Burr Oak Cemetery Investigation – Babyland Now Included!

July 10, 2009

As part of our continuing coverage CNN now reports that an infant burial section called “Babyland” is now part of the investigation.  The article from CNN is reproduced here:

A Cook County cemetery where hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold has been declared a crime scene, meaning that relatives of people believed buried there will not be allowed to visit for several days, an official said Friday.

Family members and police gather outside the Burr Oak Cemetery office in Alsip, Illinois, on Wednesday.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to invite people in, to raise expectations and then crash them,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart told reporters in a news conference held at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. He pleaded for patience, saying he hoped to reopen the 150-acre cemetery to the public in five to seven days.


Dart said the scope of the investigation has broadened to include “Babyland,” a section of the cemetery intended for children.

“A lot of women came up to me and asked for help with Babyland,” he said. “To a person, every one I talked to could not find any of their children in Babyland.”

A large number of grave sites “are completely missing,” he said, adding that he had received more than 5,000 telephone inquiries and 1,700 e-mails about the matter since the investigation began.

As many as half of the complaints were about missing headstones, 25 to 30 percent were about loved ones who had been relocated, he said.

He cited the experience of one family looking for 10 relatives buried there. “They couldn’t find anybody,” he said.

In addition, in some cases there are no records of burials having taken place, despite relatives’ insistence that they did, he said. In other cases, records have been altered, destroyed or found in people’s houses, he said.

“Our office has to investigate over 5,000 grave sites due to the vast amounts of inquiries from grieving family members,” he said.

Dart said he himself walked through the cemetery on Friday and what he saw was disturbing. “I found bones out there,” he said. “I found individuals wandering aimlessly looking for their loved ones who can’t find them.”

Some people told him that an entire area that used to have gravestones facing in one direction now has them facing in another direction, he said.

“This is getting bigger,” he said. “We don’t have an end in sight … more people have not found relatives than have found them.”

More than 2,000 families have descended on the cemetery since authorities uncovered what they say was a scheme to resell the plots, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash.

Four people face felony charges for their alleged involvement.

He had said earlier this week that the number of disturbed graves was around 300, but said Friday that number was sure to rise.

One family arrived on Thursday to bury a woman in a plot they had purchased and found the plot was already occupied, he said.

Authorities also discovered Emmett Till’s original casket in a dilapidated garage on the cemetery grounds. The casket had been replaced by a new one after Till’s body was exhumed in 2005.

“There was wildlife living inside of it,” Dart said of the old casket, found in the corner of a garage filled with lawn care equipment and other “piles of things.”

Till was killed in August 1955 in Mississippi after the 14-year-old reportedly whistled at a white woman.

His body was exhumed 50 years later as part of a renewed investigation into his death. The Chicago Tribune reported that he was reburied in a different casket.

Thousands of people had viewed Till’s body in the original casket in Chicago shortly after he was killed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at the news conference.

“His mother had the gut and grit to say that ‘I want America to see what they did to my baby’s body,'” Jackson said about Till, whose body was mutilated.

“More than 100,000 saw his body lying at the church. It is said that those who saw his body were never the same again,” he said.

“Emmett Till’s lynching redefined emotions in our culture in very fundamental ways. So to see his casket in this state of desecration and neglect is very painful.”

Cemetery groundskeepers told investigators that Till’s grave was not among those disturbed in the alleged resale scheme, Dart said earlier this week.

Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers, have each been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from six to 30 years, authorities said.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. The public defender’s office in Cook County said it had represented the three others at the bond hearing but could not provide a statement for them.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, along with Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners, who said they suspected “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart said earlier this week.

He said the owners are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam.

More to come and comments are welcome!


Chicago Cemetery Workers Face Felony Charges for Digging Up and Reselling Graves at Burr Oak Cemetery – This Was No Last Resting Place

July 10, 2009

Four people face felony charges after authorities discovered that hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold at a historic African-American cemetery near Chicago, Illinois, authorities said Thursday. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the four would resell the plots in Burr Oak Cemetery in burr_oak_cemetery_88915412Alsip, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash. “This was not done in a very, very delicate way, folks,” he told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

“They would excavate a grave and would proceed to dump the remains wherever they found a place to do it in the back of the cemetery. This was not moving graves; this was not replacing graves; this was dumping of them.”

In some cases, graves were stacked on top of each other, they “literally pounded the other one down,” Dart said. In all about 300 graves may have been dug up in the cemetery, he said.

Authorities identified those charged as Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers.

Each has been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from 6 to 30 years, Anita Alvarez, Cook County state’s attorney, said at the news conference.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. “Somebody is apparently making false accusations against my client,” he said. “She’s maintaining her innocence.”

