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Sheriff looks to wrap up Burr Oak investigation
1,000 bones, new pile of burial vaults uncovered at defiled Alsip cemetery

Friday, July 31, 2009
SouthtownStar
by Lauren Fitzpatrick

The Cook County sheriff's department acknowledged Thursday that they're not going to be able to identify the 1,000 bones recovered from Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip where they've been investigating a grave reselling scheme.

And with prosecutors' blessings, their evidence recovery could wrap up within a week.

County forest preserve workers clearing brush in a crime scene at the northeastern end of the cemetery uncovered 10 to 12 used burial vaults, some with names and serial numbers, some unmarked, said sheriff's spokesman Steve Patterson. And a mound found in the other crime scene yielded enough loose human bones to indicate the 4- to 5-foot pile was man-made, Patterson said.

The concrete vaults had not been visible before, and looked as if they'd been stashed there, he said.

"The more they cleared the more we found," he said. "That leaves the question, where's the rest of the vault, where's the casket, where's the person?"

Four former cemetery employees have been charged with dismembering a human body in a scam believed to have lasted four years and yielded $300,000. Some 200 to 300 graves are believed destroyed so the workers allegedly could resell the plots.

Sheriff Tom Dart took command of the investigation, which began as an alleged employee theft. He also ran the cemetery for a time after the manager, Carolyn Towns, was arrested.

The cemetery of 100,000 graves remains closed to the public while a court-appointed receiver from Catholic Cemeteries of Chicago reorganizes the records and replots the graves.

The second crime scene - the size of about two city blocks - contains more evidence than the sheriff's office expected, Patterson said.

"We knew bodies were dumped there. We didn't realize the amount we were going to find," he said. "As we've been in here, it's gotten to the point where we realize we could be digging for months and still not find every piece of evidence."

Once the Cook County state's attorney deems the evidence enough to prove a case, evidence collection will cease, Patterson said. With about 1,000 bones collected, the digging could be done within a week, he said.

Earlier in the day, a bone found outside another Alsip cemetery this week was identified as an animal bone, according to the medical examiner's office.

Alsip police Chief Christopher Radz said the single bone found outside the historic Restvale Cemetery by a passer-by needed professional identification. A man walking his dog past Restvale, the resting place of Muddy Waters, found the bones at 117th Street and Laramie Avenue, Radz said.

Radz said the attention on the two cemetery investigations has made the community more vigilant.

"From the public, it's raised awareness, and that's a positive thing," he said.

Last week, a human bone was found in a storage area at the back of Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens South Cemetery near Glenwood, prompting a new investigation by Cook County sheriff's police.

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



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