Investigation begins at historic black cemetery

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The grisly work of the investigation is getting under way at a historic African-American cemetery as an FBI forensic team starts combing the most northern section of its grounds for unearthed remains.

One of Chicago’s first African-American cemeteries, Burr Oaks, was the resting place of many important historical figures, including lynching victim Emmett Till. Last week, police revealed that cemetery workers have been exhuming bodies from their graves so plots could be resold.

The entire cemetery is closed and has been declared a crime scene. Much of the cemetery has a grid laid out with ropes and flags.

There is a second active area that will be investigated next. Sheriff’s officials could not say if there would be any digging, even though heavy excavation equipment arrived on site this morning.

So far, it’s only a “visual search” to identify graves that have been potentially disturbed.

Officials believe as many as 300 graves were dug up at Burr Oak and the bodies disposed of in a scheme by graveyard employees to resell the plots and pocket the money.

One worker outside the cemetery who would not give his name on Monday called Carolyn Towns, the suspected ringleader of the scheme, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Investigators are now trying to rule out some areas as being part of crime scene, said Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Cunningham.

County Board President Todd Stroger is working on declaring this a disaster area to get federal funds to help cover the expenses of the investigation, Cunningham said.

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