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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Body Snatching

     The dark practice of body snatching is directly tied to the advancements in the study of anatomy and medicine. The term was coined to describe the act of secretly removing corpses from graves for sale, primarily to medical schools where they were used for dissection and anatomy lessons.

     The first known case of body snatching was committed by four medical students in Bologna in 1319. In the 17th and 18th centuries body snatching reached epic proportions around the world. There was a reduction in executions, the traditional source of cadavers. There was also, simultaneously, a proliferation of medical schools and the study of anatomy. Poor refrigeration methods meant a deficit of fresh bodies for medical study. Furthermore, the punishment was minimal--the convicted were either fined or given light prison sentences.

     Body snatching was condoned by many medical practitioners and institutions who believed it was a necessary evil, one that was offset by the benefits anatomical study of the bodies would produce.

     The increasing demand for fresh cadavers gave rise to "ressurectionists," men paid to dig up and deliver bodies. Ressurectionists would work in teams, mainly targeting new graves because it was easier to dig the unsettled earth. They would send spies to funerals--mostly women--to scout the grave and plan for the removal of the body.

     A particular target for ressurectionists were the mass graves that the poor were often buried in. These graves were left uncovered until they were full of coffins. Single graves were far more troublesome to break into--a tunnel would have to be dug, sometimes four feet down, the coffin broken into and the body carried to the surface.

Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2003

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