If your med school exams are melting your brain or you're waiting in line at the doctors, spare a thought for the crims who helped shape modern medicine.

Body-snatching was a profitable business well into the 19th century, often funded by medical students wanting new cadavers for research. Sometimes the students would accompany the 'resurrectionists' on their venture, while those who couldn't afford to employ a servant to do their dirty work for them would even take on the task themselves. In the early 18th Century it was alleged that some medical students at Edinburgh University could pay for their fees in dead bodies.


Many graveyards had night watchmen to guard over the dead, while some people buried their relatives in double or even triple coffins to counter any theft attempts. Gangs wielding shotguns or axes were also common and professional resurrectionists were rarely unarmed. Confrontations in graveyards were well documented in sensational stories in local papers.

Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent - Thursday 25 February 1830 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

If the snatchers managed to evade these obstacles they were then faced with the tricky business of exhuming the body, digging a hole at one end of the grave and breaking the lid open. To avoid detection some resurrectionists would dig a hole away from the grave and pull the body out of the ground with ropes. The most experienced could complete the whole process and escape with a lucrative steal in half and hour. The article below documents the trial of one man who had been body snatching from the age of six, and had helped steal 2,000 bodies before being captured.

Sheffield Independent - Saturday 15 April 1826

Discover more about body snatching and other archaic crimes including an incredible historic article on the notorious Burke and Hare.