Sheriff releases video of Burr Oak graves

July 21, 2009 8:40:44 PM PDT
Video taken by the Cook County Sheriff's Department offers a new perspective of the investigation at Burr Oak Cemetery.Authorities say it proves graves were dug up to make room for new ones.

Investigators also revealed new information about the bones that have been recovered there.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says his office has gotten 60,000 calls from relatives of those buried at Burr Oak. He says the massive investigation is far from finished at this point. And initial plans to reopen the cemetery by August 1 are unrealistic.

The video shows holes in the ground with burial vaults visible below. Authorities took the pictures shortly after they first arrived at Burr Oak Cemetery two weeks ago. Authorities believe the holes indicate places where employees removed a second vault and scattered the remains on the cemetery grounds.

"This is not what you call a reburial of remains where you take whole body and move it over. This is basically digging up and dropping," said Robert Grant, FBI special agent in charge.

FBI forensics teams were on the scene digging again on Tuesday afternoon. They say they are concentrating the investigation on two primary locations within the vast cemetery grounds. So far they and sheriff's investigators have collected about 200 pieces of evidence, bones from corpses that were apparently dug up.

"This was not as if somebody was dug up and gently placed in a location. That did not occur. And so because of that, things are scattered, co-mingled," said Tom Dart, Cook County sheriff.

Sheriff Dart says it will be virtually impossible to identify all the remains investigators have collected so far. And returning the remains intact to families is extremely unlikely.

Meantime Willie Esper, the Burr Oak employee who first revealed the conditions there, says he came forward because of threats. Esper told the Associated Press, "I ain't a hero. I just got tired of people threatening me."

Reverend Jesse Jackson says he plans to meet with Governor Quinn later this week to seek relief for families with loved ones buried at Burr Oak and those who have leased plots.

"There are families that want to be buried at Burr Oak because they own grave space but we can't have access to the cemetery. What are we supposed to do and what are we supposed to tell these families?" said Charles Childs, funeral director.

Sheriff Tom Dart says his department has spent $326,000 so far on its investigation, most of that in overtime costs and materials. The Cook County Board voted on Tuesday to file suit against the owners of Burr Oak in an effort to recover those costs.


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