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Bodies Stacked 8 Deep At Cemetery

UPDATED 02/17/11 6:00 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County sheriff's officials have found bodies stacked on top of each other – some buried eight at a time -- at a south suburban cemetery.

As CBS 2's Susanna Song reports, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says Homewood Memorial Gardens, at 600 Ridge Rd. in Homewood, desecrated the bodies of people who couldn't afford to purchase burial plots.

Dart says he is appalled and disgusted about the indigent burials. The bodies were layered as many as eight high before they began decomposing on top of one another.

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The identities of the people in the indigent burial area are largely unknown. But even if someone were looking for their loved-ones, there would be no way to find them, Dart said.

"We have been informed people are buried eight deep out there," Dart said. "There is no rhyme or reason. There is no grid system. You couldn't find people if you wanted to find them."

Homewood Memorial Gardens told CBS 2 they keep records for all indigent burials and provided a glimpse of records from 1980 all the way to 2011.  Index cards show each person's burial lot and row number.

When CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot asked employee Kelly McCarthy if an indigent person's burial spot could be located, she said, "Yes, within a foot of each way."

The cemetery's owner spoke to CBS 2 by phone. He says there's nothing in his current county contract that says coffins of the indigent can't be stacked on top of each other for burial.  He says it's a question of economics. It costs $239 for an indigent burial.  A single plot costs $2,200 per person.

But Dart said the practices are a violation of the cemetery's contract with county government to bury indigent people

"From a law enforcement we were disturbed," he said. "From a human standpoint, we were absolutely appalled."

The practice echoes the headline-grabbing scandal two years ago at another south suburban cemetery.

At Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Dart's office found piles of bones, old caskets and vaults dumped on trash heaps at the back of the property. They were dumped as part of an alleged plot to resell grave plots at the historic cemetery.

But even though Gov. Pat Quinn approved new state regulations for cemetery oversight last year, Dart said he saw the latest problems at Homewood Memorial Gardens about a month ago.

Dart said thousands of bodies have been stacked for burial since the cemetery won the contract for indigent burials in 1980.

Mass Burial Casket
A wooden casket containing unclaimed remains. (Credit: Cook County Sheriff's Office)

He also said unidentified limbs and bones examined by law enforcement authorities were turned over to the cemetery, which simply dumped them into the coffins of babies whose parents were indigent. Sometimes, the bodies have been mixed with animal parts before being tossed into the mounds.

Dart said there is nothing requiring law enforcement agencies to take DNA samples before turning bodies over to cemeteries. He said this is a shame, given that there are dozens of cold case homicides in Cook County which at any point could be tied to the bodies stacked in the burial ground.

Dart is calling for new state legislation that calls for changes in some burial practices that will make investigations easier.

He said given that there are only about 250 indigent burials a year, there is no reason why they cannot be handled properly and respectfully.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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