Complaints about cemetery date back years

Quinn forms cemetery oversight task force
July 16, 2009 8:50:09 PM PDT
Complaints about problems at Burr Oak Cemetery date back at least a dozen years. One man says he saw a skull on the grounds and scattered headstones back in 1997 and reported it to police.

Ray Davis says he alerted the cemetery office after he discovered the unearthed human skull. He recalls they acted like it was no big deal. But they promised they would take care of it. It later occurred to him that they never even asked where it was. He says he also got nowhere with the police.

Ray Davis is a retired Chicago police officer who knows a thing or two about investigations. That's why he took pictures more than 12 years ago when he and his sister went looking for their sister's headstone at burr oak cemetery. They found Hazel Ford's headstone sitting with others, not in place at her burial plot. But then they made a much more startling discovery in a pile of branches nearby: a human skull. The date is still stamped on the picture, April 13, 1997. Davis immediately alerted the cemetery office and the Cook County sheriff's office.

"We told them there was a skull was laying out there. And they laughed at me. They said there are plenty of skulls, there are skulls all over the place at the cemetery. So I let it go," said Ray Davis.

"I've had many sleepless nights then and also now. It's rehashed all over again and it's so hard to take," said Deloris M. Burnam, Davis' sister.

While they never filed a formal complaint 12 years ago, they have joined the tens of thousands of families making inquiries within the last few days.

The Better Business Bureau which has given the cemetery failing ratings for the last three years. Among the complaints is a woman who reported two feet of dirt piled on top of the headstone of a loved one. Other complaints involve missing headstones, broken burial vaults and various human remains unearthed on the grounds.

Governor Pat Quinn's response on Thursday was to appoint a panel to strengthen regulation.

"I think it's important that we get to the bottom of all of the facts, and related to that, we also make sure we protect the public interest and the consumer interest of the state of Illinois," said Quinn.

Ray Davis wonders whether all this would have been necessary if authorities had responded to his complaints in 1997.

"If something had been done 12 years ago, maybe it wouldn't be this bad today," said Davis.

A spokesperson for the Cook County sheriff's office says they have had no legal jurisdiction over the cemetery for the last twenty years. The city of Alsip asked them to join the current investigation because they lacked the manpower and expertise.


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