Burr Oak Could Have New Owner

Sale contingent on several conditions

By Phil Rogers
|  Tuesday, Apr 27, 2010  |  Updated 5:28 PM CDT
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History of Burr Oak Cemetery

Getty Images / Scott Olson

A worker searches for evidence at Burr Oak Cemetery July 14, 2009 in Alsip, Illinois.

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History of Burr Oak Cemetery

The Burr Oak Cemetery was for a time the only cemetery where Black people could be buried in Chicago. Keiana Barrett, with the DuSable Museum of African American History, talks about what the desecration means to the community.
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If certain conditions are met, the scandal-plagued Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip will have a new owner.

The cemetery's longtime operators, Perpetua Inc., were forced into bankruptcy last year, after it was revealed that four employees had allegedly engaged in a ghoulish plan to dig up bodies and re-sell the plots to unsuspecting families. 

In a brief hearing in U.S. Banruptcy Court on Tuesday, a partnership called Cemecare, which includes longtime funeral operator Lafayette Gatling, and Restvale Cemetery owner Willie Carter, agreed to buy  Burr Oak and nearby Cedar Park cemetery for $1 million.

"If all conditions are met, hopefully we can go in and try to restore some dignity to Burr Oak," said Carter.  "Hopefully we can make a difference.

But Burr Oak's long, and at times, ghastly story is not over yet.  While the Cedar Park closing will take place next month, the Burr Oak sale is contingent on several conditions. The biggest of those concerns is a  10 acre site along the cemetery's northern boundary where bones were found dumped last year.

Cemecare's principals said they will only take control of the cemetery if they receive assurances that the area in question can be used for new graves.

"Once we learn if that land can be used for burials," said Carter, "it's going to make a difference in the direction that we go."

Asked if that means they could potentially walk away from the Burr Oak deal, Carter said, "Yes, I think that's the answer to that."

Attorneys involved in brokering the agreement expressed optimism that it would move forward.  But Clint Krislov, who represents a number of Burr Oak families, said he was worried that the cemetery could once again be left in limbo. 

"They will advise at some point if they choose not to take Burr Oak.  That will create a problem," he said.

The agreement is also contingent on a $700,000 payment from Burr Oak's current owners to the buyers, for future restorations.  Gatling said it was his hope that the cemetery could once again be a "wonderful place" where families could give their loved ones a proper burial.

"I hope that now, they can pick up the pieces, and move forward and trust us to do a wonderful job, and a good job that they rightfully deserve."

Full Coverage:  Desecration at Burr Oak Cemetery

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