Cemetery workers’ money-making scheme

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Cemetery workers’ money-making scheme
Dig up graves, throw bones, resell graves
July 12, 2009 Print Ready Email Article

SOME of the graves at a historic Chicago cemetery were old and seemed abandoned.

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DISTRESSED: Reverend Jesse Jackson in Burr Oak Cemetery. –PICTURE: AP

So three gravediggers and a cemetery manager allegedly hatched a plan to unearth hundreds of corpses from their graves, dumping some in a weeded mass grave and double-stacking others in existing graves.

All this was part of an elaborate scheme to resell the plots and earn more money.

If bones clattered off the dump truck along the way, they were left on the side of the cemetery roads, said investigators.

As many as 300 bodies were believed to have been affected as part of this scam that netted the workers about US$300,000 ($440,000).

The suspects were identified as Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39 – all from Chicago – and Maurice Dailey, 61, of Robbins.

Towns, the cemetery manager, allegedly masterminded the grisly scam, which was believed to have taken place over four years.

Keith Nicks, an employee since 1992, was the gravediggers’ foreman, while his brother was a dump truck operator. Dailey was a gravedigger for 25 years.

Destroy documents

The court heard that Towns took cash from families who came to the cemetery seeking to bury loved ones and soon after drawing up the paperwork, she would destroy it to erase any records.

She then pocketed the cash and allegedly paid off the other three defendants.

The three allegedly excavated entire burial sites, including the concrete vault that surrounds the coffin.

Caskets and headstones were often smashed.

They would also select older, unmarked graves that seemed abandoned.

New bodies were then buried in the old plots, and authorities also said some old bodies were pounded into the ground, with new bodies ‘double-stacked’ on top of them.

The investigation was prompted in May when a groundskeeper discovered skeletal remains in the part of the cemetery that wasn’t supposed to be used.

Frantic relatives of the deceased have descended on the Burr Oak Cemetery.

‘This is a mess. We can’t find our people,’ said MrRalph Gunn, 54, of Chicago, who filled out a report for authorities after a futile search for the headstones of his brother and nephew.

Others cried and clutched cemetery maps as they waited for a chance to look for themselves.

Prominent civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was visibly shaken, said: ‘There should be really a special place in hell for these graveyard thieves who have caused so much to hurt these families,’ he said. — AP.

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