13 True Stories of Grave Robbing

When you really think about it, Weekend at Bernie's was pretty macabre. That corpse had to smell pretty rank by the end of the film. Richard and Larry aren't the first people to haul around a dead body, though. Here are some examples of famous grave robbers, real-life people who dug up the deceased. Some grave robbers did it for the money, some did it for the notoriety, and some, like Ed Gein, some did it for medical school, and some did it for fun. A few of them even got away with it, although you have to wonder if it was worth the trouble.

These grave robbers really chose a tough profession, although it's one that dates back for centuries. Digging in itself is back breaking, and the highly questionable act is best completed in the dead of night. The smell is enough to turn stomachs. You have no guarantee of making much money off the job. Then there is the fact that exhuming corpses is frowned upon – if not considered a crime – in most circles. People caught grave robbing generally are not treated too kindly.

Instead of going through all that trouble, perhaps it would be better just to read these stories. At least it would be more sanitary.

  • Charlie Chaplin's Body Was Ransomed
    Photo: Philoum/SilkTork / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Charlie Chaplin's Body Was Ransomed

    On March 2, 1978, two months after the movie star's death, Charlie Chaplin's body was dug up from its resting place in Switzerland. Charlie's widow received a ransom note asking for $600,000. She refused to pay it, saying that Charlie would have thought it "ridiculous."

    Roman Wardas, of Poland, and Gantscho Ganev, of Bulgaria, were eventually arrested for grave robbing and attempted extortion. They showed police to Chaplin's body, which they had buried in a nearby cornfield. After the affair, the Chaplin's body was reburied in a concrete grave for safekeeping.

  • Ed Gein Robbed Graves For Fun

    Ed Gein was a farmer with some unusual tastes. Actually, his taste in home decor (as well as murder) inspired the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He's also referenced in the characters of Norman Bates in Psycho, and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

    Gein liked to rob graves and then experiment in human taxidermy, as well as necrophilia. He eventually turned to murder, killing at least two women in 1952. Gein was arrested and confined to various psychiatric institutions until his death in 1984.

  • Honest Abe Almost Got Exhumed

    The plan looked good on paper. In 1876, Abraham Lincoln's body was kept above ground within a sarcophagus in Springfield, Illinois' Oak Ridge Cemetery, with only a single padlock protecting it. The gang of Chicago Irish counterfeiters led by Big Jim Kennally had simple demands: $200,000 in ransom and a full pardon for their member Benjamin Boyd, who was doing 10 years at the time. The only problem was that the "expert grave robber" they hired for help in the caper turned out to be an undercover secret service agent. You win some, you lose some.

  • Burke And Hare Increased The Body Count

    In 1820s England, there was a cadaver shortage. Medical schools started paying top dollar (well, pound) for fresh bodies in good condition. Looking to capitalize on this, William Burke and William Hare began robbing graves in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1827. Wanting to increase their revenue, they took to murdering people and selling their fresh corpses. That's one way to get ahead in life.