Ohio History Journal






Professor of Anatomy, Ohio State University

The history of the science of human anatomy is not merely

a biographical record of the leading personalities or a compila-

tion of the discoveries and achievements in that science; it is

also the story of a bitter struggle between a scientific spirit which

demands human bodies for dissection and an antipathy of the

public mind toward the practice of human dissection. Treated

as impious by those who adhered to a superstitious belief that

the dead human body should be left intact and that dissection

blasphemously exposes the secrets of nature; objected to by the

laity which viewed human dissection as being posthumous punish-

ment; discouraged by many who thought that dissection was a

useless procedure; frowned upon by others as being repugnant

to man's better feelings; obstructed by the law but notwithstand-

ing fostered by the love of knowledge and by its practical appli-

cations to medicine and surgery, the science of human anatomy

has triumphantly survived since the Age of Greece.

Prior to the year 1881, when the Ohio General Assembly

passed an anatomy act legalizing human dissection in the medical

schools of the state,1 a paradoxical situation existed. On the

one hand, the public, though bitterly opposed to the practice of

human dissection, nevertheless expected the practitioners of medi-

cine and surgery in the state to be well trained in the subject of

human anatomy. On the other hand, the lawmakers, expressing

the will of their constituents, obstinately refused to enact legis-


* This article and the two following were given as papers at the annual

meeting of the Committee on Medical History and Archives of the Ohio State

Archaeological and Historical Society, held at the Ohio State Museum, Columbus,

April 15, 1950.

1 Laws of Ohio, LXXVII, 33.


330 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

330 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

lation permitting medical schools the use of unclaimed bodies

for dissection. During this period medical schools were, there-

fore, faced with two alternatives, namely, either not to offer a

course in human dissection, or practical anatomy as it was called,

thus failing to properly train their students for the future prac-

tice of medicine and surgery, or else to require the subject with

the use of dissection material procured by the odious method

of grave robbery, resurrection, or body snatching, as it was

variously and popularly called. Naturally, the public, which at

the outset was prejudiced against human dissection, was bitterly

inflamed because of the violations of places of human sepulture

by resurrectionists or body snatchers. Popular reaction to the

deeds of the body snatchers took various forms, ranging from

procedures designed to prevent grave robbery, such as receiving

vaults still to be seen in some cemeteries, or the construction of

iron-grilled and cemented permanent vaults, or the installation of

heavy rocks or timbers in graves, or placing torpedoes in the casket

or grave, the detonation of which would result from disturbance of

the grave, or the employment of a nightwatch to guard a newly

made grave, to actual violence by organized, armed mobs which

occasionally attacked college buildings in search of the body of

some friend or relative recently exhumed from its grave. Mean-

while, Ohio legislators steadfastly refusing to enact an anatomy

law which would have solved the problem of grave robbery by

eliminating the necessity for medical schools to resort to such a

method for their anatomical subjects, instead passed laws which

made the disturbance of places of human sepulture a criminal

offense, the penalties for which were increased from time to time

as the abuses became more flagrant.2

Meanwhile, medical colleges and their faculties, and par-

ticularly the professors of anatomy, grew in disrepute with the

public. Nevertheless, some medical schools continued undaunted

to require one or more courses in practical anatomy for gradua-

tion even though dissection material had to be procured illegally.


See Linden F. Edwards, "The Ohio Anatomy Law of 1881," an article to be

published in a forthcoming issue of the Ohio State Medical Journal.

Body Snatching in Ohio 331

Body Snatching in Ohio                 331

In spite of the risks involved in running afoul of the law, or of

violence to life or limb, or of damage to the college buildings and

their apparatus and equipment, the practice of body snatching

continued more or less unabated in Ohio throughout most of the

nineteenth century.

Ohio newspapers furnished the source material for the

present paper, the chief objective of which is a resume of the

most sensational cases of body snatching reported in the state

during the nineteenth century. As to the total number of graves

in Ohio which were robbed of their dead by resurrectionists, it

can only be conjectured. Dr. Frederick C. Waite, who bases his

conjecture of the number of bodies thus obtained in Ohio during

that era on his statistical study of physicians, kindly informed

the writer that he estimated that not far from five thousand graves

in Ohio yielded up their dead for anatomical instruction during

the century.3 Obviously most of these cases of illegal disinter-

ment were never recorded in the press, primarily because they

were not discovered.

Failure of the discovery of grave robbery could be attributed

to at least two causes.  In the first place, if the technique of

exhuming a body were properly carried out by the resurrectionist,

there would be no telltale evidence remaining of the grave having

been disturbed. In the second place, potter's fields in the same

localities as medical schools were the chief sources of cadavers,

and little or no effort was made by the authorities to investigate

whether or not the graves there had been disturbed.4 In support

of the latter statement is a remark by Dr. James F. Baldwin,

one-time professor of anatomy in the Columbus Medical College,

to the effect that the cemetery connected with the Columbus State

Hospital had been common ground for the resurrectionists for

a long while.5 Moreover, evidence of such disinterments being

common knowledge is furnished in a letter to the editor of the


3 Personal communication to the author.

4 Frederick C. Waite, "Grave Robbing in New England," Bulletin of the

Medical Library Association, XXXIII (1945), 279.

