Friday, February 22, 2013

Grave Robbery of the Famous

Grave Robbers
Ransom Note
Grave robbing, also known as tomb raiding, is when a grave or tomb is opened for the purpose of stealing artifacts or personal objects buried with the deceased.  And, there are times, when the grave is robbed for the actual remains, usually to demand and collect a ransom with.

Alexander T Stewart
St. Mark's
In April 1876, the body of one of the richest men in New York was stolen.  Multi-millionaire Alexander Turney Stewart’s body was stolen from his crypt, just three weeks after his interment at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York City.

Personal Ads
For two years, the grave robber, who went by the name Romaine, communicated with the Stewart family’s liaison though obscure personal ads placed in the New York Herald.
Terms were finally agreed upon and the ransom amount was set at $20,000.  At an undisclosed location, the body was exchanged for the specified ransom amount.  No one was ever apprehended for the grave robbery.   

Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation
A positive identification of the body was never made, but the returned remains were entombed in a new vault in the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, Long Island.

President Lincoln in his Coffin
There was an attempt to steal President Abraham Lincoln’s body in 1876 and hold it for ransom.  Members of a counterfeiter's gang attempted to steal Lincoln’s body from his tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery on November 7, 1876.  The plan was to take Lincoln’s remains and hide them in the sand dunes of northern Indiana until a ransom of $200,000 was paid.  The gang was also going to demand the release of one of their members from prison.

State Prison at Joliet, Illinois
Lincoln's Tomb
However, a police informant who had infiltrated the gang let the secret service know of the plan. Eight detectives rushed the tomb that night, but the grave robbers got away.  All were arrested within a few days and convicted of attempted grave robbing.  All were given a sentence of one year in the Illinois State Prison at Joliet.

Inside Lincoln's Tomb
Lincoln was reburied in his mausoleum, but reportedly not in the casket.  In 1901, Robert Todd Lincoln had his father’s remains disinterred and placed inside a steel cage that was buried 10 feet beneath the floor of his tomb.  The cage was then encased in 4,000 pounds of concrete so that it could not be opened again.


Charlie Chaplin
Chaplin's Grave
Two grave robbers took the coffin of silent film star, Charlie Chaplin, just months after his death.  Chaplin had died on Christmas day, 1977, and was buried in the Vevey Cemetery in the village of Corsier, Switzerland. 

Robbing a Grave
The grave robbers dug up his casket in March 1978, and sent a photo of the coffin to Chaplin’s widow along with a demand for £400,000 ($650,000 US.)  Oona Chaplin refused to pay.  The robbers then threatened Chaplin’s youngest children.

Officials caught the two men after an intense surveillance operation in May. Roman Wardas was sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison. Accomplice Gantcho Ganev received a suspended sentence.
Chaplin's Coffin

Police located Chaplin’s coffin buried in a nearby cornfield.  Chaplin was reburied in his grave– under several feet of reinforced concrete.

Presley's Funeral
Elvis Presley
Just days after the death of Elvis Presley, there were rumors that a group of men planned to steal his body, and hold it for a ransom of $10-million.  Presley had been buried next to his mother in a mausoleum at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.

Presley's Grave
Police confronted three men they found hanging around the Presley Mausoleum after dark. Since they had no tools with them, officials let them go. Elvis’s grave, along with his mothers, was moved to the Meditation Garden at Graceland, Presley’s home.  The graves are now monitored by security 24-hours a day.

Whitney Houston
Houston's Casket
After the death of Whitney Houston in February 2012, round-the-clock armed security guards were placed at her grave.  Houston was reportedly buried wearing over half-a-million dollars worth of jewelry and clothing.  Her casket was said to be gold-lined and worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Fairview Cemetery
The Fairview Cemetery, in Westfield, New Jersey was closed to all but lot owners after Houston’s burial. Officials attempted to limit the crowds and keep security in place.  One year later, Houston's grave is guarded 24 hours a day by foot patrol, and there is talk of encasing her casket in concrete.

Johann Strauss
Johannes Brahms
And the latest case of grave robbing involves a Slovak man, who claimed last summer that he had robbed the graves of classical composers Johann Strauss and Johannes Brahms – of their teeth. Ondrej Jajcaj supposedly dug up both graves in the Viennese Central Cemetery to get teeth from each of the composers in order to start a museum. He claims to have robbed other hundreds of other graves of skulls and personal effects to also put in his museum.

Strauss' Grave
Brahms' Grave
Austrian police began investigating the claims last May and discovered that indeed, the teeth had been removed from the musicians. If convicted, Jajcaj could face 6 months to ten years in prison.

