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Burr Oak Cemetery - A Real Horror Story

Adam Bykowski

Oak Lawn, United States

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Artist's Description

This writing was finished shortly before midnight.

The following story is true. It is not a ghost story or an urban legend. It is a tale of the lengths people will go for money. It is possibly the ultimate betrayal of trust and a horrible tragedy.

In early July of 2009, a story broke out into the Chicago area that shocked everyone. Apparently, a cemetery worker claims to have “grown a conscience”, and informed authorities of illegal and immoral atrocities going on for years at Burr Oak Cemetery, a cemetery only about four miles from where I live in the south suburb of Chicago known as Alsip, Illinois. Three gravediggers, workers for Burr Oak Cemetery, and the cemetery manager were unearthing hundreds of corpses and dumping many of them in a weeded area in the cemetery. What they were doing was to pick graves where people had been buried for quite a while. They picked the graves where no one has visited in a long time or at all. They would excavate the entire burial cast, the concrete structure that the casket would go into, and they would lift it all up, smash it up with the casket and body all inside. It was a scheme to then sell that site to a new burial customer, instead of digging up a new, unused site. There was also double-stacking of others into existing graves in an elaborate scheme to resell the plots. Authorities estimate that this has been going on for at least four years.

Investigators found human bones on the west side of the cemetery bordering Cicero Avenue. This area is where all the dumping of corpses has been going on. Basically, a large dumping area filled with dismembered and crushed corpses just piled in an unused area with waist high grass.

I watched this story told for the first time on TV. I had a hard time understanding it and kept asking “Why?” The next day, I was up early in the morning getting ready for work and heard the sound of helicopters. I went outside to walk my dog, and south of me I saw at least two helicopters hovering over the area that most likely was Burr Oak Cemetery. That night it was the main story on the ten o’clock news. I saw news video of tons of cars parked all around the cemetery with many frantic and upset looking people, all African-Americans, approximately 2000 of them, searching for their family member’s plots. The cemetery was crowded with them, along with state police and every news station in the city. In short, it was a mess. People were crying and aimlessly walking and searching looking totally lost.

Sheriff Tom Dart said the dumping of the bodies, “was not done in a very delicate way,” and that the remains were dumped haphazardly, littered with shards of coffins. As far as graves stacked on top of each other, Dart said it appears they “pounded the other one down and put someone on top.”

This is a cemetery where mostly African Americans are buried. Some are famous, where blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington are buried. Also, Burr Oak holds the body of the famous Emmett Till, who was a 14-year old boy who was killed in 1955 in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His death played a large role in the Civil Rights movement. His gravesite was not disturbed, however, the original casket that was supposed to be placed on display at a memorial was found inside a garage, surrounded by discarded headstones and other debris. When this casket was opened by police, a family of possums jumped out of it.
To cut deeper into this festering wound, there is a section in this cemetery called Baby Land. It is dedicated to infants, stillborns and young children. This area has been totally desecrated and no one can find Baby Land. Parents looking for their babies’ headstones haven’t been able to find any. The whole section appears to be missing. Sheriff Tom Dart said, “This has been horribly, horribly difficult. I can’t tell you how many mothers can’t find their babies.”

The four suspects, all of whom are black, were arrested and charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a felony. Carolyn Towns, the cemetery manager, has a bond set at $250,000 and $200,000 for the other three. Authorities said Towns also pocketed donations she elicited for an Emmett Till memorial museum. She took the money for the new graves scheme, and split it up among the other three workers.

One investigator was reported as saying, “There is a special place in hell for these people.”

Experts say that this will take months to sort out. The painstaking work of collecting the remains of some 300 bodies from the dumping area must be done. Teams must mark every piece of evidence with a number where it was found and after all the evidence is collected, scientists will try to reassemble and identify them with DNA. The cemetery has been closed for almost four months now, as of thie 10/30/09 writing, and no one knows when the investigation team will finish and re-open the cemetery.

Do you think this is how bad ghosts, and scary apparitions get born? I haven’t heard any ghost stories about this cemetery, but I bet I will.

Artwork Comments

  • Kim McClain Gregal
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