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Cemetery investigations strain sheriff's department

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
SouthtownStar
by Lauren Fitzpatrick

On Tuesday morning, Cook County sheriff's employees set up at the courthouse in Markham to take complaints from people who can't find their relatives' graves at Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens South Cemetery.

Four sheriff's investigators collected stories from 40 family members who trickled in throughout the day.

The Cook County sheriff's office was already feeling the strain of investigating grave irregularities at Burr Oak cemetery in Alsip when a delivery man found a human bone Friday at Mount Glenwood, which is near Glenwood.

But there's no one else to handle cemeteries. This is the sheriff's jurisdiction - in Burr Oak's case because the investigation began with a financial crime and in Mount Glenwood's case because it is in unincorporated Cook County.

Twenty-six sheriff's investigators still were working the crime scenes at Burr Oak, spokesman Steve Patterson said.

Sheriff Tom Dart said he had spent $350,000 on the investigation in overtime, materials and equipment at the Alsip cemetery as of about a week ago.

"I can't turn over county assets without receiving compensation," he said after a July 21 decision by county board members to sue Burr Oak's parent company, Arizona-based Perpetua Inc.

Patterson said costs continued to rise.

The FBI has been helping with evidence collection and processing. Alsip has lent patrol cars to help with the perimeter around the 150-acre cemetery.

At Burr Oak, grave tampering cases allegedly number in the hundreds. Four employees are accused of reselling plots to the tune of $300,000 over several years.

The situation at Mount Glenwood doesn't appear to be that bad, Patterson said, but the investigation has just begun.

Three people already have filed lawsuits against Mount Glenwood, alleging their relatives were stacked in graves or moved around.

With the bulk of the region's cemetery complaints coming from the south suburbs, there's a sense among family members looking for graves at Burr Oak and Mount Glenwood that problems will surface elsewhere.

And if those problems are criminal and in unincorporated Cook County, they'll again fall to the sheriff's police, Patterson said.

Lauren FitzPatrick can be reached at lfitzpatrick@southtownstar.com or (708) 802-8832.

Looking for answers?

Investigators will be at the Cook County courthouse at 16501 S. Kedzie Parkway, Markham, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the rest of the week, possibly longer depending on demand. Anyone interested in meeting with an investigator should go to the sheriff's department offices, using the ramp on the south end of the building. For more information, visit www.cookcountysheriff.org.



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