Funeral Industry News

Burr Oak Cemetery Turned over to Trustee

May 25, 2011

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Burr Oak Cemetery Turned over to Trustee

The future of the troubled and historic Burr Oak Cemetery was assured Tuesday when a federal judge approved a plan putting the cemetery into a trust and earmarking at least $50,000 for a memorial to be built in honor of those whose graves were allegedly lost or destroyed.

Less than two years after accusations of a grave reselling scandal surfaced at Burr Oak, Judge Pamela S. Hollis told the courtroom full of attorneys involved that she would sign the confirmation order setting the plan in motion.

A majority of the cemetery’s 3,000 creditors voted in favor of the plan, approving the creation of a Burr Oak Cemetery Trust, under the care of a trustee, to renovate and run the cemetery using about $2.6 million of a $7 million insurance settlement.

Patricia Holmes, who headed Gov. Pat Quinn’s cemetery oversight task force to examine death industry laws in the wake of the July 2009 scandal, becomes the trustee with authority over how to use the proceeds from the insurance settlement set aside for the cemetery’s future.

On Tuesday, Hollis designated at least $50,000 of that money to erect a memorial, which is likely to be placed at the cemetery’s north end, once known as a crime scene.

Further burials will be banned in that 5.9-acre section, and the Cook County sheriff, whose office investigated the case, will get to preview any plans to build the memorial.

The cemetery’s for-profit parent company, Perpetua, will relinquish the property late in the summer, according to its attorney, Robert Fishman.

Those who can prove they buried a relative in the cemetery near Alsip will receive $100 per grave. And if they can prove their loved ones’ graves were destroyed, they may apply for more money in damages.

Before the judge congratulated the parties on a speedy resolution, one woman stood in court to protest the settlement.

Lucille Lyles of Chicago said she can prove five relatives’ graves have gone missing.

“It costs $7,000 to even put a body in a grave,” she said. “It’s an insult.”

Hollis told the woman the court couldn’t fix her concerns, saying, “You represent hundreds of people who’ve had a bad situation.”

The criminal cases against four former employees accused of digging up graves to resell the plots still are pending in Cook County court.