5 J. F. Baldwin, "Grave Robbing," Ohio State Medical Journal, XXXII (1936),


332 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

332 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

Ohio State Journal (Columbus), dated February 17, 1871, in

which his attention is called to the shamefully neglected condi-

tion of the graveyard at the Ohio Penitentiary and ending with the

observation that "there bodies are buried by day, to be dug up at

night by unforbidden resurrectionists."

Regardless of the cause of the rarity of news reports in the

press of grave robbery in potter's fields, the newspapers in locali-

ties of medical schools occasionally advertised the approach of

the opening session of these schools with a macabre notice such,

for example, as the following: "As the medical colleges in our

vicinity are about to commence their winter's session it behooves

every good citizen to be on the alert to prevent grave robbing,

and for the detection of any who may engage in the business."6

Thirty-three years following the appearance of the above

notice it was reported in a Columbus paper that the trustees of

Ohio State University had appropriated $40 to pay for hauling

dead horses, cows, and other animals too large for the students

to carry to the zoology laboratory, and the news item ends with

the remark, "These snatchers are much less to be feared than

those of medical colleges."7 The following year the same paper

reported that the medical colleges were in full blast and sensa-

tions about the capture of stiffs were in order. Optimistically,

it then stated that "it is said they are, however, well supplied."8

It is of interest to note in passing that the following day it was

reported that "body snatchers are at work about Plain City. The

body of a Mrs. Herriott who died recently has been removed from

the grave."9

A very common popular misconception concerning the prac-

tice of grave robbing during the nineteenth century was that it

was the romance of medical student life; that every student

thought unless he had had a body-stealing lark he had not been

fully initiated; and that all doctors had a romantic story to tell


6 Ashtabula Sentinel (Jefferson), November 4, 1845.

7 Ohio State Journal, November 8, 1878.

8 Ibid., October 29, 1879.

9 Ibid., October 30, 1879.

Body Snatching in Ohio 333

Body Snatching in Ohio              333

of bold adventure and hair-breadth escapes in robbing graves.10

In refutation of this popular notion Waite points out that medical

students rarely attempted disinterments independently, because

the procurement of dissection material for medical colleges was

the duty of the demonstrators of anatomy, who were carefully

instructed in the technique of the art of exhuming bodies.11

This author also points out that although practicing physi-

cians exhumed and dissected bodies for instructing their private

students, renewing their own knowledge of anatomy, or improving

their art of surgery, the general public seldom, if ever, suspected

practitioners of engaging in body snatching.12

Following the Civil War there was an unprecedented enroll-

ment in the medical colleges of Ohio, as a result of which the

demands for cadavers were greatly increased. In order to meet

these demands medical colleges resorted to the services of pro-

fessional body snatchers, or resurrectionists, some of whom

became notorious and whose nefarious trade developed to the

point that they organized into gangs which trafficked in, or boot-

legged, human bodies.

The first recorded account of a grave robbing episode to

occur in Ohio was at Zanesville in 1811. This was before the

first medical college was established in the state, when the training

of medical students was by the preceptor method. The discovery

was made that the grave containing the body of an unknown man

had been opened and signs were left in the snow of the body hav-

ing been dragged down the hill to a point where it evidently had

been placed in a wheelbarrow, the track of which was still evident

in the snow. The wheelbarrow track was traced to the cellar door

of a local hotel where three medical students of Dr. Hamm lived.

In the words of the newspaper account this exciting news "spread

on the wing of the wind." The people became excited and indig-

nant. They collected around the building, broke open the cellar

door and found the body hid away behind some logs, whereupon

10 This opinion is expressed in an editorial in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette,

June 26, 1878.

11 Loc. cit., 272.

12 Ibid., 278.

334 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

334 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

the people became furious. Their indignation knew no bounds.

Some proposed to tear down the hotel, and but for the interference

of a few cool-headed men it would have been torn down. The

author of the account goes on to say that "the students found it

best to keep out of sight of the enraged people. Had they fallen

into the hands of the people at this time they would have been

hung to the limb of a tree."13

In 1823 a case of grave robbery occurred at Fort Meigs,

Lucas County, Ohio, the details of which were furnished to the

writer by Dr. Louis Effler, Toledo, Ohio. According to the

account, the body of a dead man was found partly dissected in

the barn of a local surgeon, who, incidentally, had attended the

deceased during his last illness.  Following this discovery a

public meeting was held protesting the robbery, during which it

was pointed out by a committee that under the existing law all

that could be done legally was to prosecute the accused for lar-

ceny, because the shroud had been taken. The surgeon was

advised to leave the community in ninety days. This he refused

to do, however, and he continued to practice in that locality for

nearly sixty years.

One of the interesting features of this case was the legal

aspect involved. Prior to the enactment of a special statute by

the Ohio General Assembly in 1831 providing penalties for the

exhumation of a human body,14 the taking of a shroud or other

burial apparel was the only felony involved in so-called grave

robbery, because according to the principle of English common

law, a dead human body is not property, and, therefore, the dis-

interment of a dead body did not constitute robbery.15

In December 1839 a "resurrection riot" was precipitated in

Worthington, Ohio, resulting from the discovery that three bodies

had been stolen from their graves in the potter's field in Colum-

bus. Suspicion was at once directed to the Worthington Reformed


13 Zanesville Daily Courier, June 29, 1878. The incident is related in an

article entitled "The Early History of Zanesville."

