Four Chicago-area cemetery workers were accused on Thursday of digging up hundreds of graves and dumping the remains so the burial plots could be resold, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The office manager and three grave diggers at the Burr Oak Cemetery in South suburban Alsip were charged with dismembering a human body, a felony.
Scores of people showed up to check on graves at the predominantly African-American cemetery, where blues singer Dinah Washington, boxing champion Ezzard Charles, and Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy whose brutal 1955 slaying in Mississippi stoked the civil rights movement, are buried.
Till's grave was not disturbed but Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said it was not immediately clear whose plots had been dug up. Roughly 200 to 300 graves were desecrated.
"The sense of violation is horrible," Dart said, adding it was "heartbreaking" to see the reactions of family members.
The scheme may have netted about $300,000 and gone on for four years, Dart said. The workers targeted plots that were older and had not been visited recently, he said.
Piles of bones and smashed gravestones from the dug-up graves were dumped in overgrown sections of the cemetery, he said.
Prosecutors said cemetery office manager Carolyn Towns, 49, directed the scheme and she was ordered held on $250,000 bond. Towns and the others may also face theft-related charges.
Towns kept the cash paid by new clients and destroyed records to cover up the scheme, prosecutors said. She gave overtime pay to the others, who often used a backhoe to crudely disinter caskets.
The defendants' actions were "cold, calculating and showed a total disregard for human souls," prosecutor John Mahoney said at a court hearing.
The cemetery owner, an Arizona-based cemetery and funeral home operator, had contacted authorities six weeks ago about problems, Dart said.
For more thought on this despicable crime, head over to Keith Josef Adkins ON THE DIG (which is utterly apropos in a macabre way)