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

No comments:

Post a Comment