AUSTIN (KXAN) — He’s been buried in a Travis County cemetery for nearly 20 years, but the family of Wilbert Thompson fears he’s been lost.

Because of a moved headstone and records the county admits are poor, the family no longer believes Thompson is where the county says he is.

Wilbert Thompson was buried at the Travis County International Cemetery in 2004.

Over the years during visits, Wilbert’s sister, Donalyn Thompson, picked up the habit of counting the steps from her car to Wilbert’s tombstone. But lately, she said the steps don’t add up.

“So, he’s off,” Donalyn said.

A few months ago, Donalyn’s son, Bryce, said he noticed his uncle’s headstone had been moved.

“We never buried him on the side of a tree,” Bryce said.  “I mean, I’ve been paying respects to an empty space,” he continued. “I mean, that’s hurting my feelings. I came out here a couple of times on his birthday to wish him happy birthday to the wrong space.”

  • Wilbert Thompson's gravestone at the Travis County International Cemetery. (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Donalyn Thompson and her son, Bryce Thompson, stand at Wilbert Thompson's grave. (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Wilbert Thompson at his wedding, circa 1985. (Photo Credit: Donalyn Thompson)
  • Construction barriers at the Travis County International Cemetery. (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Graphic of Travis County International Cemetery showing Wilbert Thompson's grave (highlighted in blue) next to the outline of where a roundabout used to be. (Courtesy: Travis County)

In 1989, 15 years before Thompson’s death, Travis County took over control of the cemetery.

Donalyn said someone with the county told her a city of Austin crew, extending a roundabout, paved over her brother’s grave. The roundabout has since been removed.

But Travis County Spokesman Hector Nieto told KXAN Investigator Mike Rush the county is responsible, writing, “Based on sparse information and records from employees, the roundabout was created and removed during the county’s operational control. In doing so, this may have affected a limited number of plots.” 

KXAN Investigator Mike Rush asked Nieto when the roundabout was installed and when it was removed, but he said he was not able to determine a timeframe for either.

“It was disturbing the dead,” Donalyn said. “No respect. I felt hurt. I still feel — I feel broken.”

Nieto provided KXAN Investigates a graphic, showing where Thompson’s plot is and the outline of where the roundabout was. The graphic shows the plot is placed inside the roundabout but very close to the edge.

Graphic of Travis County International Cemetery showing Wilbert Thompson's grave (highlighted in blue) next to the outline of where a roundabout used to be. (Courtesy: Travis County)
Graphic of Travis County International Cemetery showing Wilbert Thompson’s grave (highlighted in blue) next to the outline of where a roundabout used to be. (Travis County Graphic)

Nieto said the cemetery dates back to the 1800s and has changed hands multiple times. Because of poor records, Nieto said it’s possible the roundabout covered Thompson’s gravesite, but also possible just the headstone was displaced.

Donalyn said, “They should have told us. They should have informed us. He has a marker with his name on it.”

The county spokesman said it provided the family with the grave’s location and the family confirmed and accepted it.

Donalyn said the county showed them the location in early November and, on the same day, Thompson’s nephew moved the headstone back to where the county said his uncle is buried. But between the construction, demolition and poor records, the family said it has no faith that information is correct.

“He’s not there,” Donalyn said as she looked at her brother’s tombstone. “He’s close, but he’s not there at all.”

Beginning to cry, Donalyn added, “I feel like they’ve just taken something away from me that I can’t get back. And it hurts. It hurts.”

The Travis County spokesman couldn’t say why Thompson’s family wasn’t notified that his grave was disturbed.

Donalyn Thompson said she wants the county to dig to find her brother’s casket to make sure the headstone is in the right place.

The county spokesman was not able to say if that is an option.