Gordon Fischler once planned to be buried "forever and a day" between his wife and his uncle in a Tombstone cemetery. (After all, Fischler was the Tombstone marshal for a decade.)

But someone beat him to it.
"They're telling us to forget that `eternity together' stuff, unless we dig up my Uncle Stuffy and stick him somewhere else," says the ex-lawman. "And I ain't gonna do that to him."
"Uncle Stuffy"? Yep.
In January 1980-while he still was marshal of the crotchety southeastern Arizona town-Gordon Fischler bought three adjoining grave sites. In one of them, he buried his freshly murdered uncle, Donald "Stuffy" Smith. (That was a famous case down in Cochise County, but that's another story.)

Almost three years passed, and a newly elected city council unceremoniously fired Fischler as marshal in November 1982. He and his wife, Elaine, moved to Safford for a time, occasionally returning to "the town too tough to die" to visit friends and pay their respects to the late Uncle Stuffy.

Then, in October 1986, the couple got the shock of their lives.
"We went to put flowers on Stuffy's grave," Fischler says, "and I noticed something I sure as hell wished wasn't true."
The grizzled ex-marshal saw that Tombstone had buried someone in the grave site next to Uncle Stuffy-the one in which Fischler himself had planned to rest some day. Fischler did some sleuthing and learned that the city mistakenly had buried 54-year-old Catarina Molina at his grave site. Fischler also learned that Tombstone artist Richard Ralston had been interred at the grave site originally intended for Molina.

What a mess. No one was about to dig up his recently departed loved ones, even if they had been buried there by mistake. And the Fischlers weren't about to take Tombstone's offer to dig up Uncle Stuffy and start all over at a different place in the cemetery.

"Gordon's uncle had wanted to be buried in Tombstone, and we did that for him," Elaine Fischler says. "He had been in the ground for years when Tombstone screwed this all up. And Gordon had really wanted to be laid to rest with me and his uncle."
Tombstone officials tried to negotiate a settlement with their onetime marshal after Fischler filed a claim in June 1988 asking for $3,000 or for the removal of Catarina Molina's body from its wrongful resting place.

Months passed. Then in early 1989, the city offered to pay the Fischlers $800 for their troubles-that sum included two new grave sites so the couple could be buried side-by-side. If that wasn't acceptable, the city agreed to dig up Uncle Stuffy and move him to a new location, while giving the Fischlers $500 for their troubles.

But the Fischlers wouldn't budge. Neither would Uncle Stuffy-if they had anything to say about it. "We want our lots, our same lots," Elaine Fischler wrote city officials at the time. "We had bought the plots in good faith. We do not want any other plots. We will not move him. I hope you understand."

The Fischlers are fighters, but Elaine Fischler's declining health and open-heart surgery have grabbed about all their attention in recent years. They haven't had any official dialogue with the city of Tombstone since Elaine Fischler's 1989 settlement rejection letter. The matter remains unresolved.

"My poor wife's been sick all the damned time," Gordon Fischler says, "and I just ain't had time to work on the burial problem, though I know how important it is, believe me. But now it's getting to be in the front of my mind again. I don't know what to do."
Last year, the Fischlers moved to Mesa because of Elaine's poor health. "We have to see so many doctors up here and we figured it would be best to be close to them," Gordon Fischler says. Now 68 and retired, he spends his days caring for his wife and mulling over what to do next.

"We just want things to be right," he says. "I was counting on being next to my wife and my blood kin. I don't know which way to go. If one of us was to die tomorrow, we'd have a real interesting situation on our hands."


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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin