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July 9th, 2009
08:37 AM ET

“Heartbreaking Stuff”: Bodies Dug Up and Cemetery Plots Resold

Employees at an historic African-American cemetery near Chicago allegedly dug up more than 100 graves in an off-the-books scheme to resell burial plots. The sheriff who’s investigating calls it “heartbreaking stuff” and says it’s “so upsetting, unsettling.” Check out the full story here and leave us your thoughts and comments. We’ll read some of your comments on-air in our 10am hour.

Filed under: Heidi Collins
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. WillieSmith

    Heidi, Regarding the Chicago cemetery issue. Shouldn't their be charges of theft since most families bury their loveones with jewelry? I mean I know there is a reception but to dig up the graves and throw the bones out on the premises. I Guess they thought ,neighborhood dogs would take the bones and bury them for later.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  2. Antjuan Bunn

    Now that's just terrible, a slap in the face to the families.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:12 am |
  3. Fred

    I think it's outrageous, Heidi. Thanks for your reporting.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:18 am |
  4. michael armstrong sr.

    theres nothing sacred anymore just goes to show you people will do anything for a buck these people need to be excomunicated from there churches and denied any government jobs.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  5. Neil

    Diging up bodies... its Sick. not only do you hurt yourself but you hurt someone again who has already died. its just plain wrong to dig up a body and then dump it! right in the back of the cemetery! 4 people are in custody and if there are any left i hope they get caught and go to jail for a very long time

    July 9, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  6. roderick


    July 9, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  7. Vini Jaquery

    When working abroad in the mega city of Sao Paulo Brazil I learned that cemeteries often have a 5 year policy. After that time a relative is called to pick up the ashes of their loved one. The policy addresses the shortage of space for burials in large cities. This could be a wise way to go in Chicago.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:24 am |
  8. Todd

    It's horrible obviously, but what I can't understand is, they didn't stop to think that sooner or later one of the family would visit the cemetery to see thier loved ones and not find thier gravestone ?? Very strange.. I know I visit my mothers gravesite to put flowers on birthdays, etc, and others do the same.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:25 am |
  9. Mavis of East Orange, NJ

    If found guilty, they should be punished to the full extent of the law and restitiuon should be made to the families affected. The people who do these things have no conscience.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:26 am |
  10. Robert Gardner

    Just when you've thought you have heard the worst about the evil things that people can do...then you have this. At times I feel as if HELL actually exist right here on planet earth. What have we become?

    July 9, 2009 at 9:27 am |
  11. James Burke

    I am in total shock over this story. It is inconceivable that someone could desecrate the grave sites of family loved ones for financial gain. Today's news is filled with horific stories and this particular story has to be one of the most disturbing. I feel for the families that have been affected by this terrible act. In our demented world, even in death one is not guaranteed to "rest in peace".

    July 9, 2009 at 9:32 am |
  12. Emerson Jones

    We should not be so fixated on death. I believe that graveyards are abominable properies, which supply people with a dilatory and backward attitude. Perhaps this event will oblige people to realize the vapidity of cemeteries and abolish the need for these wasted spaces.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:33 am |
  13. Ashley T.

    Having just buried my grandmother yesterday hearing word of this atrocity is beyond upsetting. These grave robbers have obviously never lost someone dear to them, or they would recognize the signifcance of having a place that is peaceful and solemn to visit their loved ones. I think these people should spend at least one year in jail for each body that is found.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:34 am |
  14. Mouhaman Sani Kola

    This act is horrible. Shame on the cemetry workers who dug up those graves. The matter should be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
    What an immoral act ! Those buried there deserve better treatment.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:35 am |
  15. Doug Schafer

    So much for 'Resting in Peace!'