14 Laws of Ohio, XXIX, 144-155.

15 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (4 vols., Phila-

delphia, 1825), IV, 241.

Body Snatching in Ohio 335

Body Snatching in Ohio              335

Medical College, the students and faculty of which had been under

suspicion of grave robbery in Franklin and Delaware counties

for several years. In fact the faculty had been threatened by

civil suits for illegal disinterment numerous times, and in 1838,

Dr. T. V. Morrow, president and professor of anatomy of that

institution, was actually sued in court on criminal charges but

was acquitted. On two occasions the college building was sur-

rounded and searched for missing bodies by the sheriff and his

posse but without success. On this particular occasion, however,

when the mob entered the building the bodies missing from the

potter's field were found. As a result the medical college was

forced to close its doors, although it subsequently was rechartered

in Cincinnati as the Eclectic Medical College of that city.16

The medical department of Willoughby University of Lake

Erie was also accused of obtaining its dissection material by

body snatching, as a result of which public clamor arose against

it. The Bluffton News of November 13, 1947, carries a syndi-

cated column called "True Tales About Ohio" by Harry L. Hale,

in which it is claimed that in the year 1843 nearly the whole

town of Willoughby mobbed the medical college, broke up the

furniture, broke out the windows, and threw parts of cadavers

through them, following the discovery that the body of a Mr.

Tarbell recently buried was missing from the grave.

In the Painesville Telegraph, December 21, 1842, is a

report covering a public meeting which was held at the Town

House in that community on December 14 for the purpose of

interchanging sentiments in regard to the flagrant outrage com-

mitted on the sanctity of their burying ground in the wanton

digging up and carrying away of the body of John Hudson, on

Sunday night, December 11, 1842. A committee of five was

appointed to report resolutions expressive of the sense of the

meeting upon this revolting depredation upon the dead and

another committee was appointed to investigate the matter and

to take measures to bring the offenders to punishment.


16 Harvey W. Felter, "Worthington College, Ohio, Reformed Medical Depart-

ment," Old Northwest Genealogical Quarterly, VI (1903), 155-170.

336 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

336 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

One of the resolutions which was reported was as follows:

"Resolved, That the mayor and common council of this town

be respectfully requested to offer a reward of one hundred dol-

lars for the apprehension and punishment of the grave robbers."

The item ends with the following statement: "The committee think

proper to inform the public that the investigation has led to the

arrest of Dr. E. M. Clark of the Medical Institution at Willoughby

who was required to furnish $500 bail to appear before the

Court of Common Pleas." Further search through subsequent

issues of the same newspaper failed to disclose what the outcome

of this case was.

In October 1845 a shipping box labeled merchandise and

addressed to a Dr. Sherwood in Cleveland was deposited at a

warehouse at the harbor in Ashtabula. Suspicions were aroused

by the stench arising from the box, and when it was broken open

it was found to contain the bodies of a woman and a child. The

woman's body was later identified as a Mrs. Preston and the

child's as Jane Austin, both of which had been stolen from their

graves in Austinburg about a week prior to the time of their dis-

covery in the shipping box. Public sentiment was greatly aroused

over this episode, particularly among the citizens of Austinburg,

which held a town meeting protesting the robbery.17

In view of popular opposition to human dissection and of

the aroused public sentiment consequent to the illegal disinter-

ment of the bodies of these former residents of Austinburg, a

very unusual sermon relative to the incident was delivered by the

Rev. S. W. Streeter of the Congregational church of that village

on Sunday, October 12. After pointing out the justification of the

public emotion for the outrages upon the social and moral senti-

ments of the community and the biblical basis for man's reverence

for the dead, the minister commented as follows:

It does not follow that it is either morally wrong or undesirable for

human bodies to be dissected. That this is one of the means of advancing

and perfecting the science and art of surgery and medicine cannot


17 Ashtabula Sentinel, October 7, 14, 1845.

Body Snatching in Ohio 337

Body Snatching in Ohio                   337


reasonably be called in question. So long therefore as the highest in-

terests of the whole race of the living may, in this way, be promoted

we can never be justified in uttering an indiscriminate condemnation

of this practice-the feelings are not exasperated because medical men

dissect bodies but because they steal them that the public feel injured

and outraged. If men, while living, freely give their own bodies for

this purpose I know of no one who would wish to interfere or prevent

it. If the medical faculty themselves will set the example we will not

complain. If they will persuade their own wives, sons and daughters

to do the same we will not find fault. But we do utterly deny their right

to steal our wives, sons and daughters for this purpose. . . . So far as

the medical profession can obtain subjects for dissection in an honorable

and lawful way we should carefully abstain from interfering with them.

