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EVIDENCE GATHERING EFFORTS AT BURR OAK COMPLETED

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Friday, August 7, 2009 — Moving the criminal investigation of the Burr Oak Cemetery to the next phase, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced that as of today, the crime scenes at the cemetery have been released to the receiver, Roman Szabelski.

   For nearly a month, Burr Oak Cemetery has been closed to the public while the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and the FBI conducted evidence recovery efforts in connection with this investigation.  After conferring with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office both agencies are confident they have sufficient evidence to proceed with their criminal cases.

   More than a thousand pieces of evidence have been recovered during this four-week effort, including bones, pieces of burial vaults and headstones.

   "Our heartfelt condolences go out to those affected by the tragic events at Burr Oak cemetery,” stated SAC Grant.  “All of the men and women of the FBI who took part in the search did so with a great deal of reverence, always mindful that they were not just recovering evidence.  We wish it would have been possible to identify all of the remains recovered during the course of our search and to bring some measure of closure to the families."   

   Dart and Grant stressed that while the primary evidence gathering effort at Burr Oak has been completed, the criminal investigation is ongoing. Several leads are still being pursued, which could lead to new charges being filed in the future. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work with the court-appointed receiver, Roman Szabelski, on the transition of documents and information related to the files at the cemetery.

   “Sheriff’s Office employees went above and beyond the call of duty when it came to this case,” Dart said.  “In addition to the criminal case, members of my staff spent numerous days going through the files of the cemetery, attempting to decipher and organize them.  A large part of the transition regarding the day-to-day operations will include turning over these records to the receiver.”

“We appreciate the hard work of all the law enforcement officials involved to address this tragedy at this historic cemetery,” said Roman Szabelski, Burr Oak Cemetery Receiver.  “I will continue to do everything in my power to reopen this cemetery, as soon as I can assure that families will be able to accurately locate where their loved ones are buried and safely visit those sites without additional confusion and distress.  It will take more time to accomplish these important goals.”

   During the transition, the Sheriff’s Office has been working with the Chicago Burr Oak Cemetery Historical Society.  The Society is a newly formed not-for-profit organization.  One of their projects will focus on developing a fitting memorial to honor those individuals who were unearthed at Burr Oak. 

   “Community members, cultural leaders, and civic organizations have come together and formed the Chicago Burr Oak Cemetery Historical Society. We want to preserve Chicago Burr Oak Cemetery, as well as honor, and interpret the traditions, history, and contributions of the African-Americans who are laid to rest at Burr Oak,” stated Society spokesperson and professional genealogist Tony Burroughs.

   “The turning over of day-to-day operations to the receiver is a step towards allowing the cemetery to conduct normal business,” Dart said.  “I want to thank the public for their patience during the time we were forced to close the cemetery to process the crime scenes and ask for their continued patience while Mr. Szabelski continues to work towards re-opening Burr Oak.  I hope that everything that has been done will help ease the pain of those with loved ones buried here and allow them to finally have some closure in this matter.”

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