Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grave News: Scam and Scandal in Illinois

The Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, has been the victim of grave-robbing employees.  In a scheme that involved selling lots for cash under the table, bodies were removed from unmarked and seldom visited graves, dumped at the back of the property, and the plots re-sold.  The story is covered in the Chicago Sun Times, Lalate News, and even the BBC.  According to these sources as many as 100 bodies may have been removed in order to re-sell the plots.  Burr Oak is the first African American cemetery in Chicago.  It seems to be owned privately and the actual owners aren’t implicated in this particular scandal but are being heavily criticized for extreme lack in oversight of the cemetery.  Apparently 5 employees have been arrested at this point, including one who appears to have effectively had sole access to the cemetery records.  This individual has apparently destroyed records in an effort to hide the illegal activities – which spanned 4 years. 

Unfortunately, cemetery regulation seems to regularly get particularly short shift.  Admittedly most states are facing tough times right now, and inspection of burial places, crematoriums, and other facilities aren’t high on the priority list, but is an inspection of some sort every 3-5 years really out of the question? 

If you have loved ones buried in a cemetery where you suspect the management is…lacking, your options may be limited.   Unless it’s gross violation of laws, such as illegally disinterring bodies and dumping them at the back of the cemetery, it may be difficult to get anyone to take notice.  Your best bet is to document as much as you can, for examples if monuments are being damaged through neglect take pictures and show the damage over time then contact the management.  If that doesn’t work contact local and state authorities.  If that doesn’t work it’s time to start pestering a local journalist – whether print or TV.  Be persistent, but polite, and you may be able to get results. 

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