ALSIP, Ill. — Three gravediggers and a cemetery manager unearthed hundreds of corpses from a historic black cemetery south of Chicago, dumping some in a weeded area and double-stacking others in existing graves, in an elaborate scheme to resell the plots, authorities said Thursday. All four were charged with felonies.
Frantic relatives of the deceased descended on Burr Oak Cemetery -- the final resting place of lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington -- in hopes someone could tell them their loved ones' remains were not among the pile of bones that littered a remote area of the property in Alsip, 12 miles south of Chicago.
"This is a mess. We can't find our people," said Ralph Gunn, 54, of Chicago, who filled out a report for authorities after a futile search for the headstones of his brother and nephew.
The suspects were identified as Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39 -- all of Chicago -- and Maurice Dailey, 61, of Robbins. They each have been charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a felony.
Bond was set at $250,000 for Towns, the cemetery's manager, and at $200,000 for the other three.
Authorities said Towns also pocketed donations she elicited for an Emmett Till memorial museum. She has not been charged in connection with those allegations. Court documents show she was fired from the cemetery in late May amid allegations of financial wrongdoing.