Theft of the Axman’s Crypt

by M-Gillies

Discussion groups are debating whether the family was right in burying Jourdan with the telecaster or whether it would have been better to pass the guitar to someone who could use it instead of letting it rot.

To quote Charlton Heston, “from my cold, dead hands has now taken on a new meaning in recent news, particularly when the idiom is put to practice in a deliberate act of theft.

For the last 40 years, Randall Jourdan long praised his Fender Telecaster guitar, and who wouldn’t, that piece of musical equipment had a history behind it. First introduced in 1949 by Leo Fender, the Telecaster was the first design that put the solid-body electric guitar into mainstream popularity. It helped revolutionize the sound of country, electric blues, funk, rock and roll, and other forms of popular music.

With a solid construction, the ability to be played loudly, it’s capacity to sustain wear and tear, and reduce hard feedback, the instrument became known as a signature piece among many notable musicians, including Waylon Jennings, (master of the Fender Telecaster) James Burton and even Elvis Presley.

So when Jourdan, a father of nine and grandfather to 29, died at the age of 67 on September 19, 2011 his one final wish was for his guitar be entombed with him. An odd request at best, particularly in light of the saying, “You never see a u-haul behind a hearse”, and whether Jourdan said it with a tongue firmly placed in his cheek or not, his family understood the value and the importance the guitar had on his life.

“That was the only wish my dad had, was to have that guitar by him, and he did,” Jourdan’s daughter Candace House said. “He had his arms wrapped around it.”

To some, the request may seem absurd, but as funerals are adapting to the attitudes of new generations, requests such as being buried with a prized possession isn’t an uncommon incident. In fact, for many families, the act is sentimentally comforting and helps create closure. However, that train of thought didn’t stop one modern day grave-robber from attempting to take the guitar for himself.

Steven W. Conard, a 39-year-old cemetery superintendent with 18 years working for the Allouez Catholic Cemetery and Chapel Mausoleum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, when not working the grounds of the silent audiences was a hobbyist musician. He took it upon himself to add the Telecaster to his own personal collection.

It was upon learning of the cream-colored guitar from the funeral director that Conard, a man who was quoted as saying “(has a) respect for fine musical instruments,” decided that the Fender Telecaster was one that needed rescuing from an eternity of entombment.

It was shortly after Jourdan’s body had been transported to the cemetery where it was interred into a mausoleum with the guitar in the casket that Conard devised a plan. The funeral director had left to rejoin the family, leaving Conard along with fellow co-worker James Lang to oversee the remainder of their duties. With the funeral director out of earshot, Conard turned to Lang and asked, upon opening the casket to view the custom-made guitar valued at $2000 if Lang would say anything if he (Conard) took it.

Shrugging off the comment at first, Lang, on his own accord, periodically checked Jourdan’s casket to ensure the guitar was untouched. However, by the second time he checked, he discovered the Fender missing. Reporting the information to the supervisor, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department was contacted and after a search of Conard’s residence, the man was charged with felony theft from person or corpse; a conviction that could see up to 10 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines.

While the guitar has been returned to the casket for proper interment, Greg Koch a clinician of Fender and member of the Wisconsin band The Greg Koch Trio said, “The Telecaster is one of those guitars that could survive the trek through purgatory and stay in tune the entire time.”

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