Sheriff Wants to Stop All Burials at Burr Oak

Woman was to be buried in occupied grave Thursday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Family members search for the graves of relatives at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill., after graves were discovered dug up and the bodies dumped in a money-making scheme.

    Even with Sheriff's Deputies and distraught families swarming Burr Oak Cemetery on Thursday, two burials that had already been scheduled tried to go on -- but both of those bodies would have been interred in the wrong plots if officials hadn't been there to stop it.

    Now, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop any new burials at the cemetery.

    Tom Dart: New Burials Were to Happen in Wrong Plots

    [CHI] Tom Dart: New Burials Were to Happen in Wrong Plots
    Sheriff Tom Dart says burials at Burr Oak Cemetery were about to happen Thursday in the wrong plots, even with authorities swarming the grounds. (Published Tuesday, Jul 28, 2009)

    Dart said more than 2,000 families have been to the cemetery since Thursday morning to check on the final resting place of their loved ones. Of those, families found 30 plots that were tampered with, some of them with a different person buried in the grave. 

    As many as 300 bodies may have been dug up or crushed into the ground to make way for new burials in the money-making scheme, and that number could rise as more people come to Burr Oak to check on their family plots.  The four former employees charged may have made about $300,000 during the four years the scheme operated, authorities said Friday.

    In the first funeral on Thursday, the person was put into the wrong burial chamber, and authorities had to take the casket out and move it a few spaces over to the correct one. Shortly afterward, a woman was to be buried, but Dart said "it was abundantly clear it was the wrong lot."

    Sheriff's deputies reviewed the paperwork for the burial, which showed where the woman was supposed to be buried. Authorities went out to that plot and found that another person was buried there.  The family, uncomfortable with what was going on, decided to take the body back to the funeral home until they could sort out exactly where the burial should happen.

    Dart said four burials were scheduled to take place Friday, and authorities would be doing all they can to make sure everything goes as it should.

    Also Friday, authorities revealed that the empty casket of lynching victim Emmett Till, which the cemetery was supposed to be preserving for a museum, was found rusting in a dilapidated garage, with wildlife living inside.

    At least two groups of lawyers have filed lawsuits against the cemetery, its workers and owners.  The lawsuits allege intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, and ask the court to require the cemetery to maintain any remaining records so they can be turned over to authorities.

    Authorities urged anyone who donated money to the Till fund or has family members at Burr Oak to contact the Sheriff's office by phone -- 800-942-1950, Option 4.  Because the phone lines have been so busy, authorities have also created an e-mail account to receive inquiries:  burroakcemeteryinvestigation@gmail.com.

    Little to No Oversight for State's Cemeteries

    Officials on Friday said they've started the process of revoking Burr Oak's license, one of the few things the state can do, as there is little to no oversight of Illinois cemeteries.

    Comptroller Daniel Comptroller Daniel Hynes said his office only has authority to audit cemeteries' finances. But no agency  oversees the grounds of cemeteries, and no inspectors do spot checks of grave sites. Hynes said there's no money for that.
      
    Hynes said a proposed law several years ago for tougher oversight failed to pass following industry opposition.