. . . If our legislature can and ought to do more to aid our medical

institutions let their duty be made apparent and a public sentiment

created that will sustain the operation of necessary, wise and wholesome

laws. . . . It is certain that if our laws are defective or remain unexecuted

we have reason to fear that private violence will demolish our medical

institutions. Who that denies the advancement of sound medical science,

the best interests of society, and the prevalence of order would not

deplore such a catastrophe? Let those who wish to preserve respect for

our medical institutions and who wish to see law, order and decency

prevail unite in asking of our next legislature laws that will more ef-

fectually preserve inviolate the sanctity of the grave and do what the

nature of the case will admit towards advancing sound medical knowl-


This was, indeed, a courageous expression of an unusually

tolerant attitude for that day, particularly when the public was

clamoring for the legislature to impose more severe penalties to

combat grave robbing rather than the more logical procedure of

providing medical colleges means of legal acquisition of bodies

for dissection.

In December 1845 the body of Chauncy Carver was stolen

from the grave at Aurora, Ohio, and on January 9, 1846, an

anti-grave robbing meeting was held at the Baptist church in that

village. It was resolved that a petition be forthwith drawn,

18 Ibid., November 4, 1845.

338 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

338 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

signed, and forwarded to their county representative praying to

make grave robbing a penitentiary offense.19

The next reported incident of grave robbing to occur in

Ohio took place in Cleveland in February 1852, when it was dis-

covered that the body of a young woman by the name of Johnson

had been taken from her grave. The father, having been sus-

picious that her body was in one of the two medical colleges of

that city, made a search of the buildings but without success.

Rumor and gossip, however, soon induced him to believe that her

remains had been found in the building of the Cleveland Home-

opathic College, whereupon, armed with an ax, he started for that

institution accompanied by a howling, furious mob, which over-

powered the police, forced an entrance into the building, and

demolished its furnishings and equipment. This shameful demon-

stration of violent human emotion failed to disclose any remains

of Miss Johnson; no proof was obtained by the courts detrimental

to the college; and unfortunately the trustees of the institution

were never compensated by the city of Cleveland for the property


In November 1855, Dr. Proctor Thayer, demonstrator of

anatomy, and two of his medical students, of the Cleveland Medi-

cal College, were apprehended in the act of taking from the grave

in Woodland Cemetery the body of a person who had died in

the city infirmary. They were arraigned before the police magis-

trate, who charged them with illegal disinterment of a human

body for the purpose of dissection. The case was continued for

the express purpose of eliciting public opinion by request of the

faculty and trustees of the medical college, which defended the

demonstrator upon the grounds that the college had the right to

take bodies of paupers from graves for the purpose of training

medical students. To the writer's knowledge this is the only

case on record in which a medical college faculty and its board

of trustees came to the defense of the demonstrator of anatomy


19 Cleveland Herald, January 20, 1846.

20 David H. Beckwith, "History of the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College

from 1850-1880," Cleveland Homeopathic Reporter, 1900, pp. 10-32.

Body Snatching in Ohio 339

Body Snatching in Ohio               339

by requesting an expression of public opinion as to the discharge

of his duties to the medical profession and to society. Petitions

were circulated in behalf of the accused, and although at first

the press criticized the faculty and trustees for their singular

request, it shortly thereafter editorialized in their support and

the case was eventually dismissed on payment of costs.21

Perhaps because of the intervening Civil War, no reports

of body snatching were found in the newspapers examined during

the years from 1856 until 1870. In the latter year there was

reported a case of body snatching from the Union Church grave-

yard located in the Big Run neighborhood off Jackson Pike in

Franklin County. The widow of a Mr. Goetschius, some time

following his burial, purchased a lot in Green Lawn Cemetery

and made arrangements to have her husband's remains removed

to the new lot. The men employed to remove the body found his

clothing a few inches from the surface of the ground and when

they dug down to the coffin they discovered that the body was

missing and that the grave had been hastily refilled.22

The Cincinnati Enquirer of August 31, 1871, carries the

story of the arrest of a notorious professional resurrectionist by

the name of Cunningham, better known as "Old Cunny." He had

been supplying the various medical colleges of that city with sub-

jects for dissection for the past twelve or fifteen years, almost

without molestation. Although by his adroitness and singular

good fortune he had hitherto escaped punishment, the law finally

caught up with him on August 30 when two police officers appre-

hended him with two subjects for dissection in his conveyance.

He was arrested and subsequently indicted by the grand jury on

charges of illegally disinterring bodies for dissection and having

them in his possession. He did not appear at the next session of

the common pleas court, however, as the January 31, 1872, issue

of the Enquirer announced the death of "Old Cunny."

