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Phony Tombstones Used in Houston as Scarecrow for Vagrants

KTRK/ABC News(HOUSTON) -- A Houston property owner has installed headstones to help keep vagrants from loitering on his land.

Three headstones were installed about a year ago in a grassy lot of land that sits in the shadow of Houston’s skyscrapers, at the corner of Houston Avenue and North Memorial Way.  Fernando Villa, a tow truck driver, told ABC News affiliate KTRK-TV that he witnessed the installation of the phony headstones.

“I saw them putting a fence up, and about maybe two to three months later, the headstones are put up,” Davilla said.  “I knew what it was.  I didn’t see any burials or anything.  There were no bodies there.  But it’s to keep the vagrants out of here because they were always sleeping right there.”

But it turns out the headstones, which were rejects from a local monument company inscribed with “Johnny Mack Chappell,” “Dee Brown Hancock, 1922-1973,” and “Sandra Ruth Howen, 1939-1986″ -- were for real people.

The owner of the property, who spoke anonymously with KTRK, said that he was unaware that the tombstones were of real, deceased people.  He said that he regrets it.

Wayne Chappell, the brother of Johnny Mack Chappell, told ABC News that the remaining family members are tickled by the news of the fake tombstone.  He said his brother would get a kick out of the whole situation -- though Johnny Mack would likely befriend the vagrants.

“He would get his friends and have a beer party next to it or something,” Wayne Chappell said.

Johnny Mack, who his brother said died on Dec. 23, 1986, of hardening of the arteries, was a high school fullback who went on to coach.  The two grew up only three miles away from where Johnny Mack’s phony tombstone sits.

Wayne, who now lives near Fort Hood, Texas, said that he has noticed that his childhood neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Houston, amidst the roping highways and interchanges heading out of town, has changed over the years since he and his brother grew up there.

Wayne said the only issue he does have with the tombstone is what it’s being used for.

“You’re kind of underneath the highway there.  That’s always been the hobo area,” he said.  “I can understand wanting to clean up your area.  I’m just curious what [the property owner] might have done to help the vagrants.”

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ABC News Radio