Monday, July 13, 2009

WTF??? Burr Oak Cemetery: Black On Black Crime From Beyond The Grave...

Family members and police gather outside the Burr Oak Cemetery office in Alsip, Illinois, on Wednesday.

Cemetery With Missing Grave Sites Declared Crime Scene

* Story Highlights
* Officials say there was scheme to resell plots, excavate the graves, dump remains
* Four people face felony charges for their alleged involvement
* Emmett Till's original casket found in dilapidated garage on cemetery grounds
* Cemetery closed temporarily so officials can investigate

ALSIP, Illinois (CNN) -- A Cook County cemetery where hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold has been declared a crime scene, meaning that relatives of people believed buried there will not be allowed to visit for several days, an official said Friday.

"It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to invite people in, to raise expectations and then crash them," Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart told reporters in a news conference held at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. He pleaded for patience, saying he hoped to reopen the 150-acre cemetery to the public in five to seven days.

Dart said the scope of the investigation has broadened to include "Babyland," a section of the cemetery intended for children.

"A lot of women came up to me and asked for help with Babyland," he said. "To a person, every one I talked to could not find any of their children in Babyland." VideoWatch sheriff discuss gruesome revelation »

A large number of grave sites "are completely missing," he said, adding that he had received more than 5,000 telephone inquiries and 1,700 e-mails about the matter since the investigation began.

As many as half of the complaints were about missing headstones, 25 to 30 percent were about loved ones who had been relocated, he said.

He cited the experience of one family looking for 10 relatives buried there. "They couldn't find anybody," he said.

In addition, in some cases there are no records of burials having taken place, despite relatives' insistence that they did, he said. In other cases, records have been altered, destroyed or found in people's houses, he said.

"Our office has to investigate over 5,000 grave sites due to the vast amounts of inquiries from grieving family members," he said.

Dart said he himself walked through the cemetery on Friday and what he saw was disturbing. "I found bones out there," he said. "I found individuals wandering aimlessly looking for their loved ones who can't find them."

Some people told him that an entire area that used to have gravestones facing in one direction now has them facing in another direction, he said.

"This is getting bigger," he said. "We don't have an end in sight ... more people have not found relatives than have found them."

More than 2,000 families have descended on the cemetery since authorities uncovered what they say was a scheme to resell the plots, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash.

Four people face felony charges for their alleged involvement.

He had said earlier this week that the number of disturbed graves was around 300, but said Friday that number was sure to rise.

One family arrived on Thursday to bury a woman in a plot they had purchased and found the plot was already occupied, he said.

Authorities also discovered Emmett Till's original casket in a dilapidated garage on the cemetery grounds. The casket had been replaced by a new one after Till's body was exhumed in 2005.

"There was wildlife living inside of it," Dart said of the old casket, found in the corner of a garage filled with lawn care equipment and other "piles of things."

Till was killed in August 1955 in Mississippi after the 14-year-old reportedly whistled at a white woman.

His body was exhumed 50 years later as part of a renewed investigation into his death. The Chicago Tribune reported that he was reburied in a different casket.

Thousands of people had viewed Till's body in the original casket in Chicago shortly after he was killed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at the news conference.

"His mother had the gut and grit to say that 'I want America to see what they did to my baby's body,'" Jackson said about Till, whose body was mutilated.

"More than 100,000 saw his body lying at the church. It is said that those who saw his body were never the same again," he said.

"Emmett Till's lynching redefined emotions in our culture in very fundamental ways. So to see his casket in this state of desecration and neglect is very painful."

Cemetery groundskeepers told investigators that Till's grave was not among those disturbed in the alleged resale scheme, Dart said earlier this week.

Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers, have each been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from six to 30 years, authorities said.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. The public defender's office in Cook County said it had represented the three others at the bond hearing but could not provide a statement for them.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery -- where, along with Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried -- about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners, who said they suspected "financial irregularities" regarding the business, Dart said earlier this week.

He said the owners are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam.


Exclusive: Emmett Till's Casket Left To Waste At Burr Oak
Cemetery Debacle Grows Worse With Discovery Of Coffin Of Civil Rights Icon

The casket was surrounded by garbage and discarded headstones strewn about like litter.
The original coffin that had contained Emmett Louis Till (inset) was found at Burr Oak Cemetery Thursday in an old work area. The original casket was supposed to be part of a planned memorial for Till at Burr Oak Cemetery.
(Scott Stewart/Sun-Times, AP)

July 10, 2009

BY MARY MITCHELL Chicago Sun-Times Columnist

Broken. Rusted. Battered. The image of a glass-covered casket with the body of Emmett Till was shown around the world in the 1950s. But on Thursday, as hundreds of African Americans searched frantically for the graves of love ones, the battered casket of Till was rusting in the back of a shack at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip.

(708) 865-6070
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"When we opened it up trying to find what we have, a family of possums ran out," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Cemetery workers had been cooperative and informed law enforcement officials that it was indeed Till's original casket.

"It sure looks like all of the photos I have ever seen," Dart said. "This is absolutely horrible."

In June 2005, Till's body was exhumed during an investigation of his death. As is customary, he was not reburied in the same casket.

The original casket was supposed to be part of a planned memorial for Till at Burr Oak Cemetery, but the donations for that memorial were allegedly pocketed by a woman who has been charged in this ghoulish scheme.

