Friday, October 16, 2009

Body buried between couple at Burr Oak Cemetery

After his July 10 death, William Scott's body was kept in storage for three months so he could be laid to rest alongside his late wife, Lorraine, in scandal-scarred Burr Oak Cemetery once it reopened for business.
But when cemetery workers tried to dig Scott's grave last week on the deeded burial plot he and Lorraine purchased in the 1950s, they unearthed an unpleasant surprise -- a casket and remains that weren't supposed to be there.
Lorraine and William Scott had hoped to be buried next to each other at Burr Oak Cemetery.
Now Mr. and Mrs. Scott must share their eternal resting place with a stranger lying between them.
This latest embarrassment for Burr Oak took place just weeks after a judge authorized the resumption of burials at the Alsip cemetery that has been closed to the public since being declared a crime scene in early July.
While the decrepit pine box and its unknown skeletal inhabitant appear to have no connection to the corpse dumping and grave reselling investigation that led to criminal charges against four former Burr Oak employees, it's certainly fresh evidence of the problems that incomplete record-keeping could continue to cause the cemetery as it tries to move forward.
Put simply, it can't be sure who's buried where.
Trudi Foushee, who manages the cemetery for owner Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, downplayed the latest incident and its portent for future operations. She said the discovery of the stray coffin had been explained in advance to Scott's family, which went ahead and authorized the burial to take place as scheduled last Thursday.
But the Scotts' daughter, Karla, a Miami, Fla., businesswoman, suggested she had little choice after waiting three months to bury her father -- two months after the actual funeral.
"All of this I found out at the very last minute," she said Tuesday from her late parents' Chatham home. "I was already on my way here. I wasn't even given warning. It's a very awkward situation."
Scott declined to discuss specifics of what happened with her father's burial plot, saying, "I really can't talk about that right now."
Brian White, a police commander for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, offered information that may help explain her reticence.
White, whose investigators were called to the scene after the remains were found, said Burr Oak officials outlined the circumstances to Scott and offered to proceed by burying her father at a discounted rate adjacent to the unknown grave -- one spot removed from her mother -- or dig up her mother's casket and move both parents to another spot in the cemetery.
By law, the unidentified remains could not be moved.
With a lousy choice like that, you can see why Scott just looked for closure.
Foushee argued that the unidentified remains never would have been disturbed if not for the intervention of Roman Szabelski, a court-appointed consultant helping to oversee the cemetery's reopening.
Szabelski, who runs Catholic Cemeteries for the Chicago Archdiocese and originally took over Burr Oak as receiver after the scandal broke, ordered William Scott's grave dug closer to his wife's than was originally marked by work crews, Foushee said. The backhoe then unearthed the unexpected coffin, she said.
Sheriff's investigators said some bones and part of the coffin already had been dumped on a truck before the mistake was found. They were later returned.
Szabelski wouldn't discuss the matter, but I'm having trouble following Foushee's logic that he's somehow to blame, when she says the records show there shouldn't have been a body there.
Obviously, the Scotts bought their plots expecting to be buried side by side.
From segregated cemeteries to Emmett Till's casket, the Burr Oak scandal has touched on so many uncomfortable truths of African-American history, and William Scott's grave debacle adds one more.
Scott, it turns out, was a survivor of the Tulsa Massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when a white lynch mob destroyed that town's all-black Greenwood neighborhood, killing dozens if not hundreds of African Americans, the facts long in dispute. Scott, then 9, was left homeless.
He later came to Chicago, met and married Lorraine, served as a military cook during WWII, and supported his family with a factory job at Western Electric, also finding time to work as a 6th Ward Democratic precinct captain. Scott was 96 when he died. Lorraine died in 2008. They deserved a better ending.
You wonder how much more heartache this one cemetery can cause.

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