I figured the moment I typed “how to rob a grave” into google, the search engine would flag me and within a few minutes the police would be knocking at my door. “This is not practical research,” I’d explain to them. “Trust me. I’m a writer.”
Okay not really… although there was a period in my youth where I was absolutely obsessed with archaeology, and the thought of becoming the next Indiana Jones might’ve led to a rewarding but not entirely lucrative line of study. When we talk about robbing graves, we’re also talking about tomb raiding. Some graves are small, and some graves are pyramids. You know what I mean? Sometimes you gotta think on a macro level to justify your bizarre field of interests.
Anyway. Welcome to My Creepy Search History: Grave Robbing edition. Today we’re going to talk about tombs and the people that have broken into them to steal wealth for personal gain, and to steal bodies for medical and anatomical research. Body snatching, the Resurrection Men (or Resurrectionists), grave robbing, and tomb raiding is on the menu in this collection.
You should probably note that these search queries were made in conjunction with “how to dig yourself out of a grave”, or something to that effect. It’s a hot topic on my research shelf, one that I hope to never experience firsthand.
A Horror Writer’s research in the obscure and questionable
The top-tier material I consistently google to inform my writing practice (i.e. research) tends to be regarded as being a bit… odd: Cemeteries. Hauntings. Paranormal phenomena. Folklore. Urban legends. Various beasties ranging from arachnids to zombies. I investigate these topics largely to fuel my writing practice, but also because they fascinate me. I’ve never been partial to gore-driven horror (slasher fiction and the like), but when it comes to hauntings, possessions, and malevolent entities, I’m all for lending as much authenticity to the supernatural element in fiction. Sometimes, however, my search queries veer towards the practical: for example, when a character is buried alive — how do they get out of a coffin that’s lying under six feet of dirt?
The result is a pretty bizarre collection of things saved to my bookmarks. I figured, why not share this stuff?
About Grave robbing
Grave robbery, tomb robbing or tomb raiding is the act of uncovering a tomb or crypt to steal artifacts or personal effects. A related act is body snatching, or disinterring a grave chiefly for the purpose of stealing a corpse rather than for stealing other objects.
My Creepy Search History: Grave Robbing
Worth More Dead Than Alive: 5 Famous Grave Robberies from Mental Floss
“After Michael Jackson passed away, his family decided to bury him inside Forest Lawn Memorial Park, a private, gated cemetery where many musicians, actors, and other celebrities are buried. As odd as it might sound, one of the main reasons the family chose the private cemetery was to ensure that Michael’s body could not be stolen and held for ransom. If you think they’re being paranoid, you should read these five stories of famous folks who—to grave robbers, anyway—were worth more dead than alive.”
The 6 Most Gruesome Grave Robberies from Live Science
“The grave is supposed to be a final resting place. Sometimes, though, the postmortem peace is shattered and a corpse disturbed. Graves have been robbed for reasons ranging from ransom to cannibalism, though the most common reason throughout history has probably been the profit motive. Throughout the 1800s, body snatchers in the United States and England sold corpses to anatomists for medical dissections. The practitioners of this unsavory art came to be known as ‘resurrectionists.'”
The Rise of the Body Snatchers from History
“As the Age of Enlightenment stridently emerged in the 17th Century, practices once strictly taboo in the medieval period started to be tested by the curiosity of scientists and philosophers. Featuring large was the dissection of the dead. In the 16th Century the belief in the resurrection of the body after death was still commonplace, and so to interfere with its peaceful interment was a serious matter.”
A forgotten graveyard, the dawn of modern medicine, and the hard life in 19th-century London from Archaeology
“Working amid the confusion of the East India Docks in London in the early 1800s was perilous trade. In the holds of rolling ships, men could be crushed by falling barrels and chests. On deck, grappling hooks swung wildly, and carelessly loaded containers burst, sometimes showering longshoremen with toxic substances such as iodine, phosphorous, asbestos, and lead. Losing one’s footing was often a death sentence—crushed between ship and dock or drowned in the filthy Thames.”
