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First lady’s dad not in desecrated cemetery

Reversing an earlier statement, the White House says Michelle Obama's father is not among those buried at a cemetery near Chicago where workers are accused in a gravedigging scandal.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

First lady Michelle Obama's father is not among those buried at a cemetery near Chicago where workers are accused of digging up and dumping bodies to resell plots, the White House said Tuesday, reversing an earlier statement.

Earlier Tuesday, the first lady’s office said that Fraser Robinson III was buried at Burr Oak cemetery in Alsip.

But Camille Johnston, a spokeswoman for the first lady's office, said later in an e-mail to "There has been some confusion that has been cleared up. Fraser Robinson III is buried at Lincoln Cemetery NOT Burr Oak."

Lincoln Cemetery is about 1.5 miles away from Burr Oak. Johnston did not immediately say how the confusion occurred.

Fraser Robinson III died in 1991 at age 55 from complications from multiple sclerosis, a year before his daughter married Barack Obama.

The 150-acre Burr Oak cemetery, where many famous black people are buried, has been declared a crime scene and closed to the public until further notice. Police suspect as many as 300 gravesites have been dug up or disturbed. Many of the bodies were dumped in a vacant lot to make room for more plots, authorities said.

Three former gravediggers and a former cemetery manager have each been charged in the alleged scheme that authorities say netted about $300,000 in reselling plots.

The Cook County Sheriff's Office says thousands of people have been inquiring about the status of their loved ones' remains since word of the scandal broke last week. The cemetery's records are in such disarray that it will take some time to sort through the mess, it said.

"We have found partially destroyed and altered records, and many burial documents are missing all together. This has made it extremely difficult to answer questions regarding gravesite location," the sheriff's office said in a statement.

The historic black cemetery is also home to the grave of 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose grisly murder for whistling at a white woman made him an icon of the civil-rights movement. His gravesite was not disturbed.