Group marks 10th anniversary of Burr Oak Cemetery scandal

The group praised Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for exposing the gruesome grave-reselling scandal.

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A small group gathered at Burr Oak Cemetery on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of a gruesome grave-selling scheme being exposed at the Alsip graveyard.

“Our gathering here today is being done to, number one, keep alive the memory of that day and the events that led up to it so that it may not happen again,” said Ed Boone, who organized the event and has relatives buried at the cemetery.

“And to memorialize the souls of the loved ones whose souls were desecrated.”

Boone displayed an engraved award engraved for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office investigated the cemetery. Dart did not attend the event.

In July 2009, the sheriff’s office revealed that the former manager of the cemetery, Carolyn Towns, and three other cemetery workers had for years dug up graves, dumped the bodies and resold plots at the cemetery. 

Word of the scandal brought thousands of people to the site in search of news about what happened to their loved ones’ remains. 

Towns was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She was paroled in July 2017.

Burr Oak is a historic black cemetery that holds the remains of Emmett Till, recording artist Dinah Washington and Negro League baseball players.

Boone also called for the current owner and manager of Burr Oak to address flooding issues, as well as tall weeds and grass and crumbling roads.

“We’re not here to point any fingers or pick a fight,” Boone said, noting the current owners inherited the issues. “We’re here to move forward and make sure conditions improve.”

Loved ones have had to visit graves in waterproof boots to stay dry, he said.

“We want to grieve in dignity,” said Shapearl Wells, who has trimmed grass and weeds while visiting relatives’ graves.

Kevin Carter, who bought the cemetery in 2016 and is the manager, assured the dozen or so attendees of the memorial that he’s working to address the problems.

“It’s not being neglected,” Carter said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

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