Final resting place: Cemeteries lack oversight

At some cemeteries, graves were desecrated so more plots could be sold. Is enough being done to protect bereaved families?

SCI declined to give us an interview. Off-camera, its executives told us the problems that led to the $100 million settlement at Menorah Gardens began before the SCI purchased the cemetery, and since then the company has improved its training and procedures. At Star of David, which SCI acquired six years ago, the company says it's taking the new allegations seriously but does not believe human remains were dumped in the pond.

At Eden Memorial, where a groundskeeper testified 200 graves are missing bones, the company says it discovered potential problems with only four graves, and took steps to notify the families. As for moving Julie Ramirez's father without permission, SCI says that was against its policy, and it has reached a confidential settlement with the family.

In a statement SCI told us it's "dedicated to providing the highest quality funeral and cemetery services" and added, "while not perfect...we have consistently raised standards in this evolving industry.''

Paul Elvig: Obviously, as a corporation, they're not gonna have a policy of somehow, "Work the public over," or, "Screw the public over." They'd be foolish to do that.

Paul Elvig is a former cemetery operator and regulator and a leading spokesman for the industry.

Anderson Cooper: When you look at what's gone on just over the last two years in a number of places across the country, I mean, do you ever just say to yourself, "What is goin' on here?"

Paul Elvig: Well, I put it in perspective to the volume. When you talk about 6,500 burials and cremations a day, in over 45,000 possibly active cemeteries, when we look at that, it is very uncommon.

Josh Slocum: I have no problem conceding that most cemeteries aren't digging up bodies. But there are everyday, ongoing abuses that happen to funeral and cemetery consumers that are not headline-grabbing, and that desperately need attention. Financial exploitation, misrepresentations of legal requirements. Pressuring emotionally vulnerable people into believing that the more they spend the more love and respect that they're showing for somebody.

Anderson Cooper: Industry representatives say, look, those are isolated incidents.

Josh Slocum: Oh, nonsense. It's not a few bad apples. It's not isolated incidents. It's-- it is embedded in the fabric of the death business in this country.

Paul Elvig: I think any scenario you want to say probably has happened. I don't think it happens on a broad scale, I really don't.

Anderson Cooper: Is there a lack of oversight of cemeteries?

Paul Elvig: No. I can't buy into that general notion there's a lack of oversight. No.

Anderson Cooper: I just don't understand how you can say that. For instance, again, at Burr Oak, hundreds of bodies were dug up and tossed away for years and years and years. If there had been a regulator who came by, any inspector who'd come by, they could've actually found bones.

Paul Elvig: If they knew where to look.

Anderson Cooper: I've been to Burr Oak. And it's not that hard to find if you're walking around.

Paul Elvig: I'm aware of the Burr Oak situation. I do know that inspection in that state seemed to be lax. And I don't think it is now. It's got their undivided attention.

Nearly three years after the Burr Oak scandal, the state of Illinois has adopted new laws, but has yet to hire its first cemetery inspector. The scandal did prompt Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush to introduce federal legislation that would apply the same consumer protections to cemeteries that already exist at funeral homes. But so far, Rush has been unable to find a co-sponsor in the Senate.

[Sheriff: This is the approximate location of the grave.]

With the help of the sheriff's department, Roxie Williams was able to locate the spot at Burr Oak where her father's grave is supposed to be. But she has no idea if he's still in it.

Roxie Williams: If I had the money, I'd exhume this durn body and they'd have to prove my dad was my dad, you know? But sometimes, you just let it go.