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.

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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!

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Burr Oak Cemetery Scandal – Emmett Till’s Original Casket Found – Charges Pending!

July 10, 2009

CNN reports the following:

Authorities revealed more disturbing discoveries Friday at an Illinois cemetery where hundreds of burial plots were allegedly dug up and art.illinois.cemetery2.giresold, including more emptied graves and the discarded casket of a civil rights icon.

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

More than 2,000 families went to Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, after authorities uncovered what they say was a scheme to excavate the graves, dump the remains, resell the plots and pocket the cash.

Four people face felony charges.

As families arrived to check on their loved ones’ graves, they told authorities about 30 more cases “where another crime scene is obvious,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said at a news conference.

Earlier this week, Dart estimated the number of disturbed graves at about 300, but he said Friday the number is likely to rise.

“People have gone to grave sites where the headstones are gone. People have gone to the grave sites where a different person is there now. People have gone to grave sites where it’s clear that something has been removed,” he said.

New burials are taking place, Dart said, and one family that arrived Thursday to bury a woman found that the plot was already occupied.

Dart also said Friday that authorities discovered Emmett Till’s original casket in a dilapidated garage on the cemetery grounds. Till was reportedly buried in a different casket after his body was exhumed in 2005.

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

Till, 14, was brutally killed in August 1955 in Mississippi after he reportedly whistled at a white woman. Despite the gruesome condition of his corpse, his mother insisted on a public funeral and open casket in an effort to draw attention to the ferocity of her son’s killing.

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

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

Emmett Till‘s lynching redefined emotions in our culture in very fundamental ways,” Jackson said. “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 scheme, Dart said earlier this week.

Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery, and gravediggers Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley have each been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony. Sentences could 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.

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.

The owners said they suspected “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart said earlier this week.

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

Here’s a link to another article on this subject:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/10/emmett-tills-original-cas_n_229353.html


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