Doctors, dissection and resurrection men from General Medical Council
“In Georgian Britain, the growing demand for corpses for medical study and research prompted shadowy practices, which are explored in the exhibition Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men, currently showing at the Museum of London. During the 18th and early 19th century, surgery was brutal. Without anesthesia, patients faced painful and invasive operations, numbed only by alcohol or laudanum, and held down on the operating table by the surgeon’s assistants, surrounded by a room full of curious doctors and students. Going under the knife was a gamble – many surgeons had little understanding of the most effective treatment and, even if the patient survived the operation, they were at high risk of infection and death from contaminated implements.”
Grave Matters: The Body-Snatchers Unearthed by Chirurgeon’s Apprentice
“It is half past two in the morning on October 10th, 1777. The new moon casts a bluish light over St George’s burial ground off Hanover Square in London. Two men, clad in dark clothes, enter the cemetery. They have been tipped off by the grave-digger who accompanies them that the body of Mrs. Jane Sainsbury was buried earlier that day.”
Resurrectionists in the United Kingdom from Wikipedia
“Resurrectionists were commonly employed by anatomists in the United Kingdom during the 18th and 19th centuries to exhume the bodies of the recently dead. Between 1506 and 1752 only a very few cadavers were available each year for anatomical research. The supply was increased when, in an attempt to intensify the deterrent effect of the death penalty, Parliament passed the Murder Act 1752. By allowing judges to substitute the public display of executed criminals with dissection (a fate generally viewed with horror), the new law significantly increased the number of bodies anatomists could legally access. This proved insufficient to meet the needs of the hospitals and teaching centres that opened during the 18th century. Corpses and their component parts became a commodity, but although the practice of disinterment was hated by the general public, bodies were not legally anyone’s property. The resurrectionists therefore operated in a legal grey area.”
How to Rob a Grave discussion on Topix
“If you’re going to rob a grave, you should bring a shovel, a crowbar, a hatchet, heavy gloves, a rope, and Vicks.”
Creepy Stories of Grave Robbing from The Daily Beast
“Hours before the late Clarence Bright was to be buried at a Detroit cemetery Monday morning, his body went missing. The next day, police found Street’s son, Vincent Bright, and another man with an empty casket in the back of their van and arrested them. Cops say Vincent, 48, had moved his father’s body into a freezer in the basement of his home hoping that he might come back to life. He was charged with disinterment of a body—a felony—and held on a $75,000 bond. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, but will likely undergo a mental evaluation first.”
Tomb Raiding Is Still a Huge Problem: A huge proportion of archaeological sites have been ransacked from Smithsonian
“You might think of tomb raiders as a relic, a quirk of Indiana Jones movies and Harvey Brothers books. But tomb raiding is quite alive today and still presents a huge challenge to archaeologists trying to study ancient sites.”
What’s the difference between archaeology and grave robbing? from How Stuff Works
“In the classic adventure movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the bulk of the action comes when professor/adventurer/archaeologist Indiana Jones battles grave-robbing Nazis for the lost Ark of the Covenant. In the film, director Steven Spielberg draws a distinct line between the intent of the movie’s hero and the intent of his money-hungry foil, Dr. Rene Belloq. Belloq is depicted as the anti-Indiana Jones, an archaeologist who has lost his way and given in to the temptations of becoming a treasure hunter for hire. Take a close look at the film’s title, though. It’s not called “The Legitimate Archaeologist and the Grave Robber.” According to the title, they’re all “raiders” of the lost ark — Dr. Jones included. This begs the question: Where is the line drawn between archaeology and grave robbing?”
A Grave Affair: Grave Robbing from Lily Verlaine
“In the dead of night, all is silent apart from one sound, that of the soft thud of earth hitting the ground. Two men in the pitch darkness dig furiously into a hole of their own making throwing the disturbed earth over their shoulders. Above them a third man furtively keeps watch holding the only source of light, a flickering lantern. The digging continues with great speed at the fear of discovery until one of the spades hits wood, and after a pause and a gesture it resumes until the soil is quickly cleared away to reveal the simple wooden casket. With a grunt the first man breaks open the lid and throws it back, revealing the spoils of their labour. A rope is secured around the shrouded corpse and the nearly deceased is dragged from their slumber, the body snatchers have their prize.”