Suit alleges grave tampering at Glenwood cemetery

Graveyard official says nothing improper was done
2009-07-22T00:00:00Z Suit alleges grave tampering at Glenwood cemeteryJeanette Lach and Gregory Tejeda - The Times
July 22, 2009 12:00 am  • 

A South Side family is suing a Glenwood cemetery alleging the remains of two relatives were dug up and relocated, but a cemetery official says the suit is frivolous, chalking it up to a sunken headstone.

Chiquita Ratcliffe, Phyllis Pearson and Zechariah Thomas III allege Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens South, at 18301 E. Glenwood Thornton Road, improperly interred or improperly disinterred the bodies of two family members. They discovered the missing headstone while visiting the family plot in late June.

Cemetery management said the headstone had sunk, according to the lawsuit. But another cemetery visitor -- whose relative was buried adjacent to the family's plot -- said cemetery officials told her their grave was empty, the lawsuit states.

The family filed suit to exhume the bodies and find out if the family members still are buried at the cemetery, according to Bardia Fard, the family's attorney.

Fard, of the Acumen Law Group in Chicago, says South Side families who have relatives buried in local cemeteries are complaining of similar problems in the wake of a plot-reselling scandal at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip.

"They all have stories where a relative's gravestone was just missing. No authorization, no court order," Fard said. "Burr Oak is really just the tip of the iceberg, we think. Mount Glenwood ... was involved in similar practices."

Jeannie Walsh, Mount Glenwood president, says nothing improper was done.

"This is over a sunken headstone, this is a frivolous lawsuit," Walsh said. "Because of everything that's going on it just aggravated the situation. Nobody was moved."

A Cook County Board commissioner said Tuesday she believes situations similar to the Burr Oak fiasco exist at other graveyards.

Commissioner Deborah Sims, who has five relatives buried at Burr Oak, told her colleagues of a woman from Chicago Heights who contacted her. That woman heard from a relative that the headstone for her mother's grave was seen leaning against a tool shed.

Sims did not disclose the cemetery in question, but she said it's not Burr Oak, the historical black cemetery where four employees have been arrested and charged with digging up graves and reselling plots.

When Sims called the cemetery she was told the headstone had been put back, although she was never told why it was moved.

"I should not have had to make that call," Sims said. "This is not happening just at Burr Oak. It is happening at other cemeteries too."

Her comments came as the Cook County Board approved a resolution waiving the $13 fee the county charges for death certificate copies for Burr Oak patrons. A second resolution calls for civil penalties in addition to the criminal charges being sought against the accused Burr Oak workers.

Also upset was Commissioner Earlean Collins, who has a niece buried at Burr Oak. Collins said she thinks the state should take over the Burr Oak investigation. The probe thus far has cost county police $326,000, and it will go up, Sheriff Tom Dart told the board.

Collins said she thinks the bodies at Burr Oak should be moved to other cemeteries around the area.

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