She called a television station to cover the story and demanded the cemetery improve conditions. Months later she established Eternal Justice.
Since then, she has pursued complaints about cemetery maintenance, excessive fees, double-selling plots, bodies buried in the wrong place and desecrated graves. She has played many roles: mediator and rabble rouser, graveyard investigator and family funeral consultant.
Hari P. Close, a Baltimore funeral director and member of the Maryland Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors, a state regulatory agency, said Jacobi's forceful personality tends to stir strong reactions.
"Either you like her or you don't," Close said.
His dealings with Jacobi did not begin well years ago when he was head of a national trade association and the two "hit heads" over her complaints about funeral directors who did not remain at gravesides to see the bodies buried.
He said he's since come to understand her perspective.
"People like Carolyn have brought more integrity back to this industry," he said. "It's not always an easy pill to swallow."
Robert Silkworth, owner of Standiford Memorials in Brooklyn Park, also got off to a rocky start with Jacobi. When she was a saleswoman with the Maryland National Memorial Park, a private cemetery in Laurel, she told him he could not install monuments there, because customers had to buy them from the cemetery.
Once she became a consumer advocate, though, he said, they found "we were on the same page about a lot of things," especially customer choice in buying memorials.
The consumer choice ethic is emphasized by the Monument Builders of North America, a trade association that in 1997 hired Carolyn Jacobi as consumer advocate, a $43,000-a-year position she still holds. She typically intervenes on behalf of consumers and dealers who are being charged fees for placing or maintaining monuments.
Jacobi said her work for the association and Eternal Justice do not conflict.
Close agreed, adding that if he saw an ethical issue he would speak up.
"She holds us all to a higher standard, no matter what," he said.
Jacobi said she usually gets along well with people in the business, which helps resolve disputes. Sometimes, the consumer is right, and "sometimes the cemetery is right," she said. "It doesn't happen often."
Roger Volland, executive director of Fort Lincoln Cemetery and Funeral Home in Brentwood, said he's always found Jacobi cooperative in resolving complaints.
"I have a lot of respect for her," said Volland, whose cemetery is owned by Stewart Enterprises Inc., the nation's second-largest cemetery operator. "She really believes in what she's doing."
Stewart Enterprises thought enough of her to give her a "very fair price" on a granite sarcophagus for her at Fort Lincoln that would normally cost nearly $40,000, Volland said, calling it a tribute to her work. Sitting on one of the highest points in Prince George's County, the monument bears a four-paragraph inscription, a hybrid resume/epitaph mentioning her work as a consumer advocate, five states where she influenced legislation, the Office of Cemetery Oversight, even her appearance on "The Phil Donahue Show."
Neither Jacobi nor Volland would say what she paid for the monument, which weighs about five tons, but Jacobi was adamant on one point: "I cannot be bought, do you understand that? I'm emphatic about that."
As she is about many things, including the failure of some of her efforts. She said she was "sleeping" when state law was amended to allow cemeteries to bill for "perpetual memorial care," the continuing care of a monument. In her view, consumers should not be charged for damage to monuments or material flaws, because the cemetery, monument dealer or installer should be held responsible.
She kicks herself for doing nothing about Maryland's lack of regulation on pet cemeteries, such as the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park, but she's on that case now. If she can shepherd new legislation through the Maryland General Assembly, her sarcophagus monument inscription might have to be updated.
"If I do one more big thing before I go, it's that," she said. "I think the time is right."