Nothing new under the daisies

Burr Oak CemeteryThe ex-director of an Illinois cemetery has pleaded guilty to charges that she faked graves in order to take the money of grieving relatives while squeezing more bodies into Burr Oak Cemetery.

It was two years ago to the day that Cook Country Sheriff, Tom Dart, alleged that Carolyn Towns and three gravediggers at the cemetery hug dug up more than 200 graves, dumped the bodies into unmarked mass graves, and resold the plots in a scheme that went back at least five years.

Towns admitted charges of to charges of 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. She admitted that she accepted cash payments from the bereaved, and then buried bodies in graves that were already occupied. Prosecutors said that "In many instances, the gravediggers would crush the vaults and caskets in the graves and then dump the human remains in another area of the cemetery which was generally used for dumping garbage and dirt." Record keeping at the cemetery was so poor that it was impossible in many instances to tell who should have been buried in any particular plot.

My heart breaks for the families of those buried at Burr Oak. But this kind of scandal is nothing new: London's burial history is full of it. Here's just one example from George Walker's 1839 'Gatherings from Graveyards'; he quotes a letter in The Times:

The Times quote, George Walker

And that's why, of course, Palmerston's Burial Acts were so important, and so revolutionary: they put a stop to this horrible practice.

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