Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Expanding Crime Scene

by Sheryl McCollum

An "expanding crime scene” is what law enforcement is calling the burial plot scam in Burr Oak Cemetery. Police have discovered that up to 300 bodies were dug up and dumped in an unused part of the cemetery in order to resell the plots.

The local sheriff, Sheriff Dart, says it is hard to tell how many graves have been scammed due to the poor record keeping at the cemetery. He stated that the burial records for these remains either do not exist have been altered or destroyed. Thus far, his office has received over 1,300 complaints from family members for the suspected remains. This number may rise in the days and weeks to come.

What office in Illinois oversees cemeteries? How was this one so inadequately missed? How could this criminal scam continue for four years?

The state of Georgia had a crematory scam years ago that turned into a massive crime scene and a larger victim assistance outreach. Assisting numerous family members for each loved one was quite an undertaking. For every victim in Burr Oak, there could be several family members. Therefore, Illinois could possibly end up assisting thousands of family members. Reading about the latest scam from Illinois makes my heart sick and furious at the same time. Although the state of Georgia had regulations, a loophole in the law allowed crematories, who only did business with funeral homes, to operate without a license; therefore, they could operate without any state inspections.

What’s the loophole here?

Historical Factor of Burr Oak

"Emmett Till is being treated with the same disrespect in death as he was treated in life," said Jonathan Fine, executive director of the group Preservation Chicago.

Numerous mothers of missing children have stated to me that they just want to be able to bury their children. They want to bring them home and lay them to rest. A proper burial is the last thing that they can do for them. How could anyone take that away from the Till family and all the other families? Emmett’s body has been exhumed once previously in order to prove it was in fact the civil rights victim inside. How horrifying will it be for his family to possibly have to exhume him again?

Each and every burial site is now under investigation. Not one grave is a final resting place. Crimes that target the dead hit many aspects from religion to a family honoring their loved ones. These criminals should receive the max time for their disrespect and disregard.

Current Factor

Each grave is someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, child, friend, or spouse. Police suspect as many as 300 grave sites have been disinterred or disturbed at the Burr Oak Cemetery. Sheriff Dart stated in a news cast: "I can't tell you how many mothers can't find their babies."

Crime Scene

Police will do a grid search on the 100,000 graves that span over 150 acres.

Some head stones were removed and smashed into pieces. This will make the task of locating sites difficult for law enforcement.

Each grave will be marked once that it has been inspected, and then officers will move on to the next grave. This systematic search will continue until all graves are accounted for.

The 300 human remains which were dumped in a pile on the vacant lot were all mixed together and mixed with garbage. Three hundred loved ones many just dumped in a vacant lot to make room to resell the sites.

Burr Oak is closed today. Families can not go and visit their loved ones grave site today because it is a crime scene. Some of them may have to wait on DNA testing to insure that their loved one was located in that vacant lot or in the developing crime scene. The police will question them. The FBI will assist in identifying the bodies. The EPA may also be involved, and then come the criminal and civil trials. All of this and then, they will have to bury their loved again. This event may take years to complete.

Going Forward

There has to be accountability. Scared burial grounds must be regulated and inspected and most of all investigated. Of course, Illinois did have a senate seat up for sale, should the resale of cemetery plots really surprise us? Bottom line–we regulate hair dressers better than our loved ones' burial sites.


Delilah said...

This is so disturbing on so many levels, from mothers and babies to Emmet Till, family members trusted these people to take care of their loved ones. They have been failed.

Living with the grief of losing a loved one is bad enough, but to find out that their remains were dumped like/with garbage makes me sick to my core.

Anonymous said...

How can this possibly happen??? I cannot understand why the Illinois government could not know this was happening if they were inspecting as they should be.

I feel for the families of all of those people and especially for the Till family.

Thank you for bringing this to light and letting us know about this atrocity!

Leah said...

If I remember correctly, the crematorium in Georgia was caught because they were returning rocks, concrete, sticks, etc instead of the deceased's remains to their family. I supposed those idiots didn't think families would be opening the urns and inspecting it's contents. It is amazing what people will think of in order to make/save money. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

There is a question nagging at me, as I have relatives buried in Illinois: If this cemetary got away with 'recycling' their gravesites for this long, how many other cemetaries have been doing this? And is Illinois tightening up their inspections process? No one should have to relive their family member's deaths in such a horrific manner.

It's nice find some in-depth information about this story instead of the 3 minute news spot you get on TV.

Anonymous said...

What an awful story. My heart goes out to the family members of their lost loved ones. It's very sad to think that scammers can get away with this. What have we come to?

Sheryl McCollum said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to the families.No one one should ever have to experience the loss of a loved one twice especially in this manner.