5 Famous Cases of Grave Robbing

There are few crimes more garish than grave robbery. This is especially true when the thieves seek not the riches accompanying a corpse, but are after the very corpse itself. History is filled with tales of crypts cracked open and coffins unearthed, and in some of more grisly cases the grave robbers made off with the entombed body, often to use for ransom. Other tales of heists netted the necro-burglars fortunes in gold, silver and other treasures. Today we discuss five frightful cases of grave robbery, each with its own unique, macabre twist.

5 The Failed Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body

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Abraham Lincoln’s body was not interred in its final resting place for more than a decade after his assassination in April of 1865. During the construction of his vault at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL, a group of criminals hatched and almost pulled off a plan to snatch the president’s body and use it for ransom. A minor crime boss out of Chicago, James “Big Jim” Kennally, deigned to use the great emancipator’s corpse as leverage to get his chief counterfeiter out of prison, and to demand $200k (millions in today’s money) from the government. When his henchman broke into the vault and began to muscle the heavy lead coffin out of the sarcophagus within, they were accosted by Secret Service agents who had informers within the gang the whole time.

4 The Real Life Tomb Raiders

Robbers have been raiding Ancient Egyptian tombs for as long as the tombs have existed. What today we consider archaeological sites (or the basis for middling films and/or video game franchises) were seen by contemporary opportunists as treasure troves to be plundered. The tombs of pharaohs buried in the sacred Valley of the Kings were routinely broken into thousands of years before 19th century. One set of robbers even used dynamite and blasted their way into the tomb of King Cheops, buried in the Great Pyramid at Giza, though that remains the most dramatic example of tomb raiding. In fact, King Tutankhamen was a relatively unimportant pharaoh—the fame that surrounds Tut and his tomb is largely due to the fact that it was found undisturbed.

3 Charlie Chaplin Gets Nabbed

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Famed for his silent film-era on-screen antics, Charlie Chaplin lived well into the era of the talking picture. In fact, he died at the ripe old age of 88 in 1977. And in early 1978, a pair of less-than-brilliant burglars decided to try to make some cash of Charlie’s body. They exhumed the actor’s body and hid it away, contacting Chaplin’s widow, Oona Lady Chaplin, and demanding upwards of one million dollars in cash. But Lady said no, declaring that her husband would have found such a payment for a body “rather ridiculous.” The grave robbers were at a loss until they got in contact with the police, who lured the thieves into a plot that soon saw them caught in a phone booth.

2 A Prolific Thief Steals a Mouthful

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No, we’re not being clever: a Slovakian man named Ondrej Jajcaj is allegedly a thief of teeth. And not just any teeth, he prefers the choppers of famous composers, thus his orally-oriented plundering of the graves of Johann Strauss and Johannes Brahms. Jajcaj claims to have robbed many more famous corpses of their teeth as well, all as part of a plan to set up a strange museum. Why, you ask? Because the guy is goddamned crazy, that’s why.

1 Napoleon’s Member Goes Missing

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That’s right, someone stole Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis. There, the awkwardness is over. When the once-mighty emperor died in exile on the island of Corsica (potentially by poison) in 1821, his attending doctor performed an autopsy during which, for some strange reason, he cut off Napoleon’s little general. The doctor turned the penis over to a priest, who then took it with him when he left the island. Bonaparte’s part stayed in the priest’s family for more than a hundred years. It was eventually bought by an American collector who, fittingly enough, was a urologist by trade.

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