To perform any activity correctly, practice after learning is one of the safest bets. When you learn to ride a bicycle, drive a car or cook, doing this activity many times alternating successes with failures will lead to success and dominate. This premise can be adapted to practically all trades and jobs, but there is one that is "vital" so be it: medicine. It is unthinkable today that in the past it was forbidden to open human bodies for study or that there were severe restrictions. Join us to meet the thieves of bodies, those who made robberies of corpses in the cemeteries of s. XIX in United Kingdom and why they did it.
If we focus on UK it is because they could only be used for the study of anatomy or for dissection the corpses of those prisoners who had been condemned to "die by hanging and be dissected" by a judge. In many countries , the laws were not so restrictive and could go to the medical schools the bodies of those who died in jails, hospitals or asylums if they were not claimed to be buried within 24 hours after death.
Body burglars and corpse robberies
In Supercurioso we saw the case of " The murders of Burke and Hare, a business that got out of hand ", These two murderers were initially simple body thieves that by not being able to supply their clients with corpses, they devised a "shortcut" to provide themselves with corpses. However and fortunately, it was an isolated case and most of the calls "Resurrectionists" they confined themselves to stealing dead bodies from cemeteries within hours of receiving burial.
The theft of bodies by Gustave Doré, 1872
Because when the nineteenth century entered the laws were humanized and death sentences drastically decreased, medical schools had no bodies with which to practice anatomy and on average 55 people were executed in the United Kingdom per year and in schools They needed more than 500 bodies. The only recourse was to provide themselves with corpses without asking the origin and paying a significant amount of money. Be a "Resurrectionist" or body thief it became a profitable profession and, in addition, the laws of United Kingdom punished with minor penalties, like fines or little time of jail, to which they robbed corpses of the cemeteries. The body thieves they took good care not to take jewels or objects of the deceased since that could aggravate their sentence if they were caught.
To carry out the robberies they had very studied methods to leave as little trace as possible. The main one was to dig a hole in front of the grave with a wooden shovel so as not to make noise and extract the body by tying it to a rope after breaking the coffin. Another method used that was more difficult to detect was to raise a piece of grass a few meters from the grave and dig a tunnel to the coffin. When it was reached, the coffin was broken and the body was extracted through the tunnel. At the end the grass was placed again and the tomb seemed inviolate. This system seems to have been used on numerous occasions since many empty coffins have been found at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.
Families, seeing that the tombs of their loved ones were desecrated, devised several systems to protect the corpses. It was about getting them not to be taken away by the body snatchers while they were useful for the students, which meant a few days after the death. In some cases they paid a watchman, in others it was the relatives themselves who took turns guarding the grave and in cemeteries like that of Greyfriars in Edinburgh metal bars were rented to be placed during that period of time on the tombs. In London, practically inaccessible catacombs with numerous bars were built in a luxurious cemetery to protect the deceased from death. the body thieves .
Another much easier and less risky system that was also used by the body thieves was hiring women who acted as relatives of the deceased in the poor homes. They claimed the bodies of their supposed relatives and handed them over to the resurrectionists who sold them quickly.
The L body thieves they ceased their activity with the Law of Anatomy of 1832 which meant for the students, who had to dissect at least 3 corpses to approve, "access to the deceased of the" asylum of the poor ", hospitals and other charitable institutions.
Did you know the work that the body thieves or resurrectionists? Do you think that if you were a medical student at the time, you would have accepted that situation? If you want to know more curiosities of cemeteries such as the existence of "mortsafes", we invite you to read the post: 20 Cemeteries Curiosities | Tenebrous and fascinating .