There are a shocking number of motives a person could have for robbing a grave. From body parts to jewelry to the coffins themselves, grave robbers all have their own reasons for disturbing the peace of those who have passed. Throughout history -- and even occasionally in modern times -- those of us who are still living have been faced with the seemingly impossible conundrum of how to protect those who are already dead.
People never cease to amaze with their creativity, for one thing, but also their daringness, depravity, cunning, psycho-ness, and downright levels of evil. It takes a special kind of person to consider, plan, and then execute (or attempt to execute) a grave robbery. And no matter their reasons, that person is usually insane in one way or another.
Following are 15 very true (if morbid) stories of people who have dug up graves for a variety of macabre reasons; as you can imagine, there are no real good (or legal) reasons to do so, and thus, the tales of grave-robbers are always grotesquely interesting ones. Read on for a little dose of something bizarre, intriguing, and oh, so gross.
15 Woman Exhumes and Then Lives With Her Dead Twin and Husband
This story is about a 91-year-old widow named Jean Stevens, who became somewhat infamous when she had the embalmed bodies of her late husband and twin sister dug up illegally. She had been living with the body of her husband for a decade when her sister June died, and Jean then decided to do the same thing again. Both times, she maintained the corpses as well as she could, keeping her sister on the couch in the spare room, and her husband on a couch in the garage. She would talk to them and do her sister's makeup. But in 2010, police were tipped off about Jean's strange roommates, and she was discovered. But in a shocking twist, she was allowed to keep the bodies if she agreed to build a mausoleum at her house! So she did, of course, and I guess that counts as a happy ending in this twisted tale of an elderly little grave robber who wanted only to keep the bodies of her loved ones. Jean planned on transferring more family members to the mausoleum when it was built and herself wishes to be laid to rest there.
14 Serial Killer Steals Body Parts Resembling His Mother
There's probably nothing anyone could reveal about Ed Gein that would shock the world. But it seems he had more hobbies than just murder and making creations like lamps out of human skin. Turns out, besides being a serial killer and possible cannibal, Ed was also a known grave robber. And yes, you guessed it -- he was stealing body parts from those graves. His perverse fascination with mutilating dead bodies led him to the habit of looking in the obituaries for women who resembled his mother, then going to their graves to retrieve their bodies shortly after burial. Authorities found, among other things, a "woman suit" he had made for himself to wear around. It consisted of skin leggings and a vest made from a torso, including the breasts. Ed said he blamed his mother, who should have made him a girl. The above photo shows Plainfield Cemetery, where he did most of his digging.
13 Stealing Centuries-Old Dentures From Composers
A Slovakian thief named Ondrej Jajcaj is quite proud of his crimes, and he made a YouTube video boasting about them. The grave robber bragged about how he broke into two tombs of the world's most famous composers, Johann Strauss and Johannes Brahms. And what did he steal once he got to the bodies? Their dentures (because obviously). Ondrej describes himself as a "Freedom Undertaker" and has a collection of stolen teeth to his name. Many other famous composers like Beethoven and Schubert are also buried in the Viennese Central Cemetery, and they've also been robbed of teeth, real and false. In the videos on Ondrej's website, he takes viewers on a tour of the cemetery and shows where the graves have been opened. How very... strange.
12 Cannibalistic Brothers Dig Up Bodies to Eat
The cannibalistic Bhakkar brothers of Pakistan were sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2014. Arif Bhakkar, 35, and Farman Bhakkar, 30, were arrested in 2011 after they were found eating corpses they'd stolen from local graveyards. Their prison sentence may seem light, but that's because there's no precedence or law against cannibalism in Pakistan, so the brothers were sentenced under the law of desecration of a grave. They had dug up more than 100 corpses, causing panicked locals to dig up their own relatives' graves to make sure they were still intact. The brothers told police they had been doing this for more than 10 years, and even before their 2014 arrest, they had served time on similar charges.
