The Return of the Resurrection Men
Two hundred years ago, gangs of ghouls called "Resurrection Men" crept through the foggy night in Britain and in America, stealthily unearthing the coffins of the newly buried dead and stealing their bodies for sale to medical schools and doctors who needed specimens for medical experimentation. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was written at about the time when this practice became prevalent; the old horror movies do have at least a loose basis in fact.
Now, the Resurrection Men are back. According to the St. Louis Today web site, "Grave robbing has become an above-ground affair. Gone are the days when enterprising thieves would dig up an old grave and pillage for gold teeth and rings. Today, it's mostly the bronze markers and flower vases that draw their attention. Rising scrap metal prices, coupled with the lagging economy, have triggered a string of cemetery thefts both locally and across the nation."
The ghouls also target brass and copper fittings on caskets and funeral laying-out clothing, which is usually the deceased's best suit, although these being lazy Generation X type thieves of today they get these things by breaking into funeral homes at night, and not by good old-fashioned digging by the light of the moon. "I can't think of anything lower," said David Evans, general manager for Valhalla Gardens of Memory in Belleville. "Nothing's worse than stealing from the dead."
"But grave robbers beware: The authorities are getting wise. States are passing laws and police are cracking down. In March, the Madison County Sheriff's Department arrested three people for stealing 40 vases from two Metro East cemeteries. The owner of a Granite City scrap recycling center turned them in. Late last year, a trio of thieves hit the Valhalla Memorial Park cemetery in East Alton. They stole 17 bronze vases from graves in the cemetery. A month later, they went back and stole a dozen more. The two men and a woman were arrested after a tipster reported a suspicious vehicle. Charges are pending."
"The scrap value of a bronze vase is about $10, according to cemetery operators; the replacement price often tops $300. Three men were arrested earlier this month on charges of stealing more than 1,000 brass vases and headstones from nine Chicago-area cemeteries. Also this month, about 150 bronze vases were reportedly stolen from a West Virginia cemetery. In addition, a man was arrested on charges of stealing 55 vases from grave sites in the Fort Myers, Fla. area. In the last few weeks, robberies have been reported at cemeteries in Arizona, Maryland, Michigan and North Carolina.
"Grave robbery was more common in the 19th century, when thieves dug up the dead in a search for gold. Sometimes they snatched the bodies for medical experiments. In 1876, three men broke into Abraham Lincoln's burial site in Springfield, Ill., in an attempt to steal the body and hold it for ransom. The men were caught in progress." (Thieves did the same thing with the body of department store mogul Andrew Stewart.)
"Stronger laws and new technology are helping catch the thieves. A Missouri law passed last month is aimed at helping police track thieves who steal brass and bronze and sell it to scrap metal dealers. The state stiffened the fines for dealers who don't keep proper paperwork and requires them to get a copy of a photo ID for those who aren't regular customers. Illinois enacted a similar law earlier this year. Ed Wilkerson, the police chief in Millstadt, said his department has begun paying for an Internet-based system, www.leadsonline.com, that tracks the sale of scrap metal online and in pawnshops. He said the Mount Evergreen Cemetery in Millstadt was robbed of bronze vases last year. No arrests have been made."
As the American economy begins what may well be its final slide down the tubes, we're going to see an increase in weird crimes of desperation like this. The devil of it is, stealing these bronze vases and copper fittings brings in such a relatively low profit compared to drug dealing or knocking over liquor stores that it's entirely possible these thieves are simply trying to raise enough money to put gasoline in their tanks or some rice on the table.
Expect an increase in people willing to do anything for money or gasoline. I once was skeptical that we would ever see the devastated world of Mad Max the Road Warrior in real life. Now I am not so sure.