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Two men stole Charlie Chaplin’s body from the grave and tried to extort money from his widow

Domagoj Valjak

Charlie Chaplin was a famous actor and director who revolutionized the genre of comedy. During his 75-year long career, he became an international film icon, and the fruits of his prolific career remain an inspiration for comedians and artists throughout the world.

Chaplin’s on-screen antics were a symbol of careless entertainment and simple fun, but his real life was filled with turmoil and troubles. He was almost assassinated during a visit to Japan, and the condemnation of his socialist beliefs led him to flee the United States. Chaplin remained an outspoken critic of American conservatism for the rest of his life; because of his political views, the star bearing his name became a part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1970, even though the Walk of Fame project started in 1958.

Publicity photo of Charlie Chaplin, 1920

Publicity photo of Charlie Chaplin, 1920

Chaplin died on Christmas of 1977, aged 88. His health deteriorated in the final years of his life, and by October of 1977 he could hardly stand up without assistance. The doctors concluded that he suffered a fatal stroke in his sleep and died peacefully.

He was buried in Corsier-sur-Vevey in Switzerland, and, according to his last wishes, his funeral was a private Anglican ceremony attended by family and several close friends. Artists and fans from all over the world mourned his passing, and the film industry issued a series of tributes which stated that Chaplin was “a monument of the cinema.”

Chaplin (left) in his first film appearance, Making a Living, with Henry Lehrman who directed the picture (1914)

Chaplin (left) in his first film appearance, Making a Living, with Henry Lehrman who directed the picture (1914)

 

By 1916, Chaplin was a global phenomenon. Here he shows off some of his merchandise, c. 1918

By 1916, Chaplin was a global phenomenon. Here he shows off some of his merchandise, c. 1918

However, the turmoil that followed Chaplin throughout his life didn’t end with his death. Several months after his funeral, his coffin was dug up from the grave, and his body was stolen by unknown perpetrators.

The body snatchers contacted his widow Oona Chaplin and attempted to extort a substantial ransom in exchange for the body.

Chaplin (right) receiving his Honorary Academy Award from Jack Lemmon in 1972. It was the first time he had been to the United States in 20 years

Chaplin (right) receiving his Honorary Academy Award from Jack Lemmon in 1972. It was the first time he had been to the United States in 20 years

The police immediately organized an extensive investigation which included investigators from all over Europe. Within a week, the efforts of the police paid off, and Chaplin’s grave robbers were brought to justice. His body was stolen by two unemployed men named Roman Wardas and Gantcho Ganev. They intended to use the ransom money to fix their financial troubles and open a small business in Switzerland.

Read another story from us: This is Charlie Chaplin’s first movie and apparently, he hated it

Chaplin’s body was found buried in an empty field near the village of Noville, Switzerland. The authorities returned it to its original resting place and upgraded the grave with a layer of reinforced concrete.