Prosecutors on Thursday charged three gravediggers and a manager in an elaborate scheme in which hundreds of corpses were dug up at a historic black cemetery near Chicago and strewn in a weeded area or reburied with other bodies so that plots could be resold, authorities said.
As frantic relatives of the deceased descended on the Burr Oak Cemetery — the final resting place of lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington — investigators said it could be months before they fully understand what took place.
More than a dozen FBI agents would help sort through the evidence and identify bodies at the cemetery in Alsip, 12 miles south of Chicago, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, flanked by distraught family members, expressed the outrage he was feeling at the workers accused of tossing human remains into a remote area of a cemetery.
"In my judgment, there should be no bail for them, there should be really a special place in hell for these graveyard thieves who have done so much, hurt these families," he said.
For much of the day, all dozens of people waited in line to get answers, police assigned numbers for them, telling some to return later in the day.
"I feel betrayed and violated," said Gregory Mannie, a Chicagoan with four relatives buried there, who said he was particularly worried about his grandmother, whose grave is in a more secluded area that he did not visit as often as the others.
"It's almost like killing them all over again," he said.
The suspects, all of whom are black, were identified as Carolyn Towns, 49, Keith Nicks, 45, and Terrence Nicks, 39 — all of Chicago — and Maurice Dailey, 61, of Robbins. They have each 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, who are gravediggers. It could not immediately be determined whether any of them had attorneys. Prosecutors said they didn't know, and calls to the public defender's office were not immediately returned.
Authorities said Towns also pocketed donations she elicited for an Emmett Till memorial museum. She has not been charged in connection with those allegations.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Till's grave was not disturbed, but he did not have information about the graves of Washington and others.
The Arizona-based owner of the cemetery, Perpetua Inc., said in a statement Thursday that the company is cooperating with investigators.
"We will make every attempt to insure and maintain the dignity of those that have been entrusted to our care," the company said.