American news this week reported that a woman’s body had been stolen from her grave 16 years after she had been laid to rest in a New Jersey cemetery.
She had been 98 when she had been entombed inside a family mausoleum alongside four other family members.
The extensive mausoleum had been accessed by people who came with the necessary tools and intent to break in.
Whereas family members and the public at large were dumbfounded as to what had occurred, there had been many similar incidents in 2006 when the CEO of a New Jersey human tissue recovery firm, and head of a large body snatching ring was arrested.
He and his employees had netted millions of dollars illegally harvesting human bones, organs, tissue another cadaver parts from more than 1000 individuals awaiting cremation.
In fact there is a long history of body snatching largely throughout the world, including Canada until it was abolished by legislation, which initially was the Anatomy Act of 1832 in England.
Prior to that it was very common for grave robbers/body snatchers to dig up the remains of the deceased, primarily for the sale of the human remains for anatomy studies.
A famous incident occurred in Québec during the Montréal winter of 1875 when a typhoid fever struck at a convent school.
The corpses of the victims were stolen by body snatchers before relatives arrived causing an international scandal.
The Anatomy Act of Québec was shortly thereafter brought into effect.
Prior to the introduction of this legislation the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes where those condemned to death by the courts. There was always a substantial shortage of corpses for medical purposes.
It must also be remembered that this was prior to the supply of refrigeration and bodies would decay rapidly and become unusable for study.
Historically the body snatchers were not severely punished as it was treated as a misdemeanour.
The robbers would be careful not to steal items of value such as jewelry from the tomb, as that was a far more serious offense that was often punishable by death.