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Charlie Chaplin's Coffin Stolen from Swiss Cemetery (March 1, 1977)

Chaplin MontageToday in Odd History, Charlie Chaplin's grave was ransacked. His heavy oak coffin was carted off, with his body inside, and the grave robbers demanded $600,000 in ransom. Chaplin's widow, Lady Oona O'Neill Chaplin, refused to pay it, saying "My husband lives on in my heart and mind, and it really doesn't matter where his remains are."

Charlie ChaplinChaplin breathed his last on Christmas morning, 1977, at the age of 88. He was buried near his home in Vevey, Switzerland, where he had lived since 1952, the year the US government, which had repeatedly questioned his political tendencies and his values, revoked his visa. Just a few months later, the last strange chapter in what had been an often tumultuous life began.

After the theft was discovered, ransom demands began pouring in. Most of them were hoaxes. Several weeks after the body vanished, however, another demand came in, accompanied by a photograph of Chaplin's coffin on its way to being reburied in a cornfield. Oona still refused to consider paying for the casket's return, but the rest of Chaplin's family thought it would be wise to cooperate with the police investigation. Through their lawyer, they began negotiating with the graverobbers over the phone. The amount of the ransom kept dropping, until the robbers were asking only $250,000. By then, the police had traced the calls to a public telephone. More than 100 police officers turned out to watch more than 200 public telephones near Vevey. Chaplins' Graves in VeveyThe dragnet succeeded. Two men, a 24-year-old Polish mechanic and his Bulgarian accomplice were arrested. Chaplin's unopened casket was recovered from a farmer's field near Vevey; the farmer erected a cross at the site. The coffin was reinterred in Vevey, this time sealed in concrete. Despite Oona's brave words when her husband's body disappeared, when she died in 1991, she requested that her own coffin be similarly protected.



Images:
Chaplin's headshot was taken from IMDB
The Chaplin collage came from Ed Stephan's Charlie Chaplin Page
The photo of the Chaplins' graves came from Jerre's Silent Movie Collectibles

Sources:
Today-in-History Page of Scope Systems
Morbid Fact du Jour Archive
The Urban Legends Reference Pages: Charlie Chaplin's Troubled Final Rest
Broadway to Vegas, August 19, 2001
Morely on Chaplin, reviewing Charlie Chaplin and His Times, by Kenneth S Lynn
Biography of Charles Chaplin, at IMDB

Differing views on Charlie Chaplin:

Chaplin, His Life and ArtChaplin, His Life and Art, by David Robinson.
Thanks to Chaplin's widow, Oona, Robinson had full access to the Chaplins' personal archives, and he used them to create a portrait of Chaplin, the filmmaker, skirting the personal scandals that marred his career. Although it has been criticized for being too admiring, this is widely considered to be the best of the Chaplin biographies.
Available at Abebooks or Amazon.

 

 

Charlie Chaplin and His TimesCharlie Chaplin and his Times, by Kenneth S. Lynn.
Lynn adores Chaplin the artist, and reviles Chaplin the man. This biography covers everything from Chaplin's early life in London to the theft of his coffin after his death. It is particularly notable as a response to Chaplin's own, terribly self-serving, autobiography.

 

 

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