Four more years intervened before any other reports are to

be found. In the spring of 1874 the father of a young man who


21 Cleveland Herald, November 27, 1855.

22 Ohio State Journal, November 1, 1870.

340 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

340 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

had been recently buried in Lorain County, had a presentiment

that the body of his son might be stolen for dissection, whereupon

he set out for the cemetery intending to watch the grave. Upon

his arrival he discovered to his horror that the body had already

been stolen from its resting place. The alarm was given, and

at the father's insistence a search for the body commenced. It

was shortly found in a ravine nearby, where it had been left by

the resurrectionists in their haste to escape. The corpse had been

divested of all clothing, and the rope which was used to pull the

body from the coffin was still around the neck of the deceased.23

In the fall of 1874 a girl who had been under the care of the

sisters of St. Francis Hospital for about four months, died and

was buried in Calvary Cemetery. It was discovered the following

morning that her grave had been opened, the coffin broken into,

and her body stolen. Father Eis of Holy Cross Church heard of

the episode and secured a search warrant. Accompanied by four

police officers he went to Starling Medical College to search for

the missing body. According to the newspaper account the officers

were given permission to extend their observations from cellar to

garret; they were shown the room in the depths of the building

where bodies are kept before being placed on the dissecting tables

and were given a long walk through the mysteries of the establish-

ment. Their search was fruitless, however.24

In September 1875 the Somerset Press reported that the

grave of John Sheridan, Sr., father of Gen. Philip Sheridan, had

been disturbed. Investigation revealed that the earth had been

removed as far down as the boards which covered the casket but

that the latter was undisturbed. It was believed that the resur-

rectionists became alarmed and abandoned their work, as they

left a spade, a pair of glasses, and a pencil. Tracks in the soil

showed evidence of a wagon drawn by one horse and of two

horses which had evidently been ridden. It was very doubtful

whether the body was being sought as dissection material, since

it had been buried for more than three months. Some were of


23 Ibid., March 21, 1874.

24 Ibid., October 10, 1874.

Body Snatching in Ohio 341

Body Snatching in Ohio              341

the opinion that a reward would have been expected for the return

of the body.25

The Cincinnati Gazette of October 4 and 11, 1875, relates

two cases of body snatching in that place by a medical student

and a professional resurrectionist. The bodies were of a man

and woman who were removed from the German Protestant Ceme-

tery and taken to the Ohio Medical College. When the civil

officers, provided with search warrants, arrived at the college,

they found the doors of the dissecting room locked. They broke

down one of the doors, which action created considerable excite-

ment among the students. The officers considered it necessary

to send for police reinforcements, the prompt arrival of which

prevented an outbreak.

In January 1877 the mother of a child which had been stolen

from its grave in the Catholic cemetery in Columbus, was in-

formed that its body was in the vat of a local medical school.