The Cook County state attorney’s office said the other three charged were being represented by the public defender’s office, and a message left at that office was not immediately returned.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Towns and $200,000 for the other three, Alvarez said. None had posted bail by late afternoon Thursday, the sheriff’s department said.

It was not immediately known if the four had legal counsel.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, among others, lynching victim Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners who had concerns about possible “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart told CNN earlier this week.

“This crime, it’s a whole new dimension,” Alvarez said. Authorities also suspect that Towns pretended to set up a memorial fund for Till and pocketed the funds, Dart said.

He told CNN that groundskeepers, who have not been implicated in the scheme, have said that the grave of Till — whose 1955 lynching at age 14 helped spark the civil rights movement — has not been disturbed.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was also at the news conference, noted the high-profile names of some of those buried in the cemetery, but said, “everybody here is special, and every family has special needs and special hurt, special grief.”

Most of the excavations occurred in back lots, where the plots were older and not frequently visited, Dart said earlier this week. However, other plots may have been disturbed, as well.

The cemetery’s current owners, who could not be reached by CNN for comment, have operated it for more than five years but are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam, Dart said.

He said the workers may have doctored records to cover their tracks and noted that the cemetery holds all the records of who is buried and where.

“There’s virtually no regulations whatsoever (for cemeteries),” Dart said. “Most all of the documents and everything are housed here.”

Investigators are trying to determine the scope of the alleged scheme and plan to use thermal-imaging devices to further examine other graves to see if they have been tampered with, Dart said.

The FBI, forensic scientists and local funeral directors have been called in to help in the investigation, he said.

“I don’t even know what to tell you about the heartbreaking stories that I’ve been hearing from people, crying hysterically that they’re going through the burial for the second time today,” he said.

“And they’re looking for answers and we’re sitting there telling them, ‘This is going to be very difficult,” he said. “We’re trying to bring closure, but it’s going to take a long time to do that.”

Source: CNN.com and ConnectingDirectors.com

James Hines – Cave Funeral Home Loses License For Cutting Off Deceased Legs!

June 5, 2009

There is no excuse…NONE!

That’s what the South Carolina Board of Funeral Service said through their vote to revoke the funeral home’s license. arthineswjbf

In a story reported earlier (here), the family of James Hines felt that there was something wrong with the service and burial of their loved one.  It had been reported that Hines body had been desecrated – legs cut off – in order to make his 6 ft. 7 in. frame fit in the casket.   Originally the allegation was denied, but after review the facts came to the surface.

Funeral Director Michael Cave admitted that he and Charles G. Cave, an unlicensed worker, carried out the proceedure.  The removed Mr. Hines legs between the ankle and calf with an electric saw and placed them along side the coffin.

A News 12 interview just added to the shock of the situation:

News 12’s Lynnsey Gardner speaks with the whistle blower and the accused.

Chopping off a dead man’s legs with an electric saw; it’s what Charlie Cave admits to doing and he tells News 12 he has no regrets.

“I have nothing to hide. “ Charlie Cave answering few questions about why he cut off James Hines legs with an electric saw, an act the funeral home admitted to the State Board of Funeral Service Monday.

Caves, “Nothing but the truth.“
Gardner, “ Do you have any regrets about anything?“
Caves “Ain’t worried about a thing.“
Gardner, “Any thing to say to the Hines family?“
(Caves Shrugs)

No words offered to a family who’s loved one was mutilated by the business both paid and trusted to care for him.

By revoking Cave Funeral Home’s license – they are forced to close.  In addition to the revocation, Cave was also fined $500 and ordered to pay $1,500 for the investigation.  Prosecutors are considering whether to seek criminal charges which could result in up to 10 years in prison.  Local opinion seems to favor prosecution so that a message will be sent that desecrating a body is unacceptable behavior by funeral service providers.


Faye Schilling and Jean Crump Charged with Cashing in on Fake Funerals – Their Take $1 Million!

April 13, 2009

Times may be hard, but when you move to death fraud you’ve hit a new low in white collar crime!

According to the US Attorney’s office in LA – two women – allegedly participated in a scheme to cash life insurance policies for fictitious individuals and istock_000006314744xsmallstage  funerals to create the appearance that the individuals had died.

According to the indictment, Shilling, a phlebotomist, and Crump, an employee at a now-defunct Long Beach mortuary, defrauded multiple insurance companies over a three-year period by cashing life insurance policies for non-existent identities, whom they claimed had died. As part of the scheme, Shilling and Crump allegedly caused the preparation of bogus death certificates, purchased burial plots and staged phony funerals to lend credibility to the scheme. When staging the funerals, the women allegedly filled caskets with various materials to make it appear they contained actual corpses.

