Lolly Bowean, Steve Schmadeke and Alena Scarver, Chicago Tribune, July 9, 2009
Five employees of the historic Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip were taken into custody Wednesday after authorities learned numerous bodies had been dug up and the grave sites were illegally resold, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.
Detectives discovered a pile of bones–from more than 100 decomposed bodies–above ground and uncovered in an overgrown, fenced-off portion of the cemetery, Dart said.
One of the first predominantly African-American cemeteries in the area, Burr Oak is home to many historic figures, including 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 ensure the preservation of the others.
“We cannot give people definitive answers at this point,” he said, adding they were working with forensic medical examiners to try to identify the remains.
None of the remains had been removed from the site, said Steve Patterson, a sheriff’s spokesman. The state’s attorney’s office and FBI are also investigating, Dart said.
In recent years the cemetery at 4400 W. 127th St. has drawn complaints for overgrown grass, sunken grave sites and flooding.
Police told industry experts, consulted as they investigated the case, that the conspirators probably took in around $300,000.
Sheriff’s police learned of the grave-reselling scheme six weeks ago when they were contacted by the Arizona-based cemetery owners, Perpetua Inc., who told police they were concerned about possible financial wrongdoing, Dart said.
Dart said possible felony charges involve unearthing the dead, conspiracy and financial crimes.