FBI to start cemetery grid search

July 13, 2009 4:34:56 AM PDT
The FBI will no longer take in-person requests for information at Burr Oak Cemetery, so they can begin processing graves. The Cook County Sheriff's Department has received more than 7,000 requests for information from those whose loved ones are buried there. TThey've only processed about 400. Sheriff department employees have been working 16 hour days trying to match information from families with what investigators are calling disastrous record-keeping at the cemetery.

They are no longer taking in-person requests, but will accept requests by email or by phone so they can shift their operations to the arduous task of accounting for all the gravesites in question, which number around 100,000.

The FBI will start their grid search Monday morning. They plan to start in the first crime scene, the area around the east and north edge of the cemetery. They say they're going to go grid by grid in a process that could take weeks.

At a prayer vigil Sunday, people sang for the souls of those loved ones no longer resting in peace at Burr Oak Cemetery.

"For the people to damage bodies and do what they did to those babies, it's almost unforgivable," Bishop Larry Trotter, of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, said.

Sunday, investigators could be seen searching for irregularities in areas outside of two already-established crime scenes on the closed cemetery grounds. Concerned relatives of those buried there rushed to a newly set up processing center. Diane Thomas says practically all of her family is buried at Burr Oak.

"You just can't sit and not do anything. They don't have anybody to speak for them. Thank god we are still here and we're going to speak for our dead relatives," Thomas said.

A staff of about 40 Cook County sheriffs spent most of the day collecting and sifting through basic information.

"When the records area is open at the cemetery, we will go back in there, process the information, get updated locked gravesite information and then contact the family and give them that information," Deputy Cook County Sheriff Willie Winters said.

Information that Kankakee-area resident Annette Bolian hopes will help find her deceased husband, James.

"He was buried there in May of 1996, and his headstone is gone. The ground where he was is all disheveled. It was very upsetting," Bolian said.

It was especially upsetting for those attending the prayer vigil. Religious and community leaders joined families in demanding a full investigation and legislation regulating cemeteries so something like this never happens again.

"If it takes a license to drive a car, if it takes a license to own a dog, if it takes a license to operate a bus, then it ought to take a license to operate a cemetery," State Senator Reverend James Meeks said.

The prayer vigil ended Sunday evening, and religious leaders say in the near future they are planning a rededication service for the relatives of loved ones disturbed at Burr Oak Cemetery.

The calls for action and the prayers was exactly what Shirley Wilson needed. She buried her baby at Burr Oaks 14 years ago.

"It gave me relief I wasn't the only one in Babyland," Wilson said.

Babyland was a section of the cemetery where children were buried, which the Cook County Sheriff says no longer exists.

Two phone numbers are available for information about anyone buried at Burr Oak.

The first is 1-800 942-1950.

The second number is 1-708-865-6070.

And an email address has also been set up.

burroakcemeteryinvestigation@gmail.com.


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