Till, 14, was kidnapped and murdered after he whistled at a white woman in 1955 in Mississippi. The lynching of the Chicago youth helped spark the civil rights movement. A picture of his severely mutilated face was shown around the world.

His original casket is symbolic of the condition of the battered condition of the cemetery.

Officers raided the cemetery at 4400 W. 127th St. in Alsip on Wednesday morning.

Four people, including Carolyn Towns -- the woman who was supposed to set up the Till memorial -- were charged with one count of dismemberment of a human body.

The other charged employees were Keith Nicks, 45; Terrence Nicks, 39, and Maurice Dailey, 59.

Throughout the day, Cook County sheriff's deputies ferried anxious family members to grave sites in buses ordinarily used to take inmates to Cook County Jail.

The landscape in some sections of the cemetery was dotted with orange utility flags that some people mistakenly thought indicated desecrated graves.

But beyond the grassy areas at Burr Oak, hidden by a wall of high weeds and buried under mounds of dirt, is the nightmare that all of these African Americans were praying they were spared.

The Cook County sheriff's office now estimates that about 300 bodies were dumped in the rear of Burr Oak, in an area that is about the size of three football fields.

Knowing what was out there was a heavy burden etched in the faces of the people who were waiting for answers.

Carolyn Singleton of Chicago sat in a folding chair outside of the cemetery's office building, where people were lined up seeking information about plot locations.

She had arrived at Burr Oak at 11 a.m. It was about 3 p.m., and she was still clutching No. 379.

Singleton told me she was looking for the grave sites of seven family members: her grandmother, two aunts, two uncles, a cousin, and her fiance's mother.

"This is like having a funeral all over again," she said. "My fiance's family is calling from out of town trying to get information. All this is giving me a headache."

I have to give Dart credit for the way he has handled this unprecedented catastrophe.

Although the cemetery's owners said they would attend a news conference at the cemetery, they failed to show. With most of the employees under arrest, the Cook County Sheriff 's Department is essentially running the cemetery.

Sheriff's deputies drove worried families back and forth to sections of the cemetery to look for plots.

Armed detectives took information from distraught people who either could not find their loved one's grave site or discovered something was amiss.

Other employees with the Cook County sheriff's office passed out cold bottled water and even emptied garbage containers.

Although the process for locating plots was indeed slow, people were unbelievably patient, and sheriff's deputies were sensitive.

The Rev. Steve Jones, a chaplain for the sheriff's office and president of the Baptist Pastors Conference, was one of the people driving distressed survivors to grave sites.

Jones was thankful that Dart advised the clergy about the disaster before going public. He believes that decision helped bring an element of dignity to a situation that could have been chaotic.

"It wouldn't have been fair to exclude funeral homes or fair to pastors, not to be prepared for a catastrophe of this magnitude," Jones said.

"The fact is every black person in Chicago has a tie to this cemetery. When they took us to the crime scene, I walked over bones," he said.

"This whole thing makes the bereavement experience fresh. To even think your loved one's remains might not be in place. . . it really breaks my heart."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

D’Anne Burley Show
Radio talks Show Host and Investigative Journalist
1103 West Roosevelt Rd, Wheaton Illinois 60187 Ph 1-888-774-1432

June 15th, 2010
RE; Burr Oaks Cemetery
Ms. Silvy Cotton

Dear Ms. Cotton;

I am a radio talk show host and the daughter of famed editor Dan
Burley whose remains were within Burr Oaks Cemetery. Years before
the Negro’s Leagues invited to a special grave marking ceremony at
Burr Oaks in which my father received a marker concerning his work
within sports.

At that time I had also come back and interviewed with Ms. Carolyn
Towns who at the time was involved in creating a African American
Historical Museum piece and who I gave historical documents to, which
I am wondering what could have happened to them as well.

My father was friends with the late Earl Dickerson and others who were
involved within the concept of the cemetery and I want to know how the
plot owner’s rights were given up to Perpetual Inc while you were
working within the management team. And what became of the bond and
trust relating to the privately held grave sites.

It ‘s appalling to me to see that black folks are involved in one of
the worse scandals ever to hit the Black Community, and that there is
a lack of respect for the dead, of course dead black people.

When I met with Ms. Towns she seemed sane enough to understand the
value of those who have died within various times and parts within the
civil rights movement, and was involved with a cause that seemed at
the time of interested in reestablishing a historical bases which it
seems that many within our community are NOT INTERESTED IN TODAY!
The reason for this e-mail will serve a purpose to invite you on my
radio program to discuss Burr Oaks and how are cemetery was placed
into this mess.

Also I have people who I know tell me that they have overheard
workers talking about removing the dead who were placed within graves
for over 50 yrs and then tossed to the back end of the property.
Again without the knowledge of Corporate, and indeed since father was
buried in 1962 I guess his remains and that of his dear friend Dinah
Washington maybe indicated as those who were tossed into the wind as
Please respond to this I am very interesting in seeking to get a
understanding of how management never once saw, and or invested time
and trouble in going to sites that they managed NOT OWNED. You see we
the consumers are told a lie that once you are buried your cemetery
site is deeded and remains within the family. But again if those in
charge are involved in over selling plots then I guess this is OK,
with those who are involved with massive grave robbery, fraud and

Please contact me thanks you

Sincerely yours

D’Anne Burley

Daughter of journalist Dan Burley