Gravedigger: Bones Dumped Since '82

Attorney says Maurice Dailey "followed orders"

Just following orders.

That's the excuse from one of the four former Burr Oak Cemetery workers, who contends that dumping bones at the historical burial place in Alsip had been standard practice for almost 30 years.

"Maurice Dailey was someone who is not a sophisticated person, he doesn't have a college degree, he wasn't in management," said Dailey's attorney  Thomas Needham. "He was a worker. He was basically a workforce that was sent out into the field everyday, and he's given instructions -- both by the current owners of Perpetua and by the family or the business that owned it before -- that this is how it should be handled. So he did what he was told".

The statement comes on the same day that Dailey, 59, and his three co-defendants, cemetery manager Carolyn Towns, 48; Foreman Keith Nicks, 45; and Dump truck driver Terrence Nicks, 39, were indicted on a litany of new charges, including:

dismembering a human body;
removal of a gravestone or marker;
desecration of human remains;
removal of remains of a deceased human being from a burial grounds;
conspiracy to dismember a human body;
and two counts of theft.

They were charged last month with only a single count of dismembering a human body, but the additional charges were expected.

Authorities for weeks have discussed the alleged scheme that involved digging up and dumping remains at the cemetery and stacking burial vaults on top of each other in order to resell the plots. Prosecutors have said the scheme netted each of the participants about $300,000, and each is charged with two counts of theft of $100,000 to $500,000. The four no longer work at the cemetery.

The most serious charge each faces, dismembering a human body, carries a maximum sentence of 6 to 30 years in prison.

According to the indictment, the scheme went on from September 2003, earlier than prosecutors have previously alleged, until it was exposed on July 8 and the four were arrested.

But Dailey's attorney said his client reported occasionally finding bones since he was hired at Burr Oak in 1982. Each time, Dailey was told that those graves had been, in effect, leased for 50 years, a less expensive practice for people with little money, and that those leases had run out.

"He was told it's OK to go ahead and move those bones," Needham said, adding that the message to Dailey and other employees was similar in 2005 when utility workers discovered some human bones. Alsip police were called but no charges were ever filed.

"My client wasn't making any decisions about, 'We're going to dig here,' or 'We're going to move these bones,'" Needham said. "He followed orders."

Prosecutors said at Thursday's hearing that more than 1,100 human bones have been found scattered about the cemetery where many prominent figures were buried, including blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington, boxing champion Ezzard Charles and Emmett Till, the Chicago teen whose lynching in 1955 was a seminal moment in the civil rights movement.

When word broke that graves had been dug up, thousands of people descended on the cemetery to see if their loved ones' remains had been disturbed. Authorities have said it doesn't appear the graves of the cemetery's famous inhabitants were disturbed.

One of those charged, Carolyn Towns, was accused of pocketing money collected for a Till memorial museum but she has not been charged in connection with that alleged scheme. Prosecutors said Thursday that none of the charges unveiled Thursday pertained to Till.

Towns, Keith Nicks and Terrence Nicks remain in custody. Dailey bonded out of jail on July 23.  The cemetery remains closed to the public.

Full Coverage:  Desecration at Burr oak Cemetery

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