Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 00:02 UK

Four charged with US grave scam

Relatives gather at the cemetry to find out what happened to their loved ones

Police have charged four people in connection with an alleged scheme to dig up graves at a Chicago cemetery in order to resell the plots.

Bones from more than 100 bodies were discovered in mass graves at the city's Burr Oak Cemetery.

The historic burial ground contains the graves of a number of well-known African-American figures.

Three grave diggers and an office manager have been charged with dismembering a human body.

They are accused of reselling plots so they could keep fees rather than passing them on the cemetery's Arizona-based owners.

Bones from dozens of bodies and smashed up gravestones were discovered in an overgrown part of the cemetery in Alsip, 20 miles (30km) south of Chicago.

Up to 300 graves were reported to have been desecrated.

'Startling and revolting'

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart told reporters that the scheme may have earned its perpetrators about $300,000 (£184,000) over four years.

Debris at the Burr Oak Cemetery, Alsip, 8 July 2009
Police say remains were found behind a pile of grave debris

"This was not done in a very delicate way," he said

"They would excavate a grave... and then they would proceed to dump the remains wherever they found a place to do it in the back of the cemetery."

He added that those involved in the scheme would sometimes leave remains in a grave and then "pound them down and put someone else on top".

"What we found was beyond startling and revolting," he said.

Investigators were still trying to work out how many plots had been re-sold under the scheme, which could have been operating for up to four years.

The historic cemetery contains the graves of Emmett Till, whose 1955 lynching at the age of 14 galvanised the civil rights movement.

Singer Dinah Washington, former world heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles and Harlem Globetrotter Inman Jackson were also buried there.

Mr Dart said there was no evidence the historic graves had been targeted.

Older, unmarked graves which had not been visited for a while appeared to have been dug up, he said.

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