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CHICAGO (CBS) – The alleged ringleader of the grave reselling scandal at Burr Oak Cemetery reported to prison on Monday to begin serving a 12-year sentence.
Carolyn Towns, 51, of Blue Island, pleaded guilty in July to six charges, including desecration of human remains, dismembering a human body, theft from a place of worship, damaging 10 or more gravestones, removal of human remains of multiple deceased human beings from a burial ground, and conspiracy to dismember human bodies.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports
She surrendered to authorities on Monday at the Bridgeview courthouse to begin serving her 12-year prison sentence, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.
In pleading guilty, Towns had admitted to stealing more than $100,000 from the corporation that operated the Alsip cemetery.
She would accept cash from the families of the recently deceased who sought to secure graves, then pocket the money and have the gravediggers bury the bodies in graves that were already occupied.
To accommodate the new bodies, Towns had the gravediggers exhume the bodies that were already buried, prosecutors said. They would crush the vaults and caskets in the graves and dump the remains in another part of the cemetery, prosecutors said.
Other times, the gravediggers would stack caskets on top of each other, prosecutors said.
Foreman Keith Nicks, and laborers Terrence Nicks and Maurice Dailey, have been charged with doing the dirty work in the scheme. Their cases are pending.
The Burr Oak arrests made international headlines in the summer of 2009, and prompted thousands of people to visit the historic African-American 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.
After being seized by the Cook County Sheriff’s office and being placed in receivership, the cemetery was taken over by a new firm, Cemecare Inc.
Burr Oak is the resting place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and other prominent African-Americans.