The news reached her because of a careless remark made by a

medical student who claimed he had participated in the resur-

rection. Accompanied by some friends, the mother went to the

school and demanded the body, which she secured upon agree-

ment that no prosecution would follow.26 Less than a month from

that date a grave in Union Cemetery was discovered to have been

opened and the body removed. Evidently the job had been per-

formed by amateurs, as the grave had been left in a deplorable

condition and no attempt had been made to conceal the fact that

it had been disturbed. The news report states that the citizens

of North Columbus were quite indignant over the affair and that

a search of the medical colleges proved fruitless.27

In November of that year a poor laborer's wife who had

been aided by the city of Columbus for several weeks, died. She

was in a deplorable condition, and since no relative had put in an

appearance, it was assumed that she was a pauper. On the day

of her death the coroner ordered her remains buried in the county


25 Ibid., September 4, 1875.

26 Ibid., January 26, 1877.

27 Ibid., February 20, 1877.

342 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

342 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

cemetery. The next morning her husband made his appearance

and claimed he had made arrangements for her burial that day

at the Wesley Chapel Cemetery. He and the coroner proceeded

to the county cemetery to exhume the body preparatory to its

removal to the latter cemetery. When they opened the grave

they came upon the casket about a foot from the surface; the lid

had been opened and the body was missing. It was implied in

the news report of this episode that there might have been col-

lusion between the authorities and some local medical college,

because the husband was dissuaded from making a search for his

wife's body at any of the colleges.28

Following upon the heels of this affair was the news of the

discovery of the decomposed and partially dissected body of a

three or four year old boy that was found in a shallow grave in

the Franklin County Cemetery by two young men while out

hunting. Since no child of this description had been buried in

the cemetery within a recent period, it was assumed that the body

had been procured elsewhere and having been in too high a state

of decomposition was reinterred in that cemetery by the would-be


In December 1877 the potter's field in Circleville was dis-

covered to have been invaded and two bodies, a male and a

female, resurrected. Wagon tracks and footprints led to the dis-

covery of the disturbed grave of a man who had died mysteriously

a short time before, while the other discovery came about when

the brother of the deceased woman arranged to have her remains

removed to another lot and the sexton found the coffin empty. The

belief was expressed that the resurrectionists were from Colum-

bus and the comment made that steps were being taken to guard

against like outrages in the future.30

The year 1878 was a banner year in the annals of body

snatching in Ohio. Whether there was an actual increase in the

practice due to an increased enrollment in medical colleges, or


28 Ibid., November 21, 23, 1877.

29 Ibid., November 22, 1877.

30 Cincinnati Gazette, December 25, 1877.

Body Snatching in Ohio 343

Body Snatching in Ohio               343

whether more emphasis was placed on practical anatomy, or

whether body snatching received more publicity by the press than

it had in former years is not known. It is certainly true, however,

that more cases were reported for that year than for any previous


Akron, according to the news write-up, experienced its first

case of body snatching when the body of a destitue man was

resurrected from the potter's field in the sixth ward cemetery on

the north side of East Market Street. The reporter made the

interesting comment relating to the unpleasant revelation that with-

out doubt it had taken place and that similar incidents probably

had occurred with greater frequency than the public had any idea

of.31 In Columbus a Mrs. Worthington committed suicide and

was to be buried in the potter's field. Her friends, though of

poor circumstances, raised enough funds to have her remains

interred in Green Lawn Cemetery. The money was given to the

husband to purchase the lot. However, he immediately disap-

peared and she was buried in the potter's field after all, only to

be resurrected a few hours later.32 One wonders if her scoundrel

husband collected a second time. The body of Lewis Smith, a

bricklayer, was illegally disinterred from the grave in North

Columbus in the fall of that year.33

An aged farmer who resided four miles east of Delaware

died and was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Delaware. That

night a man who was passing the cemetery noticed a team of

horses hitched to a huckster's wagon standing by the fence. The

next day he reported his observations to friends of the deceased,

who investigated and discovered the grave had been disturbed

and the body resurrected. Suspicion pointed to the Columbus

medical colleges, as the conveyance was traced to that locality.

Search of these colleges, however, proved fruitless.34

An organized band of resurrectionists was arrested and jailed

in Toledo. The men arrested gave their names as Charles O.

31 Akron Daily Beacon, November 11, 1878.

32 Ohio State Journal, February 13, 1878.

33 Ibid., November 14, 1878.

34 Ibid., January 21, 1878.

344 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

344  Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

Morton, Henry Morton, his brother, and Thomas Beverly, alias

Johnson. It was disclosed that they had a regular contract with

the firm of A. H. Jones and Company, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and

that they operated in different parts of the state, remaining at one

point for only a short time. Evidence was found to show that they

were then attempting to fill an order for seventy bodies, two of

which, that of an old lady and a boy, had been recently exhumed

at Toledo, and that sixty bodies had been shipped to the Ann

Arbor firm while the gang was operating at Columbus.35

An elderly, well-known citizen of Cleveland, a Mr. Edwin

French, died at the residence of his son-in-law in Willoughby,

where his remains were buried. Early the following morning it

was discovered that his grave had been opened and his body

removed from the casket. Detectives were at once set on the

trail, and shortly thereafter they discovered the body in a tank

under a trap door in the floor of the Homeopathic Medical Col-

lege. Further detective work disclosed that the body had been

resurrected by a gang of body snatchers which had been operat-

ing for some time in Cleveland and neighboring villages. One

of the gang, who turned state's evidence, confessed they often

robbed as many as six graves in a single night.36

About two-thirty on the morning of November 14, 1878,

two policemen were standing under a street light on Main Street

in Zanesville when a light spring wagon, pulled by a handsome

sorrel horse, stopped at the curb and the driver inquired of the

two officers if that was the National Road to Kirkersville. In

the back of the wagon could be seen four large gunny sacks, and

while one of the officers engaged the driver in conversation, the

other felt of the sacks and inquired of the driver what he was

loaded with. When told that it was corn, the officer replied,

"This is too soft for corn," whereupon the driver suddenly

became excited, raised up from his seat, and struck the horse a

heavy blow. The frightened animal thereupon bounded away at

a dead run. The officers' suspicion having been aroused, they


35 Ibid.

36 Ibid., September 18, 24, 25, November 11, 12, 28, 30, December 2, 1878.

Body Snatching in Ohio 345

Body Snatching in Ohio               345

secured a team of horses from a livery stable nearby and started

in hot pursuit after the fleeing stranger. Finally in the vicinity

of Brownsville they came in sight of the spring wagon, and when

they got within about one hundred yards of it, they yelled for

the driver to stop and opened fire with their pistols. The chase

kept up until the object of their pursuit reached a toll gate west of

Brownsville. The gate was down, so the driver leaped out and

escaped into the surrounding woods. However, the horse was

stopped in its mad flight, and when it was captured, the officers

discovered that the gunny sacks contained four dead human

bodies. They requested the tollgate keeper to rouse the neighbors

and scour the countryside for the escaped stranger, who was im-

mediately suspected of having robbed some graves in or about

the vicinity of Zanesville. The two officers then returned to Zanes-

ville with the horse and conveyance bearing its load of dead

bodies. Upon their return a huge crowd soon gathered, the

bodies were quickly identified, and inspection of their graves

revealed they had recently been disturbed and the contents of

the caskets removed.37

The reaction of the press in Zanesville to this episode is quite

interesting, but unfortunately due to limitation of space it cannot

be dwelt upon here. It should be stated in passing, however, that

before the affair was settled, considerable "fightin, fussin, and

feudin" developed involving Columbus, Newark, and Zanesville.

The stranger who made his getaway at Brownsville was later

captured and returned to Zanesville, where under questioning he

revealed his name to be L. S. Eaton, alias Evans, and his con-

federates to be a young man by the name of Cap Hilliard and

Dr. Irwin Heyl of Columbus. The latter two were arrested and

taken to Zanesville, where the three were indicted on four charges

of illegally disinterring human bodies. They were subsequently

pardoned by the governor.38

Evidence disclosed that Eaton was a professional resur-

rectionist who furnished cadavers not only to the Columbus


37 Zanesville Daily Courier, November 14 to December 2, 1878.

38 Zanesville Signal, July 26, 1879.

346 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

346 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

medical colleges but to those in distant cities.39 As a result of

this disclosure a strong conviction was held by many that Colum-

bus had been the headquarters of a resurrection gang for a long

time and that since Morton's exit the business was being carried

on by his former partners in crime.