    July 9, 2009 at 9:36 am |
  16. Sharon

    This is a very horrible thing to do whoever is responsible,they are evil and have no feelings for anyone, I cannot imagine how very angry the familys must be. very very sad.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:38 am |
  17. Catherine W. Pitts

    Some of us have known for a long time that parts of the mortuary industry is very crooked and greedy. This is one of the arguments in favor of cremation. With the choice of cremation you dodge the issue of having to choose a casket, clothing to put on the deceased, the ridiculous charges of opening a grave, etc. And even with cremation, burying the cremains can be expensive. One of the major cemeteries in our area are now charging a thousand dollars to open a 12 in square hole to place the cremains in the ground. They also force you to purchase an urn and a vault for the urn. And at a time when one is the most vulnerable. They take advantage of our griefs.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:43 am |
  18. Lee M. Bryant

    My kinfolk are no longer resting in peace there! A painful, unpleasant task awaits my family.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:58 am |
  19. Norma Joseph

    Read about Menorah Cemetery in Florida. They did something very similar to this. I know, they moved my father's grave, re-sold his double plot and then my mother had no place to rest when her time came.
    I know how all of these relatives feel, it is heartwrenching

    July 9, 2009 at 10:05 am |
  20. David Breedlove

    Why are authorities asking what to do with the people who are responsible for these crimes? Do the same thing that was done to the Black guy in northern Georia who committed a similar crime several years ago.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  21. Roger

    Here is another case of ends justifying the means.... GREED! These atrocious acts are just a continuation of the lack of ethics, empathy, conscience which we are seeing everyday... politics,sports,banking, Etc.

    We don't teach nor emphasize ethics in this country..It's all about what we can get away with!


    July 9, 2009 at 10:12 am |
  22. Elaine

    We are trying to check on the status of our father who is buried at Burr Oak. There is no way to communicate with the cemetery's office or register any information with them as the toll-free number is "temporarily unavailable" and no one answers the phone in the office. We need some direction – and – soon. This is very heartbreaking and we don't know where to go from here. Please help us gain access to the appropriate person that can look up our lot number and give us an answer.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:26 am |
  23. Larry

    This is so sad it's pathetic Heidi.

    Fortunately the sheriff has at least some of the guilty parties in custody. Nice job to him.

    Money seems to be that absolute only thing that matters to people anymore. We are so on the wrong track.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:32 am |
  24. hal

    sounds pretty bad @ first but compared to some of the attrocities I will hear of before the day is out, it's probably a pretty mild story.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:40 am |
  25. James Ricket

    This is very disturbing. I already had to overcome the death of my father.. If I visit his cemetary to find his body not there, I will be devistated.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:41 am |
  26. sheila

    we must stop bullying, but you people in the media show bullying everyday. case in point sarah palin, Don't you think what is being done to her is bullying?

    July 9, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  27. oabthe3

    Is there no cruel limits to what people will not do for their love of money?

    July 9, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  28. jessie, charleston SC

    i don't understand how these stories are blown up to be such a huge thing. They are dead bodies for christ sake, not live humans. Punish these law breaking humans accordingly, but lets not make it seem like these people are evil doers. c'mon

    July 9, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  29. Julie from New Jersey

    After losing both my parents this past spring and seeing them to their final resting placee, also in a Chicago suburban cemetary, this story is quite upsetting. Hallowed Ground is Sacred.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:44 am |
  30. Douglas

    What! This is crazy! These people are pure evil. I mean come on, this is something out of a Batman comic. These people need to be brought to justice. The things people do for a buck now adays… I’ve lost faith in humanity.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:44 am |
  31. Gry ST

    I just listened to your bullying story.

    Why did you not ask about what should be done with the actual bullies?

    Students and teachers know who the bullies are. Why aren't the bullies punished?

