Alsip, Ill. — A constant stream of relatives hoping to find their loved ones showed up Saturday as officials exhumed one grave in a cemetery where four former employees are accused of digging up and dumping hundreds of bodies in a scheme to resell plots.
One body was found in the exhumed grave at the historic black cemetery, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said, despite an earlier report that two bodies were there. The former workers also have been accused of burying some bodies in shared graves.
Authorities closed Burr Oak Cemetery, home to the graves of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singer Dinah Washington, on Friday and declared all of its 150 acres a crime scene after Dart found bones while walking on the site. On Saturday, families carrying photos and old crumpled funeral programs stood in snaking lines to talk to officials. Some cried, others were angry and many were stoic.
“It’s a zoo, and it’s going to be a zoo because every black person in Chicago has someone buried here,” said Chicago resident Jennifer Gyimah, 51, who was waiting to check on family members’ graves. “As a living human being, you give dignity to the dead. The dignity today has been shattered.”
Officials said they would try to respond to families in the next week, but Dart said the investigation was hampered by a lack of maps for large sections of the cemetery. Many of those his staff had found were hand-drawn and sketchy, he said.
“You might as well be talking about hieroglyphics here,” he said. “This is unheard of.”
He said he believes that at least 300 of the cemetery’s 100,000 graves have been dug up.