burr oak cemetary

A Burr Oak Cemetery worker testified Thursday that the foreman on site used a sledgehammer to destroy a cement liner surrounding an old casket and once heard him use an expletive to describe the skeletal remains he wanted trashed to make room for a fresh corpse.

“Take that s – – – out of there and take it on the back with the rest of the garbage,” Willie Esper Jr. said Keith Nicks told his colleagues as they sifted through the withered bones.

Just days after Esper was hired as a seasonal landscaper in April 2008, he found what he assumed was a human rib cage on the grounds of the historic Alsip cemetery.

Days later, he saw a shin bone jutting out of the mud in a dump truck driven by Nicks’ younger brother, Terrence.

Esper also recalled watching his co-workers push their tools so deep into the soil that he spotted deteriorating bodies floating in water-filled coffins.

“It almost was like an everyday thing . . . bones would come up,” Esper said on the second day of the Nicks brothers’ double jury trial at the Bridgeview Courthouse.

Esper admitted he never told authorities about the horrors he witnessed until 2009, when the Nicks brothers and two others were arrested for their alleged participation in a scheme to unearth bodies and hide them elsewhere on the grounds in an effort to sell more plots in the crowded south suburban cemetery.

Keith Nicks often would jump into the holes where the dead were buried, hacking away at the cement liners, said Esper, 32.

On one occasion, Esper said, Keith Nicks asked him to help obscure areas of the cemetery so others could “double stack” graves unbeknownst to the relatives of the dead.

burr oak

“We were ordered to surround the grave and block off the view,” Esper said.

Esper described Terrence Nicks as a hard worker who once refused his brother’s orders to discard bones behind the cemetery.

But he said Keith Nicks and backhoe operator Maurice Dailey were nightmare co-workers who took long lunch breaks and ate up all the company’s overtime hours.

Dailey, who is awaiting trial and was in court Thursday, laughed when Esper described him as an alcoholic who drank Crown Royal whiskey on the job every day.

Dailey joked about being arrested for his activities at the cemetery and told Terrence Nicks he had hoped they’d be cellmates so he could throw his “little ass” on the top bunk so he could watch his legs swing, Esper said.

Former cemetery manager Carolyn Towns has since been sentenced to 12 years in prison for her role in the scam.

Keith Nicks, 51, and Terrence Nicks, 44, are charged with removal of a gravestone or a marker, desecration of human remains and removal of remains of a deceased human being from a burial ground.

Earlier Thursday, two men who live near the cemetery recounted how they would see cemetery employees working well after closing hours.

“The hill was getting bigger every year,” Thomas Dabulskis said of the space where authorities said the bones were buried.

Chicagoan Tahita White wept when she took the stand, telling jurors she noticed her grandmother’s headstone was missing when she paid a visit to the cemetery in August 2009.

Source: Chicago SunTimes