The Body Snatchers!

Stan the Mad Scientist!

 

It’s
almost Halloween and this is the time of year when Stan and his pals love to
read gruesome stories from the past….

Gather round to hear the gruesome real-life stories of The Body Snatchers!! … Mwhahaha…


A
couple of hundred years ago – before there was modern technology from companies
like 3B Scientific – there was a shortage of dead bodies or cadavers for
doctors to practice on. For instance, in Britain prior to the Anatomy Act of
1832
, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes was from
criminals condemned to death and subsequent dissection.

During
the 1700s, hundreds of people were executed for trivial crimes. However, by the
following century, this number had dwindled to a little over 50 people a year,
while demand from the expanding medical schools meant that as many as 500
cadavers were needed.

The
problem became so bad that some doctors and scientists interested in anatomy turned
to unscrupulous methods to obtain bodies for dissection. One way that they got
hold of them was from body snatchers or so-called ‘resurrection-men’.

Human Anatomy ModelsBody
snatching soon became so prevalent that it was not uncommon for the relatives
and friends of the deceased to guard the body until burial, and then to keep
watch over the grave to prevent it from being violated. People were even buried
in iron coffins, while graves were sometimes protected by a framework of iron
bars called a ‘mortsafe’.

An
article in medical journal The Lancet
claims that the number of empty coffins to have been discovered “proves beyond
a doubt that body snatching was frequent”. It’s said that London anatomy
schools employed ten full-time body snatchers and about 200 part-time workers
during the dissection season, which ran from October to May, when decomposition
was slower! Disposing of the dissected body proved more difficult, however, and
rumours abound of remains buried secretly behind medical schools or given to
zoos for carnivores or vultures to devour.

Body
snatchers used many ingenious methods to steal corpses, such as tunnelling into
graves from a distance to avoid detection. They also tended to ensure that they
didn’t take any items such as jewellery buried with the person, as this would
have constituted a felony crime.

The
infamous William Burke and William Hare took things one stage further, however.
Rather than just stealing corpses, they murdered people to supply bodies to
order!

The
pair ran a boarding house. When one of their tenants died, they took him to
Robert Knox’s anatomy classroom in Edinburgh where they were paid £7 for the
body. Realizing the profit potential, they asphyxiated 16 people over the next
year and sold their bodies to Knox. Eventually, they were caught when a tenant
returned to her bed only to encounter a corpse.

Hare
testified against Burke as a result of a plea bargain. After Burