Former Burr Oak manager gets 12 years in prison

July 8, 2011 (BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.)

She pleaded guilty Friday to several charges including theft and desecration of human remains.

Carolyn Towns was sentenced to 12 years in prison for what prosecutors say was a money-making scheme that included digging up graves and then reselling the plots.

This is the two-year anniversary of the date 51-year-old Carolyn Towns and three other Burr Oak employees were charged in this scheme.

She pleaded guilty to all counts. Her attorney says she is anxious to put this chapter of her life behind her.

Towns said in court that she is very sorry for the situation and how it has affected her family and the families of whose loved ones are buried at Burr Oak Cemetery, but she had nothing to say outside the courtroom.

After her guilty plea, the judge sentenced her to 12 years in prison, saying she had caused irreparable emotional and psychological damage to grieving families.

"She is very remorseful, not only for the pain she caused her family, but the families of people who have loved ones at Burr Oak, and she accepted responsibility for the allegations in this case, and she would just like to put this behind her and move on with her life," said defense attorney Susana Ortiz.

Investigators say Towns was the mastermind behind a moneymaking scheme to take in hundreds of bodies for burial, but then move the plots, often piling them on top of each other, and losing track of their location.

"It's so abhorrent and so difficult for people to put their arms around that this is a criminal act that I don't think people had seen or heard of," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Her defense attorneys admit Towns had a gambling problem, and they say the tens of thousands of dollars she was convicted of stealing mostly went to support her gambling habit.

"The money was used in gambling and there's a paper trail showing it was used in gambling," said defense attorney Richard Kling.

Edward Boone, whose parents are buried at Burr Oak, reacted to the sentence Friday.

"I find some relief in knowing that persons responsible for this have been brought to justice. And they'll get their due," said Boone.

Dart says the case was incredibly expensive to taxpayers. It occupied nearly everyone on his staff for several months to try to sort it all out.

He is attempting to recoup some of that money from insurance, and he says despite the 12-year sentence, many families likely feel it is not enough.

"It's great that there's closure in the sense that a person has been brought to justice for this horrific act - that's fantastic - amazing - unfortunately, for the families who were the victims, there's nothing that can be done to bring them what they deserve," said Dart.

Towns has until the end of October before she has to report to prison, because she has to find a caretaker for her elderly mother.

The three other defendants are all former gravediggers at the cemetery. They are scheduled to appear in court next week.

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