body snatchers of New York

Stealing from the Dead: The Gruesome Tale of BodySnatchers of New York City

Bodysnatchers of New York / Have you ever heard of the “body snatchers” of New York City? These were individuals who stole corpses from graves and sold them to medical schools for dissection and study in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The practice of body snatching, or grave robbing, had been going on for centuries, but it reached new heights in the 19th century with the demand for cadavers for medical education. The supply of legal cadavers (those donated for the purpose of dissection) couldn’t keep up with the demand, so some individuals turned to illicit means to obtain bodies.

In New York City, body snatching was particularly rampant due to the high number of medical schools and the crowded, poorly-maintained burial grounds. The city’s cemeteries were overcrowded, and bodies were often buried just a few feet below the surface, making them easy targets for body snatchers.

body snatchers of new york

The bodysnatchers of New York, or “resurrectionists” as they were sometimes called, worked in the dead of night, digging up freshly-buried corpses and transporting them to medical schools or anatomy labs. They were often paid handsomely for their efforts, and the practice became a lucrative business.

But it wasn’t just the body snatchers who profited from this trade. Medical schools and anatomy professors also turned a blind eye to the illicit nature of the bodies they were using for dissection.

The body snatching trade eventually came to an end in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thanks in part to the development of legal means for obtaining cadavers and the passage of laws that made it more difficult to steal bodies. But the legacy of the body snatchers lives on in the history of New York City and the field of medicine.

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  1. I never realized this was such a problem. Thank you for shedding light. I personally am donating my body to science when I die, so this article made me feel more confident in that decision.

  2. This is very interesting, I’ve never heard of this although recently I’ve been watching about crimes.

  3. vidya says:

    This definitely was so unfortunate. And sometimes they had young kids do the work for them too. I have read quite a couple books involving body snatchers, and one was a middle-grade read (need to go look up my reading catalog for the name)..

  4. I have heard of people digging up graves, but I didn’t know it was quite an invasion in New York because of the many schools

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