ALSIP, Ill. – Some horrified relatives who searched Friday for loved ones’ plots at the historic black cemetery at the center of a gravedigging scheme near Chicago instead found more bones on the grounds, prompting authorities to close the cemetery and treat it as a crime scene.
“I found bones out there, I found individuals wandering aimlessly around” who also found bones, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Friday night in announcing that Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip would be closed to the public.
Families still will be able to file inquiries at the cemetery, which is the burial place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till, and Dart said he hoped it would reopen to visitors in five to seven days.
Hundreds of families have visited and thousands more have inquired about the fate of graves since four former Burr Oak workers were accused earlier this week of dumping hundreds of unearthed corpses in a scheme to resell plots.
Authorities said four former cemetery employees – three gravediggers and a manager – made about $300,000 in the scheme that stretched back at least four years. The four sold existing deeds and plots to unsuspecting members of the public for cash, authorities said. They then allegedly dug up hundreds of corpses and either dumped them in a weeded, vacant area of the cemetery or double-stacked them in graves.
The suspects, who were being held on bond, were former cemetery manager Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39 – all of Chicago – and Maurice Dailey, 61, of Robbins, Ill. Each was charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a felony.