Developer says Catholic sisters didn't report 700 buried bodies - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Developer says Catholic sisters didn't report 700 buried bodies

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- A Dubuque developer says a group of Catholic sisters falsely reported removing all bodies from a former cemetery on land he bought from them. Developer A.J. Spiegel and his company River Pointe Development are suing Sinsinewa Dominicans, Incorporated.

He says they didn't make an effort to ensure the bodies were all gone. The Dubuque County Court has now set a date for the civil trial.

In December of 2002, Spiegel bought land on Kelly's Bluff for $1.5 million. He bought it to build condominiums. In 2007, human remains in unmarked graves were found here Spiegel is no longer building in this area and suing for misrepresentation and violation of statute.

For 17 years, between 1839 and 1856, people were buried in the Third Street cemetery. Those buried were predominately poor, Irish immigrants. After that time, Mount Olivet cemetery in Key West opened for Catholic burial.

"We had thought they had moved almost all the bodies out to Key West. Evidently that was not true," Archdiocese Archivist Reverend Loras Otting said.

In 2007, work crews uncovered human bones on the bluff. The state archaeologist spent two years uncovering the site.

"Almost 700 more bodies. I was shocked!" Otting said.

Spiegel says he specifically asked about buried bodies.

"Spiegel understood a portion of the legal description referred to 'roman catholic grave yard" and therefore inquired of defendant's real estate broker whether any human remains were still present on the real estate...a managing employee of defendant...told the real estate broker that all human remains previously on the real estate had been removed," Court records state.

Spiegel says the sisters didn't make a "reasonable" effort or investigation to make sure that was true. He is suing for archaeologist and excavation costs, legal expenses, and loss of real estate.

The suit also alleges Sinsinewa Dominicans had financial motivations to not look into buried bodies as a real estate deal was in the works.

"I don't think it's anybody's fault. Certainly the sisters didn't intend to cheat or cause any problems. They didn't know. We didn't know," Otting said.

To understand how bodies could go unnoticed, the Archdiocese archivist says you have to look at the history.

"Often there was no marker. If they did have a marker, a grave marker, where so and so was buried, it was usually wooden and deteriorated very rapidly. If they could afford a stone marker, that often disappeared because people later stole them," Otting said. He says the graves were often taken and used for sidewalks.

There's also a problem in recording. The first burial log shows 819 people buried there, but the history stops there..

"The ones I think they have found recently would have been recorded in that second volume, which is missing," Otting said. A note from the bishop in the first log says the second volume has been missing since 1930.

Spiegel did not return phone calls for comment.

Sinsinewa Dominicans is demanding a trial by jury. The trial is set to begin August 10th, 2010.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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