Year in review 2009
Estimated 300 bodies displaced in Burr Oak Cemetery scheme
Cook County Sheriff's Police chief DeWayne Holbrook greets a woman at the entrance of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill., Thursday July 8, 2009. Families with loved ones buried there flocked to the cemetery after news that dozens of graves were dug up. (David Pierini/Chicago Tribune)
Each was charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a Class X felony. They were identified as Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39, all of Chicago, and Maurice Dailey, 59, of Robbins. They will appear in Central Bond Court at 11:45 a.m.
An arrest warrant was also issued Tuesday for a fifth person, a 45-year-old woman who was a secretary at the cemetery, according to Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Brittney Blair. But the woman was not charged after investigators became convinced that she did not profit from the scheme and was only carrying out orders from Towns, who was the office manager.
"Carolyn Towns was the brains behind the operation, the one calling the shots," Blair said.
Detectives discovered a pile of bones -- from more than 100 bodies -- decomposed, above ground and uncovered in an overgrown, fenced-off portion of the cemetery, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
In addition, bodies apparently were double-buried in already existing plots, Dart told WGN-AM 720 this morning. Dozens of FBI agents are expected in Chicago early next week to help sift through the evidence at the cemetery, Dart said.
The charges against Towns allege that "numerous graves were excavated and the human remains were then buried in a rear vacant lot in Burr Oak cemetery, Alsip ... She then sold the vacant gravesites for her own personal financial gain."
One of the first predominantly African-American cemeteries in the area, Burr Oak is the resting place of many historic figures, including civil rights symbol Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles.
Dart said he was certain Till's remains were not disturbed, but he could not be sure about the others.
This morning, a large crowd converged on the cemetery, most of them African-American, saying they wanted to find out if their loved ones' remains had been moved. The families expressed outrage, disgust and discouragement.
Dart said this morning that none of the cemetery's workers came to work today, so the sheriff's office was aiding residents walk through the plots.
"This is just heartbreaking. The people I have talked to have made me want to cry," Dart said. "The sense of violation is horrible."
"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," he said.
Sheriff's employees are having concerned families first take a number. When their number comes up, they are taken to the site. But the wait is long so Dart's office has brought out chairs for the elderly as well as water, drinks and chips for relatives.
Some people who know where the location of their loved ones' graves are just heading to them on their own.
Dart said he believes the alleged scheme has been going on for about four years.
"We have evidence...There were also people being double-buried, that they would just sort of pound down the one casket or remains and put another set of remains on top," he told WGN-AM.
The disinterred graves appeared to be older, neglected ones, Dart said. "They specifically looked to older graves, where there might not be someone coming out there every week," he said.
He believes the alleged scheme has been going on for about four years.