New problem at Homewood cemetery? Ex employee implicated in Burr Oak scandal

April 19, 2012 3:18:58 PM PDT
Another problem for the south suburban cemetery at the center of a controversy over a backlog on burials: Homewood Memorial Gardens Cemetery hired a gravedigger who was charged in the burial scandal at Burr Oak Cemetery three years ago.

The owner of Homewood Memorial Gardens is defending his cemetery and is answering questions about the brief hiring of that former Burr Oak Cemetery employee. The owner also claims the cemetery notified authorities that burials might be delayed.

It is another mess for the only cemetery contracted with the Cook County medical examiner to bury the indigent, unclaimed and unknown. Two weeks ago, Maurice Dailey resigned from Homewood Memorial Gardens, after only five days on the job. The 157-year-old cemetery has been the focus of a Cook County Sheriff's investigation into its burial practices. Homewood says it did not know Dailey's background when he was hired at the beginning of the month to help it get ready for its busy season.

When Memorial Day is within site, a place where stillness reigns moves towards action. And that's why Homewood Memorial hired Dailey, a man sporting a resume with the experience to help out. But Homewood Memorial's owner of 42 years said he did not know Dailey was implicated in the Burr Oak scandal, where graves were dug up and plots resold illegally -- and Dailey is charged with dismembering and disturbing human remains.

"As far as we knew, Maurice Dailey was someone who had been in the cemetery business," said Homewood Memorial Gardens owner Tom Flynn Sr.

Flynn, who spoke from Pennsylvania, said on April 6 Homewood Memorial fired a backhoe operator and by the end of business that day informed the Cook County Sheriff the move might mean a backlog in burials. That was also the day Dailey resigned.

Two weeks later, bodies were discovered stockpiled in cemetery chapel, bodies that were supposed to have been buried.

"We know what we are doing," Flynn said. "It may not be clear to outsiders, but the cemetery business, the biggest thing is record keeping. We know where every indigent burial is."

Homewood won a new contract with Cook County to bury the indigent, unknown and unclaimed post-Burr Oak, according to Flynn, due in part to their superior record-keeping.

Cook County Detective Jason Moran, who has been working with facility and was a key figure in the Burr Oak investigation, said Homewood knew Dailey's background and counseled a manager not to use Dailey to replace the fired backhoe operator.

"It was alarming to think that someone who is involved in such a cemetery scandal, they would actually hire to work," said Moran, who said he made Dailey's background clear to Homewood Memorial.

Moran also said he came to know of the looming burial backlog in the April 6 call because Homewood was worried the fired backhoe operator might come back to the cemetery with ill intent.

"They had every opportunity to let us know they had a back up of burials, and they chose not to do that," Moran said. "This really is a management issue."

ABC 7 could not reach Dailey or his lawyer for his side of the story.

The Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation has received a letter asking for review of Homewood's operations.

The county pays $1,600 for each burial, of which the cemetery gets $552, according to Flynn. The rest goes to funeral directors. Flynn says he is not in this part of the business for the money -- only that someone has to provide these services.