    Kick them out of school and send them to decency camp. Teach them how to be good people since their parents can't.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:44 am |
  32. Randy Brumagim

    After viewing the segment on the dug up graves in Chicago, it is a horrible yet vivid reminder of how respect and morality have reached an all time low.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  33. Moussa

    It is unfortunate that human being only cares about money nowadays. This material world is urging us to do so many bad things and this is one of them.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:46 am |
  34. Crystal Murphy

    I am very heartbroken to find out that this has occurred at Burr Oak cemetry. My family swears by using Burr Oak as the family resting place. My Mom was buried there in 2006 but both Grandparents, Aunts, uncles, cousins. Everytime someone dies in our family they are buried at Burr Oak. It is really amazing what extent people will go for money. I have a uncle who has been buried in Burr Oak for over thirty years and my sister noticed two years ago that his head stone was missing. It's really a shame but what's in the dark always comes to the light.

    July 9, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  35. henrietta reed

    My whole familys is buried in Burr Oaks my great grandmother my grandmother my uncles and aunts everytime some one in my family dies thats where they get buried. i am very hurt now i may not be able to find any of my family. we barried my cousin Dennis Stigler and that was two years ago and even my mom said it the grounds looked different i went to look for the rest of the family and i only found one person. My mom said i didnt look hard enough .

    July 9, 2009 at 10:48 am |
  36. NeCole

    Its really saddening that this world is so dominated by money that the extremes humans will go through are horrifying. But in today's society the respect we have for ourselves are so limited, did we really expect for those resting in peace to have better?

    July 9, 2009 at 10:50 am |
  37. JPShaeffer

    Why would anyone do this! As the pastor from the Cook CO Police Dept. said it causes as much pain for the families as if the loved one had just died.
    I can't believe someone or people could be this cold and unkind!

    July 9, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  38. Chrissy

    This is all so sad. But it kind of makes sense to me. About 3 weeks ago, my boyfriend buried his uncle in that same cemetary, well my cousin is also buried there. The day of his funeral we went looking for my cousin's plot just to stop by but we couldnt find it. We searched for 30 minutes and still couldnt find it. We just figured maybe we were looking in the wrong place. Things seemed strange because the headstones were way too close together. They also seemed to be positioned incorrectly. I personally havent been told if my relatives have been affected by this tragedy but I hope to know something soon. My Prayers go out to any all people affected!!

    July 9, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  39. Ruth

    This really concerns me because I have a mother and father buried at what I feel is one of the best cemeteries in the Detroit metropolitan area. To be a cemetery owner at this time is very lucrative business. There is a 200% markup on plots. Families are already devastated when loosing a loved one. Now we're going to add to our "To do List" not just periodic visits, but calling the BBB, to make sure these cemeteries are still viable businesses and even checking at different times of the day to see that nothing shady is being done there. As if we didn't have enough to be concerned about these days...

    July 9, 2009 at 10:54 am |
  40. henrietta reed

    thats wrong to dig up anyone i will never get buried under the ground

    July 9, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  41. Kweku Mensah

    No one talks about the ongoing grave robbery from the Royal tombs
    ( Pyramids, and the sacred valley of the KINGS ) in Egypt. What happened to the descendants who use to visit their love ones at these tombs? or how will they feel when they go to visit at the tombs and see their bodies unwrapped and displayed in a showcase for all the robbers and their descendants?

    Why is it accepted?

    July 9, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  42. Patricia Willis

    Not surprising. Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island is going through much heartbreak also. This is a state run cemetery whose former management stole money and missmanaged. Now the families are being held hostage by the state because they are making us pay for their scandal. The cemetery is in great distress with no money for upkeep because all monies given go to the court to repay the state of New York the money that New York state workers stole and mismanaged. This is an African American cemetery located in a predominately white area. Some of the famous occupants are blues singer Mammie Smith, Baseball Hall of Famer King Solomon White from the Negro leagues and many others. I have seen family members standing in the middle of the road crying because they can't find their loved ones because of the antiquated index card/ledger book system the cemetery has. No one wants to help us. My parents are buried here and I feel so helpless and victimized by the state of New York and the thieves they are protecting. We can't even fundraise to pay for upkeep or form a board because then we will be personally responsible for repaying this stolen and mismanaged money. All we can do is go through the falling gates at the entrance, try to navigate the maze and step through the high weeds and vandalism to get to our loved ones. This is an historic cemetery. What happened in Chicago could have happened here. How would we know since there are so many unmarked graves and the record keeping is so antiquated. There is not a computer in sight. The frustration and pain are heartbreaking. We need some help here. I hope and pray that someone will help us to put a spotlight on the coverup the State of New York has perpetrated upon the innocent families who have loved ones buried in Frederick Douglass. It's even rumored that a Tusgegee Airman is buried here. I truly understand the heartbreak in Chicago. I pray that none of that happened here but we too are victims of heartless greedy individuals. When does the pain stop. Somebody help us. Please.

