More Vaults Found Unearthed At Burr Oak

The historic Burr Oak Cemetery enterance where dozens of graves were dug up and bodies dumped in a massive pile, an investigation by the Cook County Sheriff's.(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Friday that more vaults have been discovered unearthed and lying on the ground at Burr Oak Cemetery.

Dart said the vaults contained bodies that had been stacked on top of each other. While each vault is supposed to contain only one casket, each of the unearthed vaults had several.

Dart also responded Friday to information from a 2005 Alsip police report, indicating that police took no action when they found bones and skulls lying around the cemetery.

Dart said if the Alsip police investigators had been working for him, he would have fired them.

On March 17, 2005, an officer was sent to the Alsip cemetery after ComEd workers found "skeletal remains," according to a police report obtained on Monday by CBS Station WBBM.

Two Alsip police officers searched the area and found excavation at the cemetery. The officers found that "skeletal remains that had been unearthed and spread across various dirt mounds."

The work crew supervisor said "a worker of his took a skeletal remain," specifically a skull, "back to the Monee Super 8 Motel for safe keeping," according to the report.

Initially, police said it was unclear whether any crime had been committed.

The following day, police told the worker to hand over the skull. Afterward, police met with Carolyn Towns, the director of cemetery operations.

Towns told the officers that the Illinois Department of Transportation had taken one acre of property on the north side of the cemetery, and had begun working on the fence line the same day the skull was found. Towns said she had not checked burial records or conducted any soil tests to find out if anyone was buried on the land taken over by IDOT, according to the police report.

Police advised Towns to contact the Illinois Comptroller's office to determine how she should address the unearthed bones.

But at the time of the report, the responding sergeant found nearly 100 piles of dirt along the Burr Oak property, along with concrete pieces of various vaults, some marble pieces and several bones, according to the police report.

A responding sergeant even took pictures, the report said.

An officer held another meeting with Towns on March 21, 2005, along with a ComEd worker and construction workers from K-5 Construction. They went through several scenarios as to how the remains wound up on the ground, speculating that they were unearthed by the IDOT crews, inadvertently disinterred during an earlier unrecorded burial, or dug up and dragged around the cemetery by animals.

Then-Cook County Medical Examiner Edmund Donoghue simply advised police that the remains should be relocated and buried elsewhere, and a state archaeologist should be brought in to inspect them.

But police decided the bones had little archaeological interest, and they were buried in a new grave that day.

The responding officer "was satisfied that the remains that were discovered were of some antiquity and had no police interest as a recent crime," the police report said.

It was a similar set of conditions that Cook County Sheriff's police discovered at the cemetery earlier this month. But by then, a whistleblower had exposed an alleged scheme that suggested a far more gruesome explanation for the stray bones and smashed vaults than Alsip police were considering in 2005.

As soon became national news, the scheme saw cemetery employees disinterring caskets and then re-selling burial plots to unsuspecting families. Many of the bodies were dumped behind the cemetery. About 300 bodies were affected.

To date, four cemetery employees have been criminally charged for their roles in that scheme, of whom Towns was one.

The Sheriff's Office has launched a partially completed website for Burr Oak gravesite inquiries, allowing users to search headstone photos to try to determine if their loved ones' graves were disturbed.

Regarding the 2005 incident, the Alsip Police Department referred questions by The Associated Press Friday to Mayor Patrick Kitching's office, which didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.


WBBM Correspondent Kristyn Hartman and WBBM political producer Ed Marshall contributed to this report.
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