Four workers from a Chicago cemetery are under arrest after tossing hundreds of bodies into a mass grave as part of a scheme to resell graves.
Police say that 200-300 bodies buried at Burr Oak Cemetery (a historically Black facility) were dug up and tossed into mass plot in a secluded area of the facility, KTLA reports.
For their parts, cemetery general manager Carolyn Towns, foreman Keith Nicks, Terrence Nicks and Maurice Dailey have each been charged with one count of dismembering a human body, which is a Class X felony. Authorities said they also issued an arrest warrant for another woman who was a secretary at Burr Oak. She was never charged in the scam because police determined that she was only acting on orders from Carolyn.
"Carolyn Towns was the brains behind the operation, the one calling the shots," said Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Brittney Blair.
Police suspect that the four were able to get away with their plot because families of the deceased often purchase graves with cash. After Carolyn took the money she would dispose of the deeds for already occupied graves.
Once a plot was sold Carolyn would tell Keith, Terrence and Maurice to dig up the body and toss it in a shallow grave. “By the time the (newly) deceased person got there, they were put in the grave and their family was none the wiser," Brittney explained.
Reportedly, the suspects would disturb graves that they know hadn’t been visited in a while. The affected plots were very old, though some did still have headstones. A police search turned up a pile of bones and other human remains that were left to sit out in the open and rot after being dumped into a weedy section of the cemetery. Beyond that, some plots were found to contain two bodies.
Police were alerted to the scheme when cemetery owners Perpetua Inc. expressed concern about shady financial dealings at the site. It’s estimated that the scam, which happened over the course of 4 years, took in about $300,000.
Earlier this week tons of families showed up at Burr Oak to see if their loved one’s graves have been disturbed. Because none of the cemetery staff showed up, police have to assist the distraught relatives.
"This is just heartbreaking. The people I have talked to have made me want to cry. The sense of violation is horrible,” said Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart told WGN-AM. "Some people come back from the grave site and it’s not what it’s supposed to be and I don’t know what to tell them."
Burr Oak is one of the nation’s first Black cemeteries and historical figures like Emmett Till and Dinah Washington are interred there. However, Tom said it could be months before all the dug up remains are identified.
Carolyn is being held on a $250,000 bond. The other four suspects were ordered to be held on $200,000 bond. They could each face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Those concerned about whether their relative’s grave was disturbed can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or they can call (800) 942-1950.
– Sonya Eskridge