Court-appointed Burr Oaks operator speaks out

July 17, 2009 4:21:47 PM PDT
ABC7 Chicago was hearing Friday evening from two important people connected to the situation at Burr Oak Cemetery.The man who was selected to oversee the facility temporarily says, while problems at Burr Oak are bad, things are not as dire as he feared. Also, the woman who will lead the state's new cemetery oversight task force spoke to ABC7 Chicago about what lies ahead.

For the last week and a half, thousands of families have come out to Burr Oak Cemetery fearing the worst. But Friday, the court appointee to run the cemetery for the foreseeable future says, after his first full day on the job, his survey reveals that there are problem areas and there was likely criminal activity, but he believes the vast majority of people buried at Burr Oak Cemetery were allowed to rest in peace.

As ABC7 Chicago first reported Thursday, early fears that double burials were commonplace at the cemetery were halked up to a lack of understanding at how cemeteries operate. One person said Friday that, while burying two strangers in one plot is not the standard, it does happen in gravesites where families only purchased so-called "term graves." Those do exist at Burr Oak. The problem is that a lot of the contracts and records that might indicate the nature of the burial have not been located.

Two people who will be intimately involved in the cemetery's future said Friday that they hoped their work would offer families some measure of comfort.

"There are areas of concern, but the greater majority of the cemetery looked pretty good and probably does not have a problem. Where the crimes existed, to what extent, we're still sorting all of that out," said Roman Szabelski, the Burr Oak Cemetery court-appointed operator.

"If we can get legislation that would prohibit this from occurring ever again, then we're successful. And that's our plan," said Patricia Brown Holmes of the governor's Cemetery Oversight Panel.

Szabelski says his work right now is focused on compiling a century-worth of records in one computerized database so that when the cemetery does reopen, relatives will be able to come and quickly determine where their loved ones are buried and go to those grave sites.

He also said, while investigators will be at the cemetery for several weeks, his goal is to get the majority of the cemetery back open to the public in August.


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