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More bones, coffin pieces found at Burr Oak cemetery ‘crime scene’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Far more human remains were dumped in what was supposed to be an unused corner of Burr Oak cemetery than were previously found during a 2009 criminal investigation, the Cook County Sheriff’s office said Monday, citing an archeological survey conducted last year.

A site survey done by Chicago-based Archaeological Research Inc. late last year found human remains buried throughout a corner of the Alsip cemetery that was reportedly used only as a “spoil area,” or dumping ground for broken headstones, branches and other debris.

Investigators from the sheriff’s office had already found human remains there in 2009 during the course of their initial probe into a grave-selling scheme at the historic black cemetery. Soil erosion that occurred after the sheriff’s office last canvassed that area, known as “Crime Scene A,” helped uncover even more bone fragments.

The remains included two pieces of skull fragments and part of a femur bone, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said.

“Crime Scene A” had been targeted as a site for new burials, because it was thought to be the only part of the cemetery where bodies had not been buried.

But archeologists found layers of human remains and coffin pieces – including some that were charred – buried as deep as 8 feet below the surface. “Human remains and associated materials are ubiquitous not only on the surface but buried immediately below the surface and deeply within the spoil pile,” the research firm’s Dr. David Keene wrote in a March 14 letter to the sheriff’s office.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the findings support his view that there should be no new burials in the two areas of Burr Oak that were identified as crime scenes in 2009.

“More often than not, families that are burying folks in the non-crime-scene areas are going forward with the burials and there’s no issues. But in the two crime scene areas, specifically the large one in the back of the cemetery, it’s absurd to think that any burials can go on out there,” Dart said.

Dart said he’d walked around the 5.9-acre spoil area and found bones “everywhere.”

The archeological firm was appointed last year by a bankruptcy court judge overseeing the possible sale of Burr Oak.

Archaeological Research Inc. was tasked to find out whether it would be possible for the spoil area to ever be used by new owners to conduct burials or build a mausoleum. The firm is expected to deliver a more detailed report to the bankruptcy court next month.

Archeologists did a walk-through of the area in November and also tilled the soil a month later to look for remains. Radar work done by another company found additional locations with deeply buried objects, which led to the discovery of even more remains and coffin pieces.

Four Burr Oak employees were accused of digging up graves, dumping remains in piles or in shallow graves and then re-selling the plots. All remain free on bond while awaiting trial on charges of dismembering a human body, a Class X felony, the sheriff’s office said.

A federal judge is overseeing bankruptcy proceedings involving Burr Oak’s Arizona-based owner, Perpetua, Inc. A court-appointed receiver has been running day-to-day operations at the cemetery.

Instead of “Crime Scene A” being used for new burials or a mausoleum, as Perpetua has proposed, Dart said he would prefer a permanent memorial for families whose loved ones’ remains have been disturbed.

Representatives for Cemecare, the south suburban partnership that successfully bid to buy Burr Oak and another cemetery last spring, could not be reached for comment.

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