New estimate on cemetery bodies: 200 to 300
July 9, 2009 12:21 PM
An arrest warrant was also issued Tuesday for a fifth person, a 45-year-old woman who was a secretary at the cemetery, according to Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Brittney Blair. But the woman was not charged after investigators became convinced that she did not profit from the scheme and was only carrying out orders from Towns, who was the office manager.
"Carolyn Towns was the brains behind the operation, the one calling the shots," Blair said.
The defendants were able to successfully carry out the scheme, prosecutors said, because bereaved relatives often came into the cemetery office to buy grave sites with cash. Towns would take the cash and destroy the deeds and other paperwork for the existing graves, they said. Towns would keep the cash and pay off the other defendants by increasing their overtime pay, which she controlled as cemetery general manager.
Mahoney described the defendants's actions as "cold, calculating and showed a total disregard for human souls."
Detectives discovered a pile of bones decomposed, above ground and uncovered in an overgrown, fenced-off portion of the cemetery, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
In addition, bodies apparently were double-buried in already existing plots, Dart told WGN-AM 720 this morning. Dozens of FBI agents are expected in Chicago early next week to help sift through the evidence at the cemetery, Dart said.
The charges against Towns allege that "numerous graves were excavated and the human remains were then buried in a rear vacant lot in Burr Oak cemetery, Alsip ... She then sold the vacant gravesites for her own personal financial gain." Authorities said she earlier had been fired by the cemetery's owners because of theft allegations.
One of the first predominantly African-American cemeteries in the area, Burr Oak is the resting place of many historic figures, including civil rights symbol Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles.
Dart said he was certain Till's remains were not disturbed, but he could not be sure about the others.
This morning, a large crowd converged on the cemetery, most of them African-American, saying they wanted to find out if their loved ones' remains had been moved. The families expressed outrage, disgust and discouragement.
Dart said this morning that none of the cemetery's workers came to work today, so the sheriff's office was aiding residents walk through the plots.
"This is just heartbreaking. The people I have talked to have made me want to cry," Dart said. "The sense of violation is horrible."
"Some people come back from the grave site and it's not what it's supposed to be and I don't know what to tell them," he said.Sheriff's employees are having concerned families first take a number. When their number comes up, they are taken to the site. But the wait is long so Dart's office has brought out chairs for the elderly as well as water, drinks and chips for relatives.
Some people who know where the location of their loved ones' graves are just heading to them on their own.
Dart said he believes the alleged scheme has been going on for about four years.
"We have evidence...There were also people being double-buried, that they would just sort of pound down the one casket or remains and put another set of remains on top," he told WGN-AM.
The disinterred graves appeared to be older, neglected ones, Dart said. "They specifically looked to older graves, where there might not be someone coming out there every week," he said.
Cemetery workers accused of digging up graves, reselling plots
July 9, 2009
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Employees at a historic African-American cemetery near Chicago allegedly dug up more than 100 graves as part of an off-the-books scheme to resell burial plots to unsuspecting customers, authorities said Wednesday.
Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Tom Dart says the discovery was "beyond startling and revolting."
Dozens of graves at Burr Oak Cemetery were desecrated by workers as part of a financial scheme, authorities say.
Cook County authorities began investigating the cemetery about six weeks ago after receiving a call from the owners of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, located about 20 miles south of Chicago.
The owners had concerns about possible "illegalities going on" regarding finances at the business, said Sheriff Tom Dart.
"What we found was beyond startling and revolting," Dart told reporters at the cemetery.
The workers at Burr Oak, where lynching victim Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried among others, allegedly resold the plots, disinterred the bodies, dumped the remains and pocketed the cash, Dart said.
Most of the excavations occurred in back lots, where the plots were older and not frequently visited, he said. However, other plots may have been disturbed as well.
At least four people are in custody facing a slew of felony charges, authorities said. The current owners, who could not be reached by CNN for comment Wednesday, have run the place for more than five years, but are not believed to be involved, Dart said.
"We are sensitive to the fact that individuals have loved ones buried here and also the sensitivities as it pertains to this particular cemetery," Dart said. "This is the cemetery where Emmett Till is buried. Numerous other significant members of the African-American community are buried there as well."
He said authorities are "very confident" that the grave of Till, whose lynching at 14 helped spark the Civil Rights Movement, has not been disturbed.
Still, investigators are trying to determine the scope of the scheme and are faced with trying to track down the families of those whose graves were disinterred and those who, unbeknownst to them, purchased occupied plots, Dart said.
He said the workers may have doctored records to cover their tracks.
The FBI, expert forensic scientists and local funeral directors have been called in to help, he said.
"We cannot give people definitive answers at this point," Dart said. "Our biggest challenge right now is the attempt to bring peace of mind."
LINK TO VIDEOS:
PHOTOS FROM CEMETERY:
June 2021 May 2021 April 2021 March 2021 February 2021 January 2021 December 2020 November 2020 October 2020 September 2020 August 2020 July 2020 June 2020 May 2020 April 2020 March 2020 February 2020 January 2020 December 2019 November 2019 October 2019 September 2019 August 2019 July 2019 June 2019 May 2019 April 2019 March 2019 February 2019 January 2019 December 2018 November 2018 October 2018 September 2018 August 2018 July 2018 June 2018 May 2018 April 2018 March 2018 February 2018 January 2018 December 2017 November 2017 October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 June 2017 May 2017 April 2017 March 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 November 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 March 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 November 2015 October 2015 September 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 April 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008