“Special Place in Hell” for Grave Robbers

Four charged in elaborate off-the-books scheme

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says there's "a special place in hell" for those accused of digging up graves.

His remarks echo those of the hundreds of family members that flocked to the historic Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip after investigators discovered that as many as 300 bodies had been dug up and dumped so the burial plots could be resold.

The office manager of the cemetery is being called the mastermind of the whole scheme.  She allegedly worked with three  gravediggers.

Charged are:

Carolyn Towns, 49, of the 7500 block of South Yates in Chicago
Keith D. Nicks, 45, of the 900 block of West 129th Place in Chicago
Terrence D. Nicks, 39, of the 12800 block of South Morgan in Chicago
Maurice S. Dailey, 59, of the 13300 block of South Kildare in Robbins

All have been charged with dismembering bodies  -- a Class X felony -- because the graves were dug up with backhoes and the bodies haphazardly discarded.

Bond for Towns was set at $250,000. The other three had bond set at $200,000 each.  None posted bond after their court appearances Thursday and were booked into the Cook County Jail. 

Towns is being held in Cermak Hospital's psychiatric unit.  Keith Nicks is being held in a medical unit due to a previous arm injury.  Terrence Nicks and Maurice Dailey are being held in maximum security.  All are being held in protective custody, which means they are in cells by themselves and can only leave their cells alone while being escorted by an officer, per an order by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

In addition to the gravedigging scheme, Dart and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez also said Towns pocketed donations she elicited for an Emmett Till memorial museum. She has not been charged in connection with those allegations.

Till was a Chicago boy whose murder in 1955 was a touchstone moment in the American Civil Rights Movement.   His body was exhumed in 2005, as part of the investigation into his murder, before being re-buried in the same location.  Also buried at Burr Oak are boxing great Ezzard Charles and blues legends Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington.

The prosecutor's statement details the discovery of relocated bodies as follows:

On June 3, a Cook County Sheriff's detective, met a Burr Oak groundskeeper at the cemetery. The groundskeeper - referred to in the document only as Employee A - has worked at the cemetery since April 2008.

He told the detective that he had discovered misplaced bones when he went to a vacant part of the property to practice using a backhoe. He said he went to that area "because it was not used for burials and therefore he would not disrupt any gravesites."

On several occasions, the groundskeeper unearthed what he believed were human skeletal remains, which he would quickly cover back up. He said he spoke with a senior groundskeeper about this, but that groundskeeper wouldn't answer his question and simply told him to stop excavating in that part of the cemetery.

The groundskeeper said he spoke with another person who works at the cemetery about finding the bones and that person - Employee B - said it was a common occurrence: "EMPLOYEE B said that sometimes during transportation a bone will fall off the back of the truck and land on the ground or along the roadway."

Employee A told the detective that eventually, he saw Keith Nicks, Terrence Nicks and Dailey excavate an occupied grave site then use a backhoe to smash open the grave's cement liner: "Once the liner and contents were in pieces, they would remove it with the back-hoe, place it in the dump truck, and transport it to the dump area."

The groundskeeper said he had also seen the men removing a coffin and its cement liner, digging the hole deeper, replacing the old coffin and liner then placing a new liner on top of it, one that could then be used for another coffin. These were called "Double Stack" burials, and both Employee A and Employee B said they were a common occurrence.

Employee A took the detective to the area where the bodies were kept. They walked to a rectangular, weed-covered area in the northwest part of the cemetery, bordered on three sides by a six-foot chain link fence. Outside the fence to the west is Cicero Avenue, to the north is 123rd Street and to the east is a residential area.

The patch of weeds and mud slopes higher than the rest of the property. Looking at the crushed chunks of cement and other supplies lying around the area, the detective assumed the space was used for storage.

Then the groundskeeper showed the detective what appeared to be a human lower jawbone, teeth intact. It was lying on top of the soil, no skull in sight.

Evidence technicians made a preliminary search of the area and collected 29 bones scattered across what the employee said was called the "dump area."

On June 4, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that all of the bones were human.

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.  Authorities have also created an e-mail account to receive inquiries:  burroakcemeteryinvestigation@gmail.com.

Thursday's Burr Oak Cemetery News Conference:

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