A Cook County judge on Tuesday authorized the owners of Burr Oak Cemetery to move forward in selling the infamous burial ground that was embroiled this summer in a cash-for-grave scheme orchestrated by four of its employees.
In a Chicago Bankruptcy Court hearing on Tuesday, Judge Pamela S. Hollis gave the OK to Perpetua-Burr Oak Holdings of Illinois, owner of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, to sell the property.
Perpetua filed for bankruptcy protection in September in the wake of a criminal investigation. The company told Judge Hollis it had hired American Cemetery/Mortuary Consultants to assist in selling the cemetery.
Attorney Robert Fishman, of Shaw Gussis Fishman Glantz Wolfson, in Chicago, said Perpetua doesn’t yet know of any buyers but hired a consultant with expertise in cemeteries.
“All the pressure of the world is on us,” said Fishman during the hearing, when Paul J. Gaynor, chief of the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Interest Division, expressed concern that too much money is being spent on court costs.
Gaynor said he wants to ensure “as much as possible for victims. The state is concerned about people and families.”
The Cook County Sheriff’s office closed Burr Oak weeks after the grave-desecration scandal broke publicly in July. It opened its gates at 9 a.m. on Monday to more than 50 lawyers representing clients with a family-member connection to the cemetery.
Attorney Larry Rogers Sr., of Chicago firm Power Rogers Smith, said the goal of opening up the cemetery for legal counsel was to provide the opportunity to locate family grave sites for his clients.
Rogers lamented that it was difficult to find anything useful because many graves are unmarked and a database being compiled by the sheriff’s office is not yet complete.
Three men and one female employee are charged with digging up more than 200 graves and dumping bodies in other parts of the cemetery and then reselling the plots while pocketing the money among themselves.
The cemetery has a primarily African-American clientele. Among prominent Chicagoans buried there are Emmett Till, Dinah Washington and Negro League baseball players Jimmie Crutchfield and John Donaldson.