Bodies Dug Up, Graves Resold at Burr Oak Cemetery

The dead walk in Illinois

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Businesses are having a rough go of it during this recession. Sure, you can perform a service for a client or sell them a product, but what happens after that? In order to maintain cash flow, there has to be repeat business, or at least good word of mouth that draws new customers in. If they don’t get it, they’ll need a cash loan or two to generate the necessary operating revenue. Cash loans aren’t a long-term solution, however.

But what about cemeteries?

You’re operating within a finite amount of space, so you don’t have room for an endless string of customers. And repeat business? That isn’t exactly how the game is played. Unless you’re Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Il. There, some employees dig the bodies up and resell the plots. Which is, of course, illegal. They had been paid for; certain employees just wanted to survive the recession by any means necessary.

Digging up the details… unnecessarily

Lolly Bowean, Steve Schmadeke and Alena Scarver report for the Chicago Tribune that there were five employees of Burr Oak Cemetery taken into police custody after the illegal grave reselling activities were discovered. Detectives found piles of bones from over 100 bodies above ground in an open, fenced-off part of Burr Oak. It is believed that the conspirators made over $300,000 off their disgraceful activities. They reused old plots so that the number of vacant graves wouldn’t change on the books. They also didn’t alter the names in their books.

“What we found was beyond startling and revolting,” said the investigating sheriff.

Chicago’s first African-American cemetery

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Devastated families have been checking to see if the remains of their loved ones have been removed. Donetta Newman, 35, whose father and grandparents are buried at Burr Oak, was mortified. “You always think this is the final resting place,” she said. “This is just shocking. I’m very distraught.”

Prominent figures buried at the predominantly African-American cemetery include Emmett Till, whose slaying help spur on the Civil Rights Movement; blues legends Dinah Washington and Willie Dixon; and former heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles. It is known that Till’s remains were not disturbed, but whether the others were touched is not currently clear. Authorities have indicated that none of the remains has been removed from the scene of the crime at Burr Oak.

Simeon Wright, a cousin of Till, said: “This is reprehensible if it’s true. I’ve got several generations of my family buried there, and I’ve never had any problems. … But this is a pretty ghoulish story.”

Burr Oak has had lesser problems before

Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Il. has drawn some complaints from family members of the departed and those located nearby. In particular, such things as overgrown grass, sunken grave sites and flooding are issues. Apparently, the employees have been too busy trying to figure out who to dig up to do their jobs properly.

“Absolutely unbelievable.”



“I’ve been in this business for 35 years, and I have never heard of employees committing these kinds of terrible acts,” said Vickie Hand of the Illinois Cemetery & Funeral Home Association. “There’s no words that can express it; it’s just absolutely unbelievable.”

No comment from owner

Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, Inc. has owned Burr Oak since 2001. Company president Melvin Bryant has not returned messages from the Tribune. All that Bryant’s attorney will confirm is that Perpetua went to the police when employees began to suspect financial wrongdoing. Unearthing the dead, conspiracy and financial crimes are among the felony charges the guilty employees of Burr Oak face. A cash loan (or cash loans) will not bail them out of this.

If you have loved ones at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Il

Call (800) 942-1950 immediately. Otherwise, please do not call. The line is reserved for those whose loved ones may have been victimized by the unscrupulous employees.

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