While it certainly doesn't sound legal to have 26 babies buried together in a wooden box along with unidentified limbs and bones, the practice is actually a standard one in Cook County--and Sheriff Tom Dart wants to change that.
For years, the bodies of unidentified people or those unable to afford burial have been sent to mass graves at Homewood Memorial Gardens. On Thursday, however, Dart called the taxpayer-funded practice "disturbing" and said the handling of these burials threatens to impede criminal investigation processes by law enforcement agencies.
"We have been informed people are buried eight deep out there," Dart said at a news conference Thursday (scroll down for video). "There is no rhyme or reason. There is no grid system. You couldn't find people if you wanted to find them."
Dart wants the burial policies for indigent persons changed statewide, and is supporting a bill sponsored by State Rep. William Cunningham of Chicago.
From the Cook County Sheriff's office:
HB1457, introduced last week, requires all coroners or medical examiners to obtain a DNA sample for those unidentified at the time of burial, then affixing a metal identification tag to the body. There are about 12 unidentified people buried in Cook County every year. Taking a DNA sample from those 12 could also prove useful to the National Crime Information Center, which lists more than 100,000 people as missing. The bill calls for a $1 fee to be added for copies of death certificates to cover any incurred expenses.
Dart hopes the bill will not only lead to a more humane burial process in the state, but help local law enforcement agencies solve cold cases with DNA evidence.
At the Thursday news conference, Dart said he witnessed as many as 26 babies buried together earlier this month, in the same wooden box as assorted items identified only as "mixed tissues."
"From a law enforcement we were disturbed," he said. "From a human standpoint we were absolutely appalled."
Dart and sheriff's police uncovered a massive scandal at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip in 2009, where three gravediggers and a cemetery manager allegedly dumped corpses into weeded areas and double-stacked others in existing graves in an elaborate scheme to resell the plots.
WATCH CBS Chicago's coverage of the burials here: