Fifty-one-year-old Carolyn Towns, of Blue Island, pleaded guilty and was convicted of a bevy of charges related to her oversight of an under-the-table scheme to resell burial plots and pocket the money at the historic Burr Oak Cemetery near suburban Alsip, Ill. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Cook County sheriff's department first noticed something was awry on the Burr Oak grounds in July 2009, when it received a tip from a groundskeeper that skeletal remains were being found in unexpected parts of the grounds. Investigators then discovered that some plots at the cemetery were being sold multiple times. In some cases, according to NBC Chicago, caskets were stacked one on top of the other, while in others, grave diggers would reportedly remove and crush the bodies before dumping the remains elsewhere.
Towns pleaded guilty on all 10 counts on which she was charged including dismembering a human body, theft from a place of worship, damaging 10 or more gravestones, desecration of human remains, removal of human remains of multiple deceased human beings from a burial ground and conspiracy to dismember multiple human bodies.
Three more defendants in the case facing similar charges -- Maurice Daily, of Robbins, and Keith Nicks and Terrence Nicks, of Chicago -- are due in court next week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Towns, meanwhile, will reportedly begin her prison sentence on Oct. 31, after she makes arrangements for the care of her elderly mother.
Earlier this year, a team of archaeologists uncovered human remains and "associated materials" buried throughout the cemetery. Some of the remains were found burned and buried 8 feet deep, other materials were reportedly found just beneath the surface.
The cemetery is the resting place of several notable Chicagoans, including lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington. In response to the original investigation, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke sternly of the cemetery schemesters, "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."