Tom Dart: There was no records of anything. There was no records of how many people are supposed to be buried here. We couldn't even find a blueprint of the place. And truly, in any cemetery, do you know underneath the ground who is under there? You really don't know.
What happened at Burr Oak is unusual, but the conditions that enabled it to go on for so long without being detected are quite common. Most states have few licensing requirements, no on-the-ground inspections, not even a hotline consumers can call with complaints.
Josh Slocum: It's sort of the Wild West out there.
Josh Slocum is executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Josh Slocum: There isn't much regulation at all. And what is there, is a patchwork.
Anderson Cooper: Aren't cemeteries regulated by the Federal Trade Commission?
Josh Slocum: No. And that is a goal that we have been trying to get achieved for a long time. Since 1984, funeral homes have been regulated by the Federal Trade Commission's funeral rule. You can think of that as a consumer bill of rights at the funeral home. But those rights stop at the cemeteries.
Under that consumer bill of rights, funeral homes are required to provide their customers with a clear price list and other disclosures. Those rules, however, generally don't apply to cemeteries.
In 2004, when Lucy Perez pre-purchased a burial plot at Mt. Olive Cemetery in Chicago for $2,500, she says the salesman told her she'd paid for everything and she believed him. But when her grandson died unexpectedly six years later, she was told the cemetery would not bury him unless she paid an additional $2,550 fee for digging the grave and covering it back up. That was a month's pay for Lucy, and more than she paid for the plot itself.
Anderson Cooper: So, they were charging you $2,500 or about $2,500 for--
Lucy Perez: $2,500 to take out dirt and put it back in.
Anderson Cooper: Did you think about not paying?
Lucy Perez: We did, we started thinking about maybe going to see a lawyer and stuff because it didn't sound right. But we were grieving. You know, we had to get my grandson buried.
Anderson Cooper: So even though you sensed you were being ripped off--
Lucy Perez: Right.
Anderson Cooper: You had--
Lucy Perez: We had no choice.
Mt. Olive Cemetery may look like a local operation, but since 2006 it's been owned by Service Corporation International, or SCI, the largest provider of funeral homes and cemeteries in North America. SCI is known by the brand "Dignity Memorial." Last year the company reported an operating profit of $363 million.
Anderson Cooper: What's your experience been with SCI?
Josh Slocum: They generate a disproportionately large number of the complaints that we get from consumers.
Anderson Cooper: Is that just because they're one of the biggest organizations out there?