A man made a disturbing discovery last week when he visited the grave a recently deceased loved one he had been told was buried at the south suburban Homewood Memorial Gardens cemetery in Thornton township in south suburban Chicago.
Though a cemetery staff member showed Dwayne Cook to a grave they said belonged to his friend Hershal Jordan, Cook suspected that something was awry, CBS Chicago reports. When he took a peek inside the chapel on the cemetery grounds he discovered Jordan's casket sitting in a storage room with 10 others all awaiting burial.
"I couldn't leave it alone," Cook told CBS. "Justice has to be done. This just is not right."
Cook proceeded to call the Cook County Sheriff's Office, which confirmed that 11 unburied bodies -- all public aid burials -- had been sitting, unattended, inside the cemetery chapel for approximately a week. The coffins had not been tampered with or damaged.
Tom Flynn, the cemetery's owner, told ABC Chicago that the incident was caused by their being short-staffed amid an increase in indigent burials -- on behalf of families that cannot afford private burials -- from the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office at the cemetery. Specifically, cemetery staff has claimed their backhoe operator either quit or was laid off recently.
But detective Jason Moran notes that, even if that is the case, the cemetery should have notified family members of any delays in the burial of their loved ones.
On Saturday, the 11 caskets received a proper burial, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, and the sheriff's office is now launching an investigation into whether cemetery operators violated any laws, and could subsequently face charges, in the incident.
"It shouldn't matter if you are rich or poor," Cook told NBC Chicago of his discovery. "You should be given a decent respectful burial."
The scandal at Homewood Memorial Gardens is not the cemetery's first brush with controversy. Last year, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart uncovered what he called "disturbing" practices where the cemetery was burying the bodies of indigent persons eight deep in mass graves. Dart also said he witnessed as many as 26 babies buried together in the same wooden box as assorted items identified only as "mixed tissues" at the cemetery.
The cemetery holds a long-standing contract with the state where it is paid $1,600 by the state for each public burial it performs. While the down economic times have meant an increase in demand for such burials, the state drastically cut funding for the program last year.