Burr Oak Owner Files for Bankruptcy

Ownership will transfer back to Perpetua on Wednesday

By BJ Lutz
|  Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009  |  Updated 9:00 PM CDT
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"Special Place In Hell" For Grave Robbers

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ALSIP, IL - JULY 8: A flag marks a grave at Burr Oak Cemetery near a blue dumpster behind which a pile of human remains were found July 8, 2009 in Alsip, Illinois. Police suspect more than 100 graves could have been dug up in the historic cemetery over the last several years and the bodies dumped in the rear of the burial ground so the graves could be resold by the cemetery management. Blues music legend Willie Dixon and civil rights figure Emmett Till are among those buried in the suburban Chicago cemetery. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Perpetua, Inc., the company that owns beleaguered Burr Oak cemetery, has filed for bankruptcy, and will again assume ownership of the historic burial place on Wednesday morning, as is required under bankruptcy law.

With cemeteries across the country, Perpetua filed Monday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in the Northern District of Illinois, the SouthtownStar reported.

According to the filings, the cemetery company estimated it owed between $1 million and $10 million to between 100 and 200 creditors.

The move means that Roman Szabelski, the Catholic Cemeteries boss appointed by a Cook County judge to clean up and reopen the cemetery, must now return ownership back to Perpetua, Szabelski's attorney James Geoly said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A transfer of control will take place at the cemetery Wednesday morning, Cook County Sheriff Director of Communications Steve Patterson said.

"We're obviously incredibly concerned, because we've had such a great relationship with the receiver and know he was working so hard with our office and several clergy to get the cemetery back to the point that it could be re-opened to families," Patterson said in a statement.  "We also know the kind of condition the cemetery was in the last time it was in Perpetua's hands."

"We have no idea what this means for the families or the memorial being planned for the site to remember those whose graves were disturbed," the statement continued.  "We also don't know what kind of impact this will have on the repairs that the receiver had in the works for the dilapidated buildings, crumbling streets and damaged gravesites located throughout the cemetery grounds or even what this means for those workers who remain at the cemetery."

The cemetery has been closed since July,  when Cook County Sheriff's Police raided the historically-significant cemetery to advance an investigation into claims that human bodies had been removed from their resting places, dug up by backhoes, and haphazardly discarded in another part of the cemetery so the plots could be resold in an off-the-books money-making scheme.  In some cases, caskets were smashed further into the ground so another body could simply be placed on top.

Perpetua also owns Cedar Park Cemetery in Calumet Park.

In the wake of the scandal, Gov. Pat Quinn created a governmental task force.  That panel on Tuesday recommended tougher regulation and oversight of Illinois cemeteries.

Full Coverage:  Desecration at Burr Oak Cemetery

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