Four months have passed since the world learned that bodies were exhumed and gravesites resold at Burr Oak Cemetery. But questions still remain.
West Side resident Edie Brown has three family members that have been eternally laid to rest at the Alsip cemetery – she hopes.
Brown still has no concrete evidence that the gravesites of her father, Charles – or “Sonny,” as he was affectionately known – and her brothers, Charles and Anthony, have not been tampered with.
When the Cook County Sheriff’s Department launched a database with 43,555 photographs of Burr Oak headstones on its Web site in August, Brown entered the names of her father and her two brothers, but her search yielded no results.
After some scrounging around she was able to locate site records for the graves of her father and of her brother, Charles, but was unable to find any documentation for Anthony’s location at Burr Oak.
Because the cemetary had been closed to the public when Brown began her search, she attempted to obtain Anthony’s burial records through the Wallace Broadview Funeral Home on 2020 W. Roosevelt Road in Broadview, where his wake took place.
Owner Vernon Wallace informed her that the records must have been lost in the funeral home’s 1988 move from its previous location, 217 N. Cicero. Wallace did not return calls to Austin Weekly News.
“Directors of the funeral homes need to be held accountable as well and retain their information,” Brown said. “If they cannot, that is when the county needs to step in. If you’re in that business you should keep that stuff.”
The records are vital in her search, because they not only prove that her family members are buried at Burr Oak, they also indicate the exact location of the headstones.
“When a person dies … the information regarding the burial site should be implemented into the county system,” Brown said. “It’s accountability and responsibility.”
On Nov. 6 the Cook County Sheriff’s Department finished digitizing all of the paper records found at Burr Oak and handed them over to the court-appointed receiver, Howard Korenthal, according to sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Patterson.
Even though Burr Oak is still closed to the public, family members can contact the cemetery and request information regarding the status of the gravesites of their loved ones.
This means that Brown and many others waiting in limbo may finally receive some answers.
Up to this point, though, Brown wonders why there has been little, if any, effort made by the sheriff’s department and other elected officials “locally and all the way up to Congress” to publicly reach out to communities outside of the far South Side.
“Not all of the people [affected] live on the South Side,” Brown said. “You have people on the West Side, North Side and the surrounding suburbs.”
Brown feels that government-hosted informational meetings should have been held throughout the Chicagoland area to give people a chance to access specific information, share ideas and discuss the possibility of litigation, if necessary.
“If any resident from any part of the city thinks that we should be involved, we will take that call, but so far we felt that we should not step in, “said 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith. “We think [the authorities] are doing a good job.”
Calls to the office of 29th Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers were not returned, and 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts could not be reached for comment.
Several class-action and individual lawsuits have been filed against Burr Oak Cemetery, its corporate entities and the four suspects – Carolyn Towns, Terrence Nicks, Keith Nicks and Maurice Dailey. They have been charged with the dismembering of human bodies.
Attorney Deidre Bauman, of Bauman and Shauster, went to many West Side churches during the summer to reach out to people who might be victims of the Burr Oak scandal. Bauman is representing 500 clients in a class-action lawsuit against the aforementioned parties.
The suit, however, has ground to a halt, because of the automatic stay that followed the bankruptcy filings of Perpetua Inc., Burr Oak’s parent Company. An automatic stay prevents the creditors – the plaintiffs – from collecting compensation until the case is closed in bankruptcy court.
“We’re basically fighting it out in bankruptcy court,” said Blake Horowitz, of Horowitz, Richardson and Baker LLC, who is leading another class-action lawsuit on similar grounds.
Although the case is held up in bankruptcy court, Bauman said she was confident that Judge Pamela Hollis wanted matters to move forward.
In seeking compensation for their respective clients both Bauman and Horowitz will attempt to prove a stronger link between two companies, Pacesetter and Perpetua.
While many are seeking justice for the disinterment of their loved ones’ gravesites, plenty of people, like Brown, want some answers, first and foremost.
“It’s a slap in this face,” Brown concluded, in regard to the lack of information available.