there weren’t specific directions. When it’s not necessary courts are very reluctant to make these decisions. It’s distressing (for the families) and the process (of reburial) has the taint of not being respectful.”
Dr Ginges said Ms Keeper and Mr Starkey were friends with her former husband and there was no suggestion there had ever been any animosity between the three people.
The exhumation and reburial cost about $30,000, paid for by her estate. Mr Starkey and his daughter visited the grave site the day after the exhumation and said they were “relieved”.
“What the case demonstrates is it matters what you put in your will,” Dr Ginges said.
John Forgacs’ solicitor, Sarah Breusch from the University of Newcastle’s Legal Centre, worked pro bono on the estate case and said she had notified her client the exhumation had happened.
The Gazette left messages for Mr Forgacs but no response was received before going to press.
Mr Forgacs’ solicitor said: “It is entirely possible that my client has a very cogent and reasonable explanation for why he arranged for his mother to be buried where he did.”