Funeral Industry News

Burr Oak Cemetery Desecration Suspects Plead Not Guilty

September 9, 2009

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Burr Oak Cemetery Desecration Suspects Plead Not Guilty

CHICAGO ? Four former cemetery workers pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges accusing them of digging up bodies at a historic suburban Chicago graveyard in order to resell the burial plots.

During a brief hearing, attorneys for the four defendants entered the pleas. All four indicated that they understood the charges against them. They are Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39 ? all from Chicago, and all in custody. The fourth defendant, Maurice Dailey, 59, of Robbins, is out on bail.

Cook County Judge Frank Castiglione scheduled their next hearing for Sept. 25.

The four face several felony charges, including desecration of human remains, conspiracy to dismember human bodies and theft. The most serious charge ? dismembering a human body ? carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Authorities have also said they made more than $300,000 reselling the plots.

Authorities raided Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, which is the resting place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and other prominent African-Americans, in July.

The arrests made international headlines and prompted thousands of people to visit the historic black cemetery to try to determine if their loved ones were among those graves that were disturbed.

Authorities estimate that 300 graves were dug up. But they acknowledge they may never know how many graves were involved, saying that shoddy record-keeping and in some cases records that have literally disintegrated make it impossible to say exactly how many corpses were dug up or the identities of all those whose remains were moved.

Investigators found chunks of burial vaults, pieces of pine boxes that had been used as caskets decades ago, and even a skeleton wearing a suit and tie inside an empty burial vault, with no casket in sight.