Alsip, Illinois – Authorities in a greater Chicago suburb have discovered that possibly 300 graves have been dug up and resold at a cemetery. The Burr Oak Cemetery is a historic African-American cemetery where several black icons were buried. These include Emmett Till, a lynching victim, Dinah Washington, a blues singing legend and Harlem Globetrotter Inman Jackson.
The office manager for the cemetery, Carolyn Towns, and 3 gravediggers Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley are those that have been charged. This horrific story has caused unimaginable heartbreak for many in the town who have relatives whose graves have been dug up.
Steven Watkins, attorney for Towns, claims innocence on his clients behalf. He stated that “Somebody is apparently making false accusations against my client.” Towns is maintaining that she is innocent.
The method used in this plot is horrific as well. This was not moving or replacing graves. The graves have been excavated, and the remains dumped wherever there was an empty space in the back area of the cemetery. In other instances, graves were stacked on top of another. According to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, some of the graves were pounded down so that another casket could be placed on top of it.
This scheme was an attempt by the four to make money. According to Dart, the four would dig up the graves, dump the remains, resell the plot and pocket the cash. Each of the 4 have been charged with dismembering a human body. The sentence for this charge ranges from 6 to 30 years according to Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez.
Towns bail was set at $250,000. The other three implicated in the charges each have a $200,000 bail. As of Thursday afternoon, none had posted bail according to the sheriff’s department. The FBI, local funeral directors and forensic scientists have been summoned to assist with the investigation according to Dart.
This all began about six weeks ago when owners of the cemetery began having issues with possible financial irregularities. The current owners have operated the cemetery for over five years but are not thought to be involved in the scheme. According to Dart, the majority of the excavations were done in back lots to graves that were older and not visited often.
Also attending the news conference was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stated that there should be “a special place in hell” for the suspects. Decades ago, Burr Oak Cemetery was the one place that black Chicagoans were comfortable they could safely bury their dead. Dart believes the scheme could have been going on for as long as the past four years.
Caskets, bodies and all have literally been “dumped” in the back area of the cemetery. Concrete vaults have been shattered – but not nearly as shattered as the lives of people who had family buried at Burr Oak Cemetery. This is truly every family’s nightmare, and a heart-wrenching one as well.