ALSIP, Ill. Three grave diggers and a cemetery manager unearthed hundreds of corpses from a historic black cemetery south of Chicago, dumping some and double-stacking others in existing graves, in an elaborate scheme to resell the plots, authorities said yesterday. All four were charged with felonies.
Frantic relatives of the deceased descended on Burr Oak Cemetery the final resting place of lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington in hopes someone could tell them their loved ones remains were not among the bones littering a remote area of the site 12 miles south of Chicago.
Some found apparently undisturbed plots, but others wandered, unable to locate loved ones.
This is a mess. We can t find our people, said Ralph Gunn, 54, of Chicago, who filled out a report after a futile search for the headstones of his brother and nephew.
Others cried and clutched cemetery maps as they waited to look themselves. They listened as Sheriff Tom Dart said that the displacement of bodies was not done in a very delicate way and that remains were dumped haphazardly, littered with shards of coffins. In graves stacked on top of one another, Sheriff Dart said they pounded the other one down and put someone on top.
By late afternoon, orange flags marking grave sites that might have been disturbed could be seen throughout the 150-acre cemetery. Up to 1,000 burials a year are held there.
Officials took phone numbers and told family members they would call within 72 hours. Sheriff Dart said that FBI agents would help sort through evidence and identify bodies and that it could be months before investigators fully understand what took place.
I feel betrayed and violated, said Gregory Mannie, 54, a Chicagoan with four relatives buried at Burr Oak. It s almost like killing them all over again.
The suspects, all of whom are black, were identified as Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39 all of Chicago and Maurice Dailey, 61, of Robbins.
Each has been charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a felony. Bond was set at $250,000 for Ms. Towns, the cemetery s manager, and at $200,000 for the other three.
Sheriff Dart said Mr. Till s grave was not disturbed in the alleged plot-selling scheme, but he did not have information about the graves of Washington and others.