Body Snatching: Less Give, More Take
Before 1832 in the United Kingdom, medical professionals and scientists turned to body snatching for a supply of fresh bodies to dissect and study. Because only a limited amount of bodies were supplied legally through the government, grave robbers were hired to carry out the work. Refrigeration had not yet been invented and bodies decayed quickly. The robbers liked fresh graves because the soil was so soft. It was only necessary for them to dig at the head of the coffin, cut out a hole and then pull the body out with a rope.
The crime was only a misdemeanor which meant no jail time if caught. The robbers never took jewelry or personal items off the corpses because they did not want to increase their crime to a felony. Families had to watch over the graves for hours or even days to protect their loved ones graves. Many people began using iron coffins so that the grave diggers would be deterred from digging further. Eventually the grave robbers would out smart the families by digging tunnels to the graves and removing the corpse from twenty feet away. For two years in 1827 and 1828, the grave robbers started murdering people to keep up with the head count need and because the price for bodies was so high.
This eventually led to a law allowing donation of corpses by family members in 1832. The practice also caught on in the United States as members of the medical community had the same problem acquiring bodies legally. As the public became aware of the crimes, there was great public outcry and protests. Some scientists and medical professionals were jailed. Eventually it turned into a racial issue when blacks complained that there graves were being targeted by the grave robbers. In reality the grave robbers did not care the color of the skin, only that they had a fresh body to turn in for payment.
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