01.20.13

Creepy Stories of Grave Robbing

A Detroit man was arrested for stealing his father’s dead body. From a woman who lived with her dead sister to a man who slept in his wife’s grave, other eerie tales from the crypt.

Hours before the late Clarence Bright was to be buried at a Detroit cemetery Monday morning, his body went missing. The next day, police found Street’s son, Vincent Bright, and another man with an empty casket in the back of their van and arrested them. Cops say Vincent, 48, had moved his father’s body into a freezer in the basement of his home hoping that he might come back to life. He was charged with disinterment of a body—a felony—and held on a $75,000 bond. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, but will likely undergo a mental evaluation first.

“It’s an unusual case,” Gerald J. Karafa, Bright’s court-appointed attorney, told reporters Friday in the understatement of the year. “It’s not something you see every day.” True, but Vincent Bright is hardly the first person to be arrested for stealing a dead body. The bizarre story sparked a search of body snatchers past. Here are a few of the more disturbing cases.

One Big, Happy Family
Jean Stevens and her twin sister, June, were so inseparable, they even married brothers. When June was diagnosed with cancer, Jean shared a bed with her and rubbed her back. And when June died in October 2009, she was buried in her sister’s backyard—but only for a few days. Lonely and claustrophobic at the thought of her sister trapped underground, Jean had June dug up and brought inside to live with her, just like she had done 10 years earlier with James, her husband of 60 years, who had been buried at a nearby cemetery. There they lived—well, she lived—with her husband’s body on a couch in the extended garage and her sister propped up in a spare room off her bedroom for almost a year before the cops were tipped off that the 91-year-old was not alone. In an interview shortly thereafter, Stevens was aware that her behavior appeared disturbing, but explained unapologetically that she “felt differently about death.”

A Little Fresh Air

130119-grave-robbers-dickson-indonesia
The “Ma’nene” ritual in Indonesia in August 2012. (Elang Herdian/AP)

Maybe we are the weird ones for insisting that our loved ones stay buried after they’re gone. In Tana Toraja, on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, locals ritually exhume their ancestors mummified bodies every few years, cleaning out their graves and giving them a fresh new outfit to wear before taking them for a walk around the village and putting them back in the ground.

Till Death Do Us Part?
A 55-year-old man from a small town in Vietnam was not arrested after he told an online newspaper that he’d dug up his dead wife’s body and slept in bed with it for five years—but his house definitely received a lot less visitors. When Le Van’s wife died in 2003, he slept on top of her grave. Twenty months later, the elements were really starting to get to him, so he dug a tunnel into the grave “to sleep with her.” That arrangement proved unsustainable as well, at least once his children found out and prevented him from going to the burial site. The only thing left to do was dig up his wife’s body and bring it home, so Van could hug her in bed. Vietnam.net reported the story five years later with a photograph of Van and his dead wife, still at his house.

Busy Body

Tony Alamo
Tony Alamo with wife Susan in 1973. (Gilbert B. Weingourt/ZUMA)

In 1995 a judge ordered former cult leader Tony Alamo to return his wife’s dead body and arrange for a “proper and legal entombment” after her body had been missing for four years. Already in federal prison for tax evasion, Alamo faced an unspecified additional sentence after his release if he didn’t comply. Susan Alamo died in 1982 at age 59, and after she was embalmed, her preacher husband brought her body back to his compound in Arkansas and kept it on display for church followers, telling them she would rise from the dead. When that still hadn’t happened after 18 months, he finally entombed his wife in a mausoleum built specially for her on the property. But that wouldn’t be her final resting place. Susan Alamo’s body went missing in 1991, on the same night several Alamo followers fled the compound in anticipation of a federal raid. Tony Alamo himself was in hiding out in Tampa at the time, avoiding charges that he’d ordered the beating of an 11-year-old church member. Four years after Susan’s mausoleum was emptied—during which Alamo alternately admitted and denied having any knowledge of its whereabouts—her daughter, Christhiaon Coie, sued him. The judge, rejecting Alamo’s $3.5 million counterclaim that Coie had defamed him, declared that Alamo was both responsible for having his wife’s body removed from her tomb and had the ability to have it produced and properly buried.