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Records at troubled Chicago cemetery falling apart

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Records at the suburban Chicago cemetery where four people are accused of unearthing bodies in an alleged moneymaking scheme have been found disintegrating and rotting in a rusty file cabinet, authorities said Tuesday.

The condition of records at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip illustrates the daunting task ahead of identifying the dead whose graves have been disturbed. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Tuesday that he'd received about 65,000 requests from families seeking information about loved ones buried there.

Meanwhile, Dart said at a news conference that he's asking a court to appoint someone to run Burr Oak, where four former workers allegedly dug up bodies and resold the burial plots.

Dart said he is effectively running the historic African-American cemetery. He said employees have been asking him when they can take their lunch and leave for the day.

"There is nobody running the cemetery right now other than me," Dart said. "That obviously is not what should be going on here."

The sheriff said the Arizona-based owner, Perpetua Holdings, has made no move to reopen or operate the cemetery.

Next to Dart at the news conference stood a rusty gray file cabinet that the sheriff said had been discovered in a basement. Inside were rotting, moldy cards with fading writing.

Dart's comments come as authorities are continuing the monumental task of trying to identify who is buried in about 100,000 graves in the suburban cemetery. The sheriff said most of the graves don't have markers.

In the meantime, at least one lawsuit has been filed on behalf of families, and Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes has started the process of revoking Burr Oak's license.

Hynes proposed legislation Tuesday in Springfield to tighten cemetery regulation, including first-time state licensing for cemeteries and their staff members. Action on the six-part plan could come as early as Wednesday.

The measure would require cemeteries to provide reasonable maintenance, keep detailed records and maps of burials documented with the county recorder of deeds and provide plain-language information to consumers about their rights.

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Associated Press Writer John O'Connor contributed to this report from Springfield.