Friday, July 10, 2009

Real Life Horror Tale at Burr Oak

Ghoul- 1. evil being that robs graves and feeds on corpses. 2. a person who derives pleasure from loathsome acts or things.

No, I'm not about to review a new horror flick. There are real life ghouls living in the Chicago area. These monsters, depraved animals, ghouls, are disguised as people, living and walking among us and they prey on families like mine.

A group of cemetery workers have been arrested for digging up graves, reselling the plots and pocketing the money. Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, IL is Chicago's first African American cemetery. It was until the 1970's, one of the only cemeteries where black people could be buried in Chicagoland. Yes, racism follows you after death.
Burr Oak was once the only choice back when black folks couldn't get and couldn't afford insurance. Money was put together by family and friends for burials. Back when it took three hours to get to Burr Oak from Chicago because there were no main roads. I remember the long rides after a funeral to Burr Oaks and then came Lincoln Cemetery, the only other choice for burial for black folks.

Many historical black figures are buried there including young murder victim Emmitt Till, musicians like Dinah Washington and Willie Dixson and many Negro Leagues Baseball players.

The Ghouls

In late May, the owners of Burr Oak Cemetery, who are based in Arizona, contacted detectives in the Financial Crimes Unit of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police after discovering a large discrepancy in their books. Subsequent interviews with other cemetery employees revealed an elaborate scheme that involves the digging up of numerous graves, re-selling those plots and the identification of an unused area of the cemetery where remains have allegedly been dumped. Dumped.

The cemetery’s manager and three gravediggers participated in this scheme, although more people may be charged as the investigation progresses. Gravesites chosen were extremely old and appeared to not have regular visitors. They were then dug up and resold to unsuspecting customers. When preparing the site for a funeral, the gravediggers would dig up the plot, many times breaking the vault or casket. When this occurred, they would remove the remains and dump them in the back area of the cemetery. The funeral would take place, with the deceased being buried on top of what remained. The money paid would be split between the workers involved.

Sheriff Tom Dart said investigators, including dozens of FBI agents, would be at Burr Oak for months sorting through the discarded piles of bones. Not only were remains heaved into a "dump area" at the cemetery, bodies were allegedly double-buried in existing plots, Dart said.

"Literally, they were pounded [down]," he said. "They pounded the other [body] down and put someone on top."

It is now estimated that 200 to 300 bodies were dug up and dumped in the isolated, weedy area of the cemetery. Exposed bones, chunks of concrete and broken coffins litter the hilly, overgrown area about four blocks long, authorities said. There were bodies dumped in the weeds in plain sight. Sherriff Dart said "this was not done with care folks".

To add to this horror these monsters also destroyed all old records before reselling the plots. So, there was additional pain for people who don't remember exactly where their loved ones are buried in the huge cemetery.

They came in droves, generations of families pushing their relatives in wheelchairs, holding them and helping them walk, all while clutching faded obituaries, death certificates and other documents.

A few families brought worn-out family Bibles to Burr Oak so they would have lists of names and dates for their buried relatives.

They scanned tombstones, shouted out names and navigated the bumpy terrain. Some stood weeping in frustration. Others said prayers, held each other, cursed out loud and marched out with nothing. There were tombstones missing and many that had been bought in advance and not used yet. Missing.

Area funeral homes were inundated with calls from frantic families seeking burial records or assurance. A phone line the Cook County sheriff's office set up to take calls was overwhelmed. Alsip officials fielded hundreds of calls and dispatched police to handle traffic near the cemetery in unincorporated Cook County.

The cemetery is shabbily kept despite constant complaints. But, many people continued to bury their dead here because so many generations of their families are already here.

Like many families I quickly pulled out all the old obituaries I had saved through the years and tried to remember where each relative was buried. My sister did the same and there were many calls to cousins and friends. Many of my family back in the day were buried at Lincoln but my three first cousins that I grew up with and their mother and many other cousins are in Burr Oak. We are trying to find out if this horror effected them.
To think of something so disrespectful, so inhumane happening to a loved one is a feeling hard to explain. It's a feeling mixed with anger and emotion, of such betrayal and violation.

"This crime, it's a whole new dimension that shows us what lengths people will go to for financial gain," said State's Atty. Anita Alvarez.
These are not people, these are not humans.

A young woman whose mother died nine years ago says she visited her mother's grave everyday.
As she grew stronger, those trips to Burr Oak grew further apart. Before Thursday, it had been three years since she visited. So when she found her mother's headstone in a different section, leaning against a tree, she was outraged, hurt and disappointed.

"This is just horrific," she said, as she stood with her sister, niece and grandniece. "There is no peace out here. Not today. The dead can't even be safe. It's horrible."

Monica and I would pass Burr Oak going to the nearby Crestwood Mall and always liked the sign on their fence. "Slow Down, drive safely, we don't want you yet."
We noticed the sign was removed a few months ago.

"The idea of grave robbers, in my judgment there should be no bail. ... There should be a special place in hell," Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
Yes, but they need to find their hell right here and right now.

1 comment:

Monica Roberts said...

Found out my uncle is buried there. Haven't heard as of yet if his grave was one of the 300 disturbed.