body snatching

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body snatching,

the stealing of corpses from graves and morgues. Before cadavers were legally available for dissection and study by medical students, traffic in stolen bodies was profitable. Those who engaged in the illicit practice were sometimes called resurrectionists; they were active from about the early 18th cent. to the middle 19th cent. Public opposition to any dissection of bodies was further aroused by discovery of the resurrectionists' activities; outbursts of violence occurred in Europe as well as in America. Robert Knox, an eminent British anatomist, became a victim of public attack because a body he had purchased for dissection proved to be that of one of a number of victims murdered by William Hare and an accomplice named William Burke for the purpose of selling the bodies; the murderers were brought to trial (1828) and convicted. This and other similar cases led to the passage (1832) in Great Britain of the Anatomy Act, which permitted the legal acquisition by medical schools of unclaimed bodies. In the United States dissection of the human body has been practiced since the middle of the 18th cent.; riots and acts of violence frequently occurred in protest against lecturers on anatomy and medical students, who reputedly dug up bodies for study. In 1788 outraged citizens of New York City precipitated a riot while ransacking the rooms of anatomy students and professors at Columbia College Medical School in search of bodies. The following year body snatching was prohibited by law, thus creating a climate for the growth of an illegal group of professional body snatchers. It was not until 1854 that anatomy students were allowed access to unclaimed bodies from public institutions.


See The Diary of a Resurrectionist (ed. by J. B. Bailey, 1896); T. Gallagher, The Doctors' Story (1967).

References in periodicals archive ?
He and three other men were caught disturbing at least eight graves, and Baker was indicted on one felony and two misdemeanor counts of body snatching.
Body snatching, it seems, isn't exclusive to Zimbabwe.
So human samples are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body snatching they will really be serving their country.
The women were optimistic: They should go into body snatching full time.
In two chapters Fissell places the growth of the hospital within a larger contemporary debate on charity and reveals the growing power of infirmary surgeons as "hospital-based medical education" became standard, although popular resistance to dissection led to body snatching and anatomical education on the sly.
BODY SNATCHING Rioting over theft of OAP's corpse IN the 1800s, doctors were only allowed to use the bodies of executed criminals as cadavers for their students' lectures and demonstrations, so grave robbing was rife.
In the 19th Century the inhabitants of Allesley were accused of body snatching.