Burr Oak opens for gravesite inspections

October 12, 2009 9:05:53 PM PDT
Gravesite inspections were under way Monday at Burr oak cemetery in southwest suburban Alsip. Attorneys representing people who have loved ones buried there can now access burial plots.

Monday's inspections come months after federal investigators determined that graves had been disturbed in an alleged scheme to re-sell them for a profit. However, the wait continues for relatives who want to visit the cemetery for themselves.

Cemeteries are for the living. Relatives have a place to mourn and remember their loved ones. But for relatives of those buried at Burr Oak, they have been without that place for months.

There was word Monday that the cemetery's reopening could be one month away. For now, the legal process continues as the owner goes through bankruptcy and relatives of the dead file lawsuits.

Burr oak cemetery opened for a select group Monday per a judge's order. Attorneys for families who have loved ones buried there were allowed in to take pictures of the property.

Several lawsuits were filed against the owners of Burr Oak cemetery after an alleged scheme was uncovered in which employees profited from reusing plots and not properly tending to the buried.

"We don't have enough information at the present time to identify particular grave sites. We still need to learn about that," said Deidre Bauman, an attorney for families.

Bauman's firm represents more than 400 families. She says some clients are waiting to bury loved ones at Burr Oak.

"Everybody is frustrated, for obvious reasons. I was called by a woman last week. Somebody, I believe it was her father, was still waiting to be buried here, and they're holding the body," said Bauman.

Burr Oak cemetery has been closed since the summer when the cook county sheriff began investigating allegations of lost loved ones at the cemetery, unidentified bones and more than one body in a vault.

Distraught families members trying to find loved ones became more upset as the investigation widened.

Four cemetery workers have been charged, and a bankruptcy judge ordered a man named Howard Korenthal to take charge of the cemetery for Perpetua holdings.

"This is all about the families. Our mission here is to get this cemetery reopened and to be able to communicate with the families about where their loved ones are," said Korenthal, C.O.O. of Burr Oak cemetery.

Korenthal is now the court-appointed chief operating officer of Burr Oak. He says, while a portion of the cemetery will remain closed, he hopes to have the rest of the property open to the public mid-November.

"We're getting really good cooperation from all the parties to get the cemetery reopened. Obviously, we're working with Roman Szabelski from Catholic Cemeteries. We've been working with the sheriff to allow us to use the database. We are actively working with the community to get contractors to help us repair the facility. From my perspective, things are moving along," Korenthal said.

Executives say they are working on a Web site that will help relatives locate loved ones at the cemetery. They expect the Web site to be up in a couple of weeks.


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