11 Russian Digs Up Little Girls to Make Dolls
A Russian historian named Anatoly Moskvin dug up 150 graves, mostly of young girls. He did this to steal their bodies and then dress them up like dolls. The girls were all between the ages of three and 12 and were dressed in stockings and dresses. He even dressed one of the girls like a teddy bear. Described by some as a genius, Moskvin speaks 13 languages but had some decidedly sick fantasies. He wrapped the girls' faces in light beige fabric and kept detailed information on each girl he dug up. According to Mirror Online, "Moskvin said he had inspected 752 cemeteries, often traveling some 20 miles a day by foot to find them. He said he drank from puddles, spent nights in haystacks or at abandoned farms and once even slept in a coffin readied for a funeral. He said he was repeatedly questioned by police, who then always let him go." His parents discovered their son's grisly activities one day when they visited him in 2011. He was found mentally unfit to stand trial and has been kept in a psychiatric clinic since.
10 Teenaged Necrophilia
Now I bring you a story from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, just a few miles from my own hometown of Madison. I remember first hearing this gruesome tale from friends that actually knew the culprits. In 2006, Alexander C. Grunke, his twin brother Nicholas, and a friend named Dustin Radke planned to dig up the freshly buried body of Laura Tennessen, who had recently died in a motorcycle crash. Having seen her photo in the paper, Nicholas wanted to have sex with her (he even picked up condoms at Wal-Mart on the way to desecrate her grave). The boys began to dig, and they got all the way down to the top of her coffin when they panicked and were picked up for suspicious activity after someone reported a suspicious vehicle at the cemetery.
9 Satanic Cult Suspected of Stealing Body of Grandmother
A Satanic cult called Palo is thought to be responsible for the 2012 robbery of the grave of grandmother Pauline Spinelli of New Jersey. She had died at the age of 98 in 1996, 16 years prior to when thieves smashed the thick glass of her mausoleum door. Buried at the Atlantic City Cemetery with her three children and their spouses, Pauline's was the only body that was taken from the family mausoleum. Palo is a religion that uses black magic and originated in the Caribbean. Usually, chicken or animal bones will be utilized in place of actual human bones for their rituals, but police think that for whatever reason, this time, the members of the religion did not. Pleasantville Police Captain Rocky Melendez said, "It could have been a cult. Obviously, these are rituals or whatever the cult rituals entail... I don't think they were casing the person for jewelry."
8 Chinese Corpse Brides
We all know China has some seriously messed up stuff, but their "ghost marriages" may take the cake. There's a growing demand for "corpse brides," which are dead women dug up and sold to marry dead single men. It's considered bad luck for a man to die single, so if that happens, female bodies are stolen from graves to be used in a ghost marriage. The deceased female skeleton is reinforced with metal wires, dressed up, and then buried next to their new "husband." As of March 2016, at least three dozen bodies were missing, and there even exist matchmaking agents and companies that specialize in pairing dead bachelors with dead women. One man was even arrested for killing his wife and trying to sell her body. Now, people in Hongtong County in Shanxi, where this has become prevalent, are building tombs near their homes rather than on the mountainside, and even hiring people to guard the tombs to protect their loved ones.
7 Daughter Searches For "Real Will" Inside Father's Grave
Well, here's a new one. Have you ever heard of a grave robber who desecrated a grave in order to find the deceased's supposed real will? Well, that's exactly what happened in the case of Michael Day and Melanie Nash of New Hampshire. In 2015, Day, Nash, and three others conspired to go into Nash's late father's grave with the purpose of finding his "real will." While Melanie, who claims she just held the flashlight, says her father would understand why she did it and would be okay with it and that it was done respectfully, law enforcement officials say the scene at the grave was "horrendous" and like "something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story." To support that statement, there was cash, a bottle of vodka, and cigarettes found at the crime scene. Nash, who felt she had been shorted in her share of her father's inheritance, was given one-and-a-half to three years in prison in 2015 but was released early in July of 2016.