Although you might assume that grave robbing doesn't happen much anymore, it appears that it is still something to be concerned about - even in the highly electronic world of the 21st Century.

~ Joy

Friday, February 15, 2013

The St Valentine’s Day Massacre

February, 1929
It was February 14th 1929.  Now, eighty-four years later, people are still mesmerized by the events and the stunned by the brutality of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

North Clark Street
What began as a quiet morning on the North Side of Chicago turned into one of the most atrocious  mob hits in gangland  history.  It was an incident that would become associated with gang violence and killings for decades to come.

SMC Cartage Garage
Four men, posing as police officers conducting a routine raid, entered the SMC Cartage garage at 2122 North Clark Street.  The building was being used to store bootleg liquor.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Seven men were gunned down.  Six of them were part of George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Irish gang. They had waged a continuous gangland battle against Al Capone for control of the bootleg liquor in the city of Chicago.  At the start of the year, Moran had one of Al “Scarface” Capone’s South Side Italian gang members murdered.  Capone vowed revenge on Valentine’s Day. 

George "Bugs" Moran
Moran received a call on February 13th that a special shipment of bootleg whiskey would be coming in the next day, February 14th, to the garage on North Clark.  Moran agreed to be there when it arrived.

The next morning around 10:00, six of Moran’s men met at the garage to wait for him.  They were:

James Clark
James Clark, Moran’s brother-in-law, and second in command. 

Frank Gusenberg
Peter Gusenberg
Frank Gusenberg and his brother, Peter Gusenberg, both hit men for Moran.

Adam Heyer
Adam Heyer, bookkeeper for the gang.

Albert Weinshank

Albert Weinshank managed several ‘businesses’ for Moran.

Johnny May
Johnny May, the gang’s auto mechanic, was also there working on a vehicle.  Johnny had brought his dog, Highball, with him.

Ad for Reinhardt Schwimmer
And, hanging around, as usual, was local optometrist, Reinhardt Schwimmer.  Schwimmer enjoyed the thrill of being on the fringe of the gang.

As Moran’s car was approaching the garage, a police car pulled up in front and four men got out; two were in uniform, two were not.  Moran thought it was a raid and directed his driver to keep going. It wasn't until later in the day when he heard of the killings that he realized it had been a set up for him.

Guns Used in Killings
The “police” entered the garage and lined the seven men up against a wall.  They then pulled out Thompson sub-machine guns and opened fire. Over 70 rounds of ammunition were fired. All of Moran’s men were killed, along with Schwimmer.  Only the dog survived.

Crowd Watches
Shortly afterwards, the landlady of the adjoining building sent a boarder next door to see why the dog was barking and howling.  After discovering the murders, the police were summoned. 

Police Remove Bodies
Chicago police were stunned at the carnage.  Six men were dead, each sprayed with 15 to 30 bullets from the Tommy guns.  The seventh, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive.  He was rushed to a local hospital, but his injuries were too severe to survive.  Although he was questioned about who had shot him, Gusenberg replied, “Nobody shot me.”

Al Capone
Bugs Moran
When Moran was told about the killings, he immediately fingered Capon as ordering the hit.  When the media questioned Capone, he responded, "The only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran".

The public was shocked by the cold-blooded brutality of the murders. Chicago gangster, Al Capone was the prime suspect in the murders.  But Capone could not be linked to the killings.  He had an air-tight alibi - he was in Miami at the time.
Jack McGurn

Police arrested several men suspected of being gunmen, but only one was directly connected to Capone.  “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn was a member of Capone’s Outfit and said to be the mastermind behind the massacre.  He supposedly hired gang members from outside of Chicago, so that none would be recognized, if there were survivors. Those believed to be the triggermen were Albert Anselmi, Fred Burke, John Scalise, and Joseph Lolordo. 

John Scalise & Al Anselmi
Fred Burke
Jack McGurn also had a provable alibi.  Fred Burke was arrested, but before he could be tried, he was charged with killing a police officer and sentenced to life in prison.  John Scalise and Albert Anselmi were found dead on a back road in Indiana two months after the shootings.

Capone's Mug Shot
Although the St Valentine’s Day Massacre did end the North side gang’s control of the city, it also began Capone’s downfall.  The public felt that Capone had gone too far.  Once public sentiment turned against him, the police were able to step in and declare him “Public Enemy Number 1.”

2122 Clark Street,  Today
In the end, no one was ever tried or convicted for the murders. The garage was torn down in 1967. Forty-six years after the demolition of the garage, tourists still stop by the site, now an empty lot  – and remember that bloody Valentine's Day.

~ Joy