UPDATED 03/21/11 6:00 p.m.
ALSIP, Ill. (CBS) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Monday that archeologists have uncovered bodies and bones in an unused section of the historic Burr Oak Cemetery, in far greater numbers than previously believed.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser reports
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser reports, a 6-acre, supposedly unused section at the 150-acre cemetery has now been marked “Crime Scene A.”
Chicago-based Archaeological Research Inc. found the bodies in the northeast corner of the cemetery. Remains are buried immediately below the surface, and buried deeply in the same area, according to the sheriff’s office.
Bones were also found on the ground, and more bodies are surfacing because of erosion.
The corner in question was touted as an area that could be used for new burials at the cemetery, since previously, its only known use was as a dumping ground for broken headstones, foliage and other debris.
But the archaeologists found in their November and December survey that the area is elevated up to 12 feet higher than it should be, and human remains and coffin pieces – some of them burned – were found up to 8 feet deep, according to the sheriff’s office.
“We didn’t have any specific area where we didn’t come across remains,” Dart said at a news conference Monday.
Dart figures there might be the remains of 300 to 600 people – taken from graves, allegedly so they could be re-sold, and scattered in an area where new owners want to create new plots.
“It’s absurd to think that any burials can go on out there,” Dart said. “It can’t.”
In July 2009, authorities charged Burr Oak manager Carolyn Towns, foreman Keith Nicks, and laborers Terrence Nicks and Maurice Dailey, with digging up human remains from graves for resale, and dumping the remains elsewhere in the cemetery.
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.
At the time of the investigation, authorities estimated that 300 graves were dug up. But they acknowledged they may never know how many graves were involved, saying that shoddy record-keeping and in some cases records that had literally disintegrated made it impossible to say exactly how many corpses were dug up, or the identities of all those whose remains were moved.
In the 2009 raid, 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.
Monday’s news brought back horrible memories to families. Some of Charles Coleman’s relatives had been found in a mass grave where dozens of bodies were discovered.
“I get angry,” he told CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker. “I just don’t see how anyone could do that to loved ones — or anybody, period.”
The cemetery is also in Bankruptcy Court.
Burr Oak Cemetery, in Alsip, is the resting place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and other prominent African-Americans.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.
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