Shilling and Crump allegedly defrauded several lending companies that advance cash to cover funeral expenses in exchange for a portion of the decedent’s life insurance policy. Shilling, Crump and their accomplices allegedly filed false documents with the County of Los Angeles stating the remains of one man were cremated and scattered at sea, when in fact no corpse existed. The indictment further alleges that defendant Crump offered a medical doctor $50,000 to create records supporting the fake death certificate.

Now reading this several questions exist.  How does one cash in insurance policies for non-existent people?  If they didn’t exist then how was a life insurance policy issued.  It would make sense if they had cashed in policies on folks who had not yet died – claiming that they had died.  But to cash in policies on folks who don’t exist defies imagination.

According to a report in Connectingdirectors.com:

The US Attorney stated said the “dead” were likely fictitious people, but said identities of real people may have been stolen.

In one funeral at a Long Beach mortuary, authorities alleged that the women loaded a casket with various items to simulate the weight of a corpse they called “Jim Davis.” They purchased a plot in a Compton graveyard, had a funeral and had the casket buried.

Talking about identity theft.  Can you imagine the complication of dealing with the IRS and Social Security Administration when it comes to convincing them that you are still alive?  Being “dead” and trying to get your tax refund could be quite an ordeal.  Oh well…sorry for the digression.

In addition to the life insurance claims, which included a $250,000 policy, prosecutors said the women secured payments from financing companies to pay for inflated funeral costs.  We talked with representatives from American Funeral Financial (one of our sponsors) to ask about precautions for such activity.

We (at American Funeral Financial) work hard to provide service to our customers – the many funeral homes and cemeteries across the country that rely on us for funeral funding.  This story is quite amazing and not remotely normal in the standard course of business.  We make sure that we know our customers and have a comfort level of their viability before we enter into any funding transactions.  The steps we deal with to make funeral funding decisions should prevent this type of fraud from happening.  Still this is quite amazing.

Funeral funding companies scammed were Jackman Financial Corp. in Chicago; AC Moore Financial Services in Pomona; and Advanced Funeral Funding in Portsmouth, Va.

Shilling and Crump were charged with mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud insurance companies and lending companies out of more than $750,000.  Two other women, Lydia Eileen Pearce, 37, owner of a mortuary in Long Beach, and Barbara Lynn, 54, a notary from Los Angeles, previously pleaded guilty in the alleged scam, said Montero, and he believed that more arrests were likely.

Schilling, who was freed on bail, denied the charges. “That’s a lie,” she said. “That’s not my line of work, that’s not something I do. . . . That’s not true.” She declined to comment further. Crump and her attorney could not be reached immediately.


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Dancing, Waving Wand, and Throwing Flowers – Nicole Marie-Loretta Leonard Admits to Disrupting a Funeral in SC

April 13, 2009

It’s the last opportunity that many have to pay respects to the newly and dearly departed.  Most expect that those in attendance care about the deceased, the family of the deceased or have a direct connection.  What people – reasonable people – don’t expect is that there will be a funeral crasher.  They especially don’t expect it in a sleeply little South Carolina town – the town of Gray Court.  But little did anyone know that as the funeral was taking place, the spirit would hit Nicole Marie-Loretta Leonard from North Carolina to – well crash the somber service.

According to a report from WYFF.com:

A woman who says she had no connection to a funeral danced in front of the service, waved a wand over the casket, opened it and touched the deceased man and then threw the flowers from the casket at the family, deputies said.

Laurens County deputies responded to reports of a disturbance at the Church of God in Gray Court on Tuesday. Those attending the funeral said that the woman had joined the procession. They said once they were seated inside the church, the woman then danced in front of them near the casket. They said after she waved the wand over the casket and had touched the deceased man, she hit him in the head with the wand.The family said after the woman threw the flowers from the top of the casket at them, she drove off in a burgundy Toyota with North Carolina plates.

When that was aired on the news it stunned those who watched.  What would motivate such behavior?  Surely the reporter must have been mistaken or perhaps the deceased had a hidden side that would have caused such an outburst.  No.  Again according to the WYFF report:

Deputies pulled the vehicle over on Interstate 385. They asked the driver, 25-year-old Nicole Marie-Loretta Leonard, about the funeral, and they said she admitted to doing everything the witnesses in church said she did.

Deputies said Leonard told them she behaved the way she did because she “felt it was the right thing to do at the time.” She said she was driving through the area from North Carolina and did not know anyone at the church.

Responses from the funeral:

“Everybody was just kind of flabbergasted, they didn’t know what was going on.”

Perhaps she was influenced by the Ghost Whisperer…?


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