By Calvin Palmer
Four people have been charged after more than 100 graves at the historic Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, were dug up and the bodies removed in order that the plots could be resold.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said FBI experts had been drafted in to help identify remains that were allegedly removed from the graves by four cemetery employees and reburied in a mass unmarked grave.
Cemetery manager Carolyn Towns, 49, of Chicago, and gravediggers: Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39, both of Chicago; and Maurice Dailey, 59, of Robbins, were charged today with felony counts of dismembering a human body.
Hundreds of people with loved ones buried at Burr Oak flocked to the cemetery at 4400 W 127th St to find out if the graves of their relatives were affected.
Florence Duerson said she has been “crying and crying’’ since seeing reports about the cemetery where her parents, Herman and Dorothy Graves, were buried.
“I couldn’t believe it,’’ Duerson said. “They said they found bones. Please Lord don’t let it be my mom or my dad.’’
Dart said his office started investigating the cemetery six weeks ago when the cemetery’s owners, Perpetua Inc, of Tuscon, Arizona, reported that an employee who began feeling guilty revealed what allegedly had been going on, possibly for as long as four years.
Employees allegedly excavated entire burial caskets — including the concrete vault that surrounds the coffin — and moving them to an area on the north end of the property. The caskets and head stones were often smashed into pieces, officials said.
Dart said employees taking part in the scheme allegedly then resold the plots. They allegedly buried new bodies in the plots, but would do so off the books so cemetery records would not show the bodies had been moved.
“All of us who were working on this for the last week were pretty distraught,” Dart said. “You start with the premise of your own loved ones and how they are cared for after they are buried, but there is also a true significance to this particular cemetery.”
Burr Oak was the Chicago region’s first black cemetery and became the final resting place for Emmett Till, whose 1955 lynching at age 14 added impetus to the civil rights movement. Blues legends such as Dinah Washington, Willie Dixon, and Otis Spann are interred at Burr Oak along with former world heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles, Harlem Globetrotter Inman Jackson, and Negro League baseball players Jimmie Crutchfield and John Donaldson.
The workers appeared to have targeted older, unmarked graves that had not been visited in a while. One such grave belonged to a baby who died in 1946. The headstone was smashed to pieces.
There was no indication that the famous graves had been disturbed.