6 Black Bodies Taken From Cemeteries For Use in Medical Colleges
Back in the late 1800s, grave robbers would make a living by selling black corpses to medical colleges for research. It was just one part of what was known as medical racism. In 1882, one reporter from Philadelphia wrote a story about his experience as he camped outside of a Philadelphia graveyard where he watched the criminals pile decaying black bodies "stacked like dogs" onto a horse cart. The bodies were taken to Jefferson Medical College and were used for practice by the medical students there. This writer from the Philadelphia Press had been observing the dissections for months as part of an article he was writing about medical programs, and he was curious about the color of all the cadavers' skin. So he did some digging (no pun intended) and found himself at the Lebanon Cemetery in South Philadelphia, which was one of one of the city's two private burial grounds for the African American dead. There were not enough bodies for all of the students to learn with, so colleges would turn to grave robbers to fulfill their needs.
5 President's Body Stolen to Negotiate Prison Release
Tassos Papadopoulos was once the President of Cyprus, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean. After his passing in 2008 from lung cancer, his body was stolen from its grave. The police described the body-snatching as a "highly organized crime," and it took place on the eve of the first anniversary of his death. It turns out that two Greek Cypriot brothers and an Indian national had taken the body. One of the brothers wanted to use the body to negotiate his release from prison, where he was serving time for murder. He had arranged the crime via phone from his prison cell. The Indian national later contacted Papadopoulos' family, saying he felt guilty and asking for money for the body's return. Police found the body at a different cemetery a few miles away from the original burial ground, and all three men involved were given 18 to 20-month prison sentences.
4 Amateur Archaeologist/Dumb Criminal
We all love a good idiot criminal story. So why not an idiot grave-robber criminal story? I have just the one. Douglas Porter Cotellese of Klamath Falls, Oregon, was caught selling beads and other artifacts he had dug up from Native American burial sites. He not only dug up the treasures from the known tribal burial sites along the Link River, but he also sold his findings for as little as 20 dollars -- and to undercover law enforcement agents. The joke was on him, though, because some of the artifacts could be thousands of years old and could've been worth much more than a measly twenty bucks. Cotellese pleaded guilty to Abuse of Indian Graves in violation of state law and was fined over $1,000 and sentenced to 20 days in jail.
3 Lived Once, Buried Twice
One very strange but true story of grave robbing had a happy ending -- and even resulted in the tale becoming a part of Irish folklore! A woman from Northern Ireland named Margorie McCall succumbed to some unknown fever in 1705. She was buried very quickly to prevent the spread of her disease. Due to the swelling of her body, no one was able to remove a valuable ring from her finger, so she was buried wearing it. Back then, grave robbers were commonplace, so it was not shocking that someone dug her up the evening after she was buried. They could not get the ring off her finger, and so they cut her finger off. But when they did, she woke up from the pain (of course, she had not really been dead at all). She is famously known as "The Lady With the Ring" and the woman behind the phrase "Lived Once, Buried Twice." There are various similar tales out there from other countries, but Margorie of Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, is the original that all the others are based on.
2 Emptying and Reselling Graves
As many as 300 graves on the South side of Chicago were desecrated in 2009, including several graves of babies. The reason? So that cemetery employees could resell the plots. This is a story of grave robbing that yields the robbers no jewelry and no body -- only the actual physical space to bury yet another human inside of. According to National Public Radio, "The Cook County sheriff charges four people with one count each of dismembering a human body. Among those charged is the cemetery's superintendent.The four allegedly took part in a scheme in which they would dig up graves in the historic Burr Oak Cemetery in the south Chicago suburb of Alsip, dump the bodies elsewhere in the cemetery or double bury them in other graves, and then resell the plots they dug up to unsuspecting members of the public."
1 Grave-Robber Turned Pastor
The story of John Kibera is a fascinating one. Formerly one of the most wanted criminals in Kenya, he raided graveyards at night, stealing expensive coffins, jewelry, and other valuables from the dead. While this sort of looting is more typical of grave robbers than taking the actual body, his story is so unique because he became a changed man and now leads a Christian ministry that he established himself. Kibera had a gang of eight men that would work the graveyards, but in one instance, he had to fake his own death when his gang was intercepted by police; three of his gang members were killed in a haze of bullets. Hiding inside a coffin that was being delivered, Kibera decided to end his ways and change his life around. He had also lost four men once when angry villagers burned them alive when they caught them in the act of grave robbing. Kibera owns and operates a children's home and a rehabilitation center for street families and is a father of two.
Sources: mirror.co.uk, bbc.com, npr.org, time.com