Dr. Heyl made the interesting statement to a Zanesville re-

porter that he was connected with the invention of a coffin torpedo,

known as the "Clover Coffin Torpedo," which was patented by

Phil K. Clover, an artist of Columbus.40 At his trial, Dr. Heyl,

when accused by the presiding judge of stealing bodies for money,

denied that they were taken for money but confessed they were

for Starling Medical College, where he was to be the demonstrator

of anatomy the coming year.41

In Cincinnati an old lady died in the hospital and her re-

mains were sent to the potter's field for burial. Shortly thereafter

some of her friends arranged to have her body removed to a lot

in Spring Grove Cemetery. But when the sexton opened the grave,

he found an empty casket, which was unbroken, and since there

was no evidence of the ground about the grave having been dis-

turbed, there was a strong suspicion that the missing body was

delivered to a medical college before the casket was put into the

ground. Her friends instituted a search of the Cincinnati medical

colleges, and the body was recovered from the Eclectic Medical

Institute, which agreed to give it up on condition that there would

be no prosecution or notoriety.42

A rather amusing news item appears in the Ohio State Jour-

nal of December 6, 1878, under the date line Cincinnati, Decem-

ber 5. The police early that morning had arrested Henry Goddar

and Rufus Hyms, who had just delivered the body of a Negro girl

to the Miami Medical College. Hyms, who appeared to be a new

man in the business, was intoxicated and talked freely. As a

result, the police followed the case up and exposed a gang of


39 Ohio State Journal, November 16, 1878.

40 Ibid., November 18, 1878.

41 Ibid., December 21, 1878.

42 Cincinnati Daily Gazette, September 27, 1878.

Body Snatching in Ohio 347

Body Snatching in Ohio              347

resurrectionists consisting of five persons, the two men above

named, two women, and a Negro. The two men were arrested

and sent to the workhouse, one on a charge of drunkenness and

the other for abusing his family.43 Nothing was said as to the fate

of the women, and presumably the fact that the body delivered

under such suspicious circumstances was that of a Negro made

the matter of no consequence. It is to be wondered whether the

same attitude might not account for the indifference shown by the

citizens of Dresden, Muskingum County, the following year, when

there was a rumor spread about that the grave of a Negro buried

there had been robbed. The news report adds, "But the excite-

ment was not high enough to induce an examination of the


The most sensational case of body snatching ever to occur in

Ohio, and perhaps in the United States, was the famous "Harrison

case" at North Bend, near Cincinnati, in 1878. In May of that

year the Hon. John Scott Harrison, son of William Henry Har-

rison and father of Benjamin Harrison, died of an obscure disease

and his remains were laid to rest in the family burial plot at North

Bend. Every precaution was taken to make his grave secure--a

cemented brick vault was built in the grave, and after the casket

was deposited and the roof of the vault completed, heavy stones

mixed with earth were used to fill the grave. To add to the

security a watchman was engaged to visit the grave hourly every

night for a week.

On the day of the funeral it was discovered that an adjoining

grave of young Augustus Devin, who had died about a week pre.

viously, had been disturbed and his body stolen. The following

day two of his friends, one of whom was a son of the recently

deceased John Harrison, journeyed to Cincinnati to search the

medical colleges there for his body. Provided with search war-

rants they went first to the Ohio Medical College, where they

failed to find the missing body. However, to their horror they

discovered the nude body of John Scott Harrison dangling from


43 Ohio State Journal, December 6, 1878.

44 Ibid., February 3, 1879.

348 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

348 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

a rope which hung taut from a windlass through a trap door into

a dark and gloomy chute. Naturally this shocking episode created

a sensation.

Also sensational was the disclosure that, aided by the janitor

of the Miami Medical College, the notorious resurrectionist Mor-

ton, alias Gabriel, alias Dr. Christian, and the demonstrator of

anatomy at the medical college of the University of Michigan

were in collusion for the purpose of bootlegging bodies to the lat-

ter institution. It was here that the body of young Devin was

traced and found in a vat of brine.45

The Ohio State Journal of October 9, 1879, reported that

"some pretty strange stories are told of the systematic manner in

which dead bodies are carted away from the County burial ground.

The manner in which it is said to be done would indicate that

there is some official traffic connected with the transactions." This

brief item ends with the statement that the affair should be looked

into. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that the people in the

vicinity of Harrisburg were convinced that there was traffic in

cadavers in their locality and that the resurrection of the body

of a man, with no relatives to look after his recently made grave,

had taken place there without doubt, and it was implied that a

local doctor was the guilty body snatcher.46

An interesting case of attempted body snatching occurred in

Delaware on November 21, 1879. A man who had been ap-

proached by a physician of that place to assist him and another

person, agreed to participate in the ghoulish affair but turned out

to be a stool pigeon of the police. The trio met at the cemetery

at the appointed time and were in the act of exhuming the body,

when at a given signal, the police, who had been informed and

had surrounded the cemetery, closed in and arrested the body

snatchers. A general hand-to-hand encounter took place and sev-

eral shots were fired during the melee. At the preliminary hear-

ing of the arrested gang the informer told the police he understood

the body was being procured for a medical college in Columbus.


45 Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 31 to June 18, 1878.

46 Ohio State Journal, October 20, 1879.

Body Snatching in Ohio 349

Body Snatching in Ohio              349

In the same issue of the Ohio State Journal in which the above

episode is reported, is a news item entitled "Body Snatching Ru-

mors" in which the statement is made that "it is stated on good

authority that two professional body snatchers have recently

arrived in the city and that they are here in the interest of the

medical colleges."47

In less than a week it was reported that the body of a Mr.

Dodds of Delaware was taken from the grave and that the ghouls

had left some of their tools behind them.48

On Christmas day 1879 a party of boys, while hunting,

passed through the cemetery near Waterloo, Fairfield County,

where they found several tufts of human hair scattered upon the

ground. They reported their findings, which led to an investiga-

tion, and it was discovered that the body of the late Jonathan

Boyer had been removed from the grave.

Another cemetery in Fairfield County was visited by body

snatchers about the same time. The body of Daniel Rudolph,

who committed suicide at Topeka, Kansas, was shipped to Sugar

Grove for burial. Since three or four strange men were seen

prowling around the vicinity after the burial of the corpse, the

sexton became suspicious and visited the grave every night at

regular intervals. One night about eleven o'clock when he made

his usual visit, he espied three human figures moving around the

newly made grave. He silently crawled to the graveyard fence,

where he could make out through the darkness that the ghouls had

already reached the casket and were making preparations to re-

move the body. At this juncture he gave a yell and discharged

several shots from his pistol at the would-be body snatchers, who

took to their heels and were seen no more.49

In 1881 the body of John L. Roll was stolen from the grave

at New Philadelphia, Ohio. It was subsequently found at a Cleve-

land medical college and returned by friends to the burial ground.

According to the newspaper account it was rumored that the whole


47 Ibid., November 22, 1879.

48 Ibid., November 27, 1879.

49 Ibid., January 1, 1880.

350 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

350 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly

matter would be dropped because several prominent men were

engaged in the affair. It went on to say that "the friends are very

indignant over the matter, saying they will spend $15,000 but

what the body snatchers shall be brought to justice."

A more serious incident was reported near the village of

Gann about the same time. When three men attempted a grave

robbery, they struck a torpedo which had been planted near the

bottom of the grave, instantly killing one of the men and breaking

a leg of one other. The third party, who was keeping a watch,

succeeded in getting his companions into a sleigh, taking flight,

and evading arrest.50

A body snatching episode reminiscent of the notorious ghouls

Burke and Hare of Edinburgh,51 took place in Cincinnati on Feb-

ruary 15, 1884. On that date a one-story log cabin situated on

Reading Road beyond the corporate limits of Avondale, burned

to the ground. It was the home of an old colored couple by the

name of Taylor and their adopted daughter. Following the fire

no human remains could be detected among the ashes. Murder

was at first suspected. However, since the man had been confined

to his home with rheumatism for some time, and his wife was

forced to take in washing, it was reasoned that the motive must

not have been robbery. The marshal thought of body snatching

and decided to investigate the medical colleges. At the Ohio

Medical College he learned that three colored bodies had been

delivered there on the night of the fire. When the three bodies

were examined, evidence of foul play was plainly visible, the

skulls having been fractured. The murderers proved to be two

colored men, one of whom admitted being a professional resur-

rectionist and having dug up a number of bodies from the Colored

American and the Duck Creek cemeteries in the previous few

months and disposed of them to the local medical colleges. An

ironical feature of this affair was the disclosure that old Beverly

Taylor was himself at one time a body snatcher.52


50 Ibid., January 20, 1881.

51 William Roughead, The Enjoyment of Murder: The Wolves of the West

Port (New York, 1938).

52 Cincinnati News Journal, February 22, 23, 24, 1884.

Body Snatching in Ohio 351

Body Snatching in Ohio               351

Waite estimates that of the two thousand cadavers which

were used by medical colleges in Cincinnati during the nineteenth

century as many as five hundred came from the adjoining states

of Indiana and Kentucky.53 Evidence to substantiate this opinion

is furnished by the following news item which appears in the Ohio

State Journal of October 26, 1874: "There is great excitement at

Seymour, Indiana, over an attempt at body snatching, the remains

of a young lady having been taken from the grave and found in

a trunk in a baggage car bound for Cincinnati." Moreover, evi-

dence is furnished in another news report that bodies were shipped

into Cincinnati from still more distant states. Thus in the same

paper, with the date line Chattanooga, November 28, 1879, it is

reported that when a man there attempted to ship a box labeled

"cotton seed" to Cincinnati, he was arrested on a charge of body

snatching, as the box was discovered to contain the body of Ten-

nessee Keeth, who had died recently.54

It is reasonable to assume, as a result of this survey of body

snatching in Ohio, that there are far more empty graves in the

state than were ever suspected. We of the twentieth century

should give thanks to an enlightened public opinion which sanc-

tions our present anatomy law that has eliminated that odious

character, the body snatcher, whose deeds are now only history.


53 Personal communication to the author.

54 Ohio State Journal, November 29, 1879.