    July 9, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  43. Olivia

    This is outrageous and the participants should receive maximum jail time. TOTAL DISRESPECT for those who have been violated in the cemetary.

    July 9, 2009 at 11:59 am |
  44. Dr. Kia Noelle Johnson

    From a daughter who has a father and grandmother buried at Burr Oak Cemetery – this is truly a tragedy. Dealing with the inital feelings of losing a father (in 2003) paired with the decisions of selecting a 'final resting place', you never would think that THIS is what you'd have to worry about in the future.

    Since buring my father in the Burr Oak Cemetery, I have always had a concern for the care (or lack thereof) for the grave sites and have even threatened to hire private caretaking for the site at one point.

    Now with me residing in Virginia, I feel totally helpless in this situation. It is truly sad that something convinced these individuals that what they chose to do was a good idea.

    July 9, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  45. michael armstrong sr.

    i want to see these peoples mug shots .

    July 9, 2009 at 2:12 pm |
  46. michael armstrong sr.

    when i die i hope the military dont forget to pay for my burial could you emagine getting evicted from your grave for none payment im definitly getting creamated .

    July 9, 2009 at 2:26 pm |
  47. Grace Little

    After hearing about this horrific situation, I felt compelled to write. Our family encountered a similar situation when our father"s coffin was moved to another location without our permission. This happened in 2002. The company continually denied ever having done anything inappropriate or worse, illegal and immoral. We went to trial in June, 2007, where SCI['s opening comments were to admit not a mistake but their own deception, and the jury found the company guilty on twelve counts. Since then we have discovered that several other families are now going through the same situation. The company that owns these cemetaries is an international company known as Service Corporation International.
    We have repeatedly tried to make the public aware. We know that these horrible acts continue to occur and hurt so many families. I would love to share this story with CNN, if interested. I live in McAllen, Texas.

    July 9, 2009 at 3:24 pm |
  48. Shorty

    This is one of the most disgusting things I've heard of in a long time. Just when you think people can't get any lower, this happens. My prayers are with those families who have loved ones there.

    And I hope those involved, if found guilty, get the book thrown at them, maximum time with no parole.

    July 9, 2009 at 7:09 pm |
  49. Tripp

    Why do CNN anchors love to say "we want to know what YOU think" on every news story presented? After being a loyal CNN news consumer for years, I'm still trying to figure out why I care what John or Jane Smith from Big or Little City, USA thinks about objectively reported news! I don't want to know what YOU think, what Heidi thinks, what Tony thinks, or what Rick thinks – I want to know the NEWS.

    July 10, 2009 at 9:44 am |
  50. robert.bangs

    Dear Heidi, Here is my comment, I live in panama city beach & when I walk in a store or any where, I here the blacks calling the white people "CRACKER'S" & it gets me sick!!!! So why is it o.k. for the blacks to call us crackers? & I can't say the 'N' word? HEY, can I get on cnn so I can cry how the blacks hurt my feelings by callin' me a cracker? thank you, have a nice day

    July 10, 2009 at 10:08 am |
  51. Jerry Mattran

    Did you notice that the club said they underetimated their capacity? That means they had more room than they though, thus room for new members.

    July 10, 2009 at 10:24 am |
  52. Tony Watson

    2009 Shame on the swim club, these are kids. I have seen many discrimination cases and this one is blatant. Too many folks with the same story, this definatelt is a case of RACISM – in 2009???

    July 10, 2009 at 10:27 am |
  53. Haley

    To even think that someone would be so hurtful as to say those things to children makes me angry. Whomever said such horrible words should be ashamed and definately try to make amends. I have seen some very racist things myself at my own high school, but never have I seen something so low.

    July 10, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  54. kmb

    Last night the news had one or two people and one comment made from one person.
    This morning we have national press.
    I find it hard to believe an 8-10 year old, "MARCUS"

    July 10, 2009 at 10:36 am |
  55. madeline d'ascenzo bolbol

    The swimming pool in Philadelphia PA should be closed until their policy is changed to include everyone.


    July 10, 2009 at 10:37 am |
  56. Linda Lewis

    This story about the african american children not being allowed to use the fascilities of this Country Club is outrageous! They were quick to take their money so the prejudice must have come from the members by the use of their hurtful and inflammantory comments. Seeing that little boy have tears flowing down his cheeks is such a throw back to what we, both black and white, have fought so hard to overcome.

    I assume that since this is a private club there is not leagal remedy However, I think this is up to the media to contiue to spotlight this with as much coverage as possible to "shame" this club and make it a place one would be embarassed to belong. If the media spent as much time on a story like this as they do on the wayward Senators, and inarticulate Sara Palin it would have a much positive effect for change. As a caucasian woman, I am very embarassed and ashamed.

    July 10, 2009 at 10:52 am |
  57. Martin in Shoreline, WA

    Thank God the people who did this were black. Kyra and Tony would be screaming racism. It was just a matter of time before we saw this happen. Cemeteries have limited space. Maybe it is time we get away from burying our dead, and encourage cremation. I would rather be ash than worm food anyway.

    July 10, 2009 at 11:52 am |
  58. Tony

    I don't know if these kids were discriminated against or not as I was not there. What I do know is that there are a small percentage of Black Americans out there that try to take advantage of any opportunity to cry discrimination. Two organizations that I have worked for in the past were forced to defend themselves at their expense, while HUD spent the tax payers money representing these bogus claims. The bottom line is how much money will they take to go away. In my opinion this story will not end with an apology but with the dollar.

    July 10, 2009 at 12:10 pm |
  59. rd in TN

    Very sad and disturbing. I hope all involved can draw strength and peace thru the LORD.
    It makes me wonder tho. Where is Al Sharptons outrage and condemnation of the people that instigated this vile act on these individuals family members? Does he see that big of a differance in the importance of the bodies of these loved ones that were desicrated at this cemetary than He does in his current high profile celebrity cause? Or perhaps does the differance lie, in his eyes, more in the individuals that are responsable for theses acts than atrocities itself?

    July 10, 2009 at 12:20 pm |


    July 10, 2009 at 11:48 pm |
  61. Tye

    Nothing is sacred any more. But let me ask you this...... What are we going to do when the entire surface of the planet is covered with tomb stones- and there is no space left for the living?
    You feel bad for these families.... but what about the "Native American" graveyard that was located there before they turned it into an "African-American" graveyard?
    Your body is an empty vessel without a soul.. it is just a rotting, stinky corpse, capable of spreading disease.... that's why people started burying the dead. Do me a favor- when I die, do not build a shrine to me (tombstone).. instead do something useful with my dead corpse- feed me to the fish, burn my body and apply the ashes to somewhere that needs help with erosion, use it for science, anything but waste space that could be used for the living.
    Common sense duh Tye

    July 12, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  62. Chris

    Dear Kat,I can't wait to see what you found at the historical diirstct yard sale!! What an incredible thing to stumble upon. I also can't wait to hear about the lantern walk. I'm glad you had such a beautiful day. Sorry I have been so busy and out of touch lately. 🙁 I love you and think of you every single day! xo, Amanda

    August 31, 2012 at 12:40 am |

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