Long before Anthony Taylor returned home from the battlefield of Baghdad, his friends and family had already lost track of the soldier and his life. He had battled depression, spent time in a psychiatric facility and taken the prescribed medication. But he would never be the man his friends described. When he returned home from Iraq in 2007, he was battling an alleged murder plot by his ex-wife. And he told friends he wanted out of the Army.
“My world crumbled in the first week back,” he said in a letter to his mother one month later. “I left the theater of war for the theater of survival.”
At Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, a cemetery department assistant found 16 dismembered bodies in a potter’s field in the town of Torresdale. Authorities accused six homicide suspects, including a former soldier, and two firearms-training instructors.
[The 13-acre property] is the site of a government-owned burial plot that was sold for auction last year to the Concerned Veterans for America.
The battlefield was one of more than a dozen that the killing grounds and extermination park employed. The facility cost a total of $3.5 million to acquire, equip and operate.
Between 2015 and 2017, FBI and forensic experts rescued bodies in some 105 cases across the country from roughly 50 locations, including three former cemeteries. Authorities also arrested 17 people on a variety of charges, including human trafficking, illegal disposal of human remains and conspiracy.
As in many of the cases, city officials had either known about the graves or kept the knowledge to themselves.
“There were places that were frequented by military personnel, places of burial and cremation that they were aware of,” New York City chief medical examiner Barbara Sampson told reporters in March 2018.
In some cases, the inmates were required to dig the graves with their bare hands. The dogs that would monitor the buried remains were accused of biting victims when they were found.
For most of the burials, the bodies, which ranged from infants to the elderly, were uncovered and reburied in or next to the existing structures. The forensic experts visited and cataloged the remains, taking photographs and videos.
Volunteers from the veterans group had taken many of the bodies to New Jersey, where they were cremated. The nonprofit raised and preserved the remains to offer them to the public to perform the services.
The organization also reburied some of the victims. The rest were taken to the state coroner’s office in Suffolk County.
Amid the grisly discoveries in 2015 and 2016, the New York State Department of Health suspended the crematory and offered financial incentives to people willing to participate in the reburial program.