“Texas woman’s body stolen” sounds too unreal to be a headline, but it’s true. Hours after the funeral of Julie Mott, her family discovered that her body had been stolen from the funeral home where it was to be cremated. The police have not specified a motive (the funeral home has stated they think it was someone who didn’t want Mott to be cremated) and it’s hard to imagine one. Why would someone steal a corpse?
Body snatching, the technical term for a body stolen from a grave, was more common in the past. In the United Kingdom, before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only bodies that could be dissected were those who had been condemmed to death. There weren’t as many condemned, as medical schools wanted corpses, so many took to digging up recently buried corpses to sell for cash. The most infamous example of this was William Burke and William Hare, who sold bodies to Doctor Robert Knox. When they ran out of graves to rob, they took it one step further and began to suffocate people in place of a stolen body. Once they were charged with the murders, Burke was sentenced to death and then became a dissection victim himself. (Hare got immunity from prosecution and vanished after the trial.) But there are far fewer restrictions on dissection today, and it’s not unknown to specifically will one’s body to be dissected after death. The cremated remains will be returned to family within six weeks, so today it’s not a act of body stealing so much as borrowing.
One reason a body might be stolen is for allografts. Tissue and bones collected after death are used in various surgical procedures. While enbalming and other processes prevent the tissue from being usable, that doesn’t always stop thieves. In 2006, four people were arrested as a result of such theft. Tissues were removed and bones of the dead were even replaced with PVC piping. It was alleged they made millions from the scheme.
Body stealing as an act of political protest? It sounds too bizare, but it’s been known to happen. A family that bred guinea pigs for medical research in the U.K. were horrified to find the body of a relative stolen seven years after her death. The thieves were animal rights advocates who had fought against the breeding of animals for medical testing. One of the thieves led police to the remains before being charged.
The darkest reason to steal a body is no doubt one many would think of: the thief wants the body itself. Not to sell it, of course, but to have sex with it. The very idea gives most people the shudders, but it has happened before.
One infamous case was that of Carl Tanzler, a doctor who fell in love with a patient dying of tuberculosis. When she died, he paid for her burial in an above ground mausoleum. Even that wasn’t enough for him, though, and he took her remains from the graveyard two years after her death. He kept the corpse for seven years before being discovered. He was charged with desecrating a grave and removing the body, but the charges were dismissed because the statue of limitations had run out.
There is currently a $20,000 reward for the recovery of the stolen body of Julie Mott.
(Image via Wikipedia/Kim Traynor)