HOMEWOOD, Ill. (CBS) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says he is fed up, after yet another problem at a south suburban cemetery.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, Dart says 11 bodies remained in storage, unburied for a week, at Homewood Memorial Gardens cemetery in Thornton Township.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports
He says it is not on the scale of the 2009 criminal Burr Oak scandal in Alsip, but since Homewood previously had a problem with the botched handling of indigent burials, this is unacceptable.
“Most cemeteries, you might say, ‘Well, these things happen every once in a while.’ But with the track record of that place, there’s no room for it here,” Dart said.
Dart says the cemetery operators blame this latest problem on the recent firing of their backhoe driver. The sheriff says he doesn’t buy it.
“The excuses are lame at best, and what they need to do is seriously run it, and understand that what they’re doing is not just any old job,” Dart said.
Sheriff’s deputies oversaw the belated burials of the 11 bodies on Saturday. The sheriff’s office found out about the bodies lying in storage after one man – outraged by what had happened to his friend – called police.
Dwayne Cook’s problem with Homewood Memorial Gardens cemetery began when he went to visit the grave of a friend who was supposed to be buried there last week. He asked cemetery staff to show him the grave.
“They said there’s the grave. There’s your flowers,” Cook told CBS 2’s Pam Zekman. “We put them on the grave as you asked.”
But something was wrong.
“It was not a freshly dug grave,” Cook observed.
So he checked inside the chapel at Homewood, where the funeral service was held, and found his friend’s casket.
“I opened it up and my God, there he was. The room was full of caskets,” Cook said.
Eleven of them — all Public Aid recipients awaiting burial for as long as eight days. Saturday, the burials were performed under the direction of the sheriff’s staff.
Last year, authorities had to deal with Homewood’s practice of stacking bodies of indigents in large graves that had to be dug up, identified and properly reburied.
The cemetery owner is headquartered in Pennsylvania. But the owner’s son, Thomas Flynn Jr., says Homewood Memorial has qualified managers and his father is on site at least once a month.
Reached by telephone, Thomas Flynn Sr. said that since the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office began dealing with its backlog of bodies, the cemetery has received lots of bodies that it had to bury last week under its contract with the county.
Other burials just got pushed back, Flynn said, adding, “We’re sorry about what happened.”
Dart said there was no criminal wrongdoing at the cemetery. A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation told CBS 2 the agency will investigate what happened at Homewood.