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Burr Oak Cemetery Grave Robbers


Emmett Till must be spinning in his grave.  At least he would be if he was still in it.  Who knows for sure with all the happenings at the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, a close suburb of Chicago?  Three grave diggers and their manager are accused of digging up bodies and reselling plots at the historic black cemetery in order to make about three hundred thousand dollars on the side in a scheme believed to have stretched back at least four years, authorities said Friday.

It is feared that hundreds of graves have been disturbed with corpses being evicted from their resting place and either unceremoniously dumped in the nearby unkempt weeds on cemetery grounds or double-stacked in the graves of others who were simply pounded deeper into the ground to make room for others.  Thousands of black families have descended onto the cemetery for answers about their ancestors.

Police first learned of the allegations when Trudi Foushee, an attorney for the cemetery, alerted authorities about skeletal remains and the fact that the facility was unable to account for some funds.  Mr. Foushee had been acting cemetery manager after the previous manager was removed from her post because of allegations she stole money from the cemetery.  Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes said that the process of revoking the cemetery’s license has been started and said that his office is investigating whether past monies received from for the perpetual financial needs of the cemetery is still safely held in a trust.  The cemetery is owned by Perpetua Holdings of Illinois who started an investigation by calling Cook County authorities to report suspicions of financial problems by the cemetery staff.

The love of money drives despicable people to do reprehensible things.  The violation of the human remains entrusted to a cemetery is about as low as human nature gets.  These people weren’t pharaohs or the well to do from some bygone era.  Many of the people in this cemetery were common black folk who were buried at Burr Oak Cemetery when no other cemetery would have our ancestors and elders.  You would think that living in modern America we would make us all more respectful of humanity.  The emotional trauma for the families associated with these desecrations is only beginning.  Old wounds, scabbed over by time, have been ripped opened by the serrated edge of personal greed.  No soul can rest in anything resembling peace at this place of such wickedness.

Records have been destroyed or altered or never made in the first place.  As various law enforcement agencies try to piece together what remained of the cemetery’s paperwork, a small army of forensic anthropologists will try to assess the entire scope of this crime.  The identity of all the human remains has to be established.  And given the size of the open grave out back, an area measuring about a quarter million square feet, it will be a daunting task.  It was reported that the grave robbers focused on older graves that were believed to have received few if any visitors.  The combination of older grave sites and the lack of complete records and the desecration of remains mean that DNA testing would probably be the only way, if any, to identify the deceased.  And even then, without DNA from descendents to use for comparison the effort could be useless.  The DNA test will identify their genetic string but we may never know their identity.  This is truly a crime without measure.

In African spirituality, ancestors hold a special place in the belief system.  Ancestors rank right up there with the Supreme Being Olodumare and the Orisas.  And of these three entities, only ancestors have the residual of earthly vessels, bodies held in graves.  Like funerals, the choice of the perfect grave is for the living.  Earth is earth and ground is ground to the deceased.  Nature has a very practical way of looking at things.

But it is the living that wants the perfect shade under the tree or a scenic view from the grave site.  We the living want those who go before us to be in the most scenic part of the most beautiful cemetery available.  Such an emphasis on what we believe to be the more beautiful location brings an emphasis on value into the picture.  And in human terms value equates to dollars.  Those who can pay the higher dollars will get the better plots.  Like real estate for the living, other than money the three most important factors are location, location, and location.  And whenever money gets added to the mix there will always be someone who will be willing to throw human decency out the window and submit to their most sordid nature.

Monday, July 13, 2009 - Posted by | African Americans, Ancestors, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Spirituality, Thoughts


  1. Either I am a large cynic or I am just not that into human foibles. Because it wouldn’t matter one bit if the old bag of bones I once called home was encased in a jewel encrusted coffin or thrown out for the wolves to consume. I am still dead and won’t be coming back to claim the thing.

    Seems harsh but those families had to have asked themselves that with such a small limited cemetery how in the hell were they still able to have room for more. When they came there to bury mommy and or daddy, they didn’t look around and say where are you going to put them that isn’t already occupied.

    It is the love of money alright but also the love of status. Those family members put their relatives in that cemetery not because it was the only one available. But because it is historic and carries a sort of status. I mean to be buried next to legends like Emmit Till and others was their goal.

    This is a disgusting display yet again of where we as humans have placed our devotion. Not to the ancestor but to his or her rotting body. Not to our customers but to the almighty dollar. None of these people have the sense god gave a donkey.

    Thanks for your take on the situation.

    Comment by theblacksentinel | Monday, July 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the feedback theblacksentinel,

    I guess the big problem I have is that when somebody buys a cemetery plot, it’s a given that they own that cemetery plot. Like you I have the attitude that after I’m gone you can put my body in a burlap sack and bury me on Gilligan’s Island if you like. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust is my motto. But if my family makes the choice to buy my bones a cemetery plot in a cemetery, then every employee at that cemetery should honor that sale. Yes it’s all about status and such. But if someone goes to the cemetery and ask for a plot and the faculty says they have a nice plot right here next to Emmett Til, I think people will count their lucky stars and fork over money never asking questions like has this plot ever been used? These people are in the midst of burying their loved one and probably aren’t thinking most clearly. And they’re probably not thinking their loved one’s remains are in danger of being disturbed. There’s a reasonable expectation that the purchase will be honored.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 13, 2009 | Reply

  3. You are very right that a lot of these people were awe struck with grief and probably not questioning a thing about it. But those who went and picked our their own plots needed to ask a few questions.

    Not only that, a few of the people voiced this concern themselves and didn’t ask the cemetery. But you know what, you are right that the majority of the blame lies with the grave robbing bastards who should have had more respect for the people they were doing business with.

    And what is so interesting is that the people who questioned how much space this place had didn’t care as long as their family member got a plot. So, they knew something was wrong and could care less as long as some OTHER dead person was being evicted so their family can go in that spot.

    But, as soon as it was them in that position they screamed and hollered like mad people. I would be as angry as anyone else I guess. But not for the same reasons as these people. It would be more about the theft and lies than the body. As that body is no longer my parent or other family member.

    I am just amused to see what calamitous things we do to one another chasing the American dream. And I am supposed to believe that money is good for us all. The majority of ills in a society can be traced back to the love of money.

    Thanks. And I say that cemetery should have started selling plots on Gilligan’s Island as it was probably just as realistic as selling plots in that overburdened tiny cemetery.

    Comment by theblacksentinel | Monday, July 13, 2009 | Reply

  4. This is going to make many rethink burial and opt for cremation (Myself Included)

    Comment by Obaneke | Monday, July 13, 2009 | Reply

  5. I used to live beside a cemetary when I was a wee boy (which is why i find zombie movies pathetic) and it was normal for the grave digger to dig down six feet and sometimes stumble across an unmarked grave. I would sit on the wall of my garden and watch him pull up old bits of wood or even bones! But he would always respectively replace them over the new coffin and that was that, I never had any nightmares but the thought of someone doing this then dump the bodies in weeds would easily give me nightmares!

    Comment by hateracism lovelife | Monday, July 13, 2009 | Reply

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