Sheriff Tom Dart says a study by his office indicates the number of available spaces at Burr Oak cemetery have long been exceeded, and he called again today for the cemetery to halt burials immediately.
"I have told the people who are managing that place for months now, don't bury people out there," Dart said. "There are more people listed as being buried in the cemetery, than can physically be buried there!"
The study, performed for Dart's office, suggests 140,190 people are buried at Burr Oak. Dart says he considers that a conservative number. But at the same time, he says his office has calculated that the land can only accommodate 138,000 burials.
"Just a pure objective reading of this says the place is filled, and has been filled," Dart said. "I believe that right now, Burr Oak should stop its burial activities. They need to hold off until there is certainty that there are in fact, distinct graves that are undisturbed and they can go forward with."
The cemetery's current operator disagrees. Howard Korenthal, the court-appointed overseer of the property, says that while his workers did encounter occupied graves in what were supposed to be empty plots, shortly after burials resumed last fall, that has not happened since early December. "There has not been a problem since," said Korenthal. "There are sections of the cemetery we know do not have bodies in them!"
Dart says simple math indicates to him there is no more space, and that the fact that Burr Oak workers encountered occupied graves is proof that no one can be certain it won't happen again. "What's your magic number?" he asked. "How many times do you need to go into a grave site that's supposed to be empty that was bought years ago, and you find somebody in it? How many of those do you have to hit, before you sit there and say, 'Wow, we need to stop!"
Korenthal says he makes sure that each burial is done carefully, that probes are used in ground to make certain that potential grave sites are not occupied, and that each procedure is supervised by Catholic Cemeteries. "We know where the area is clear," he said. "We're not crazy. We're not going to disturb a grave!"
Full Coverage: Desecration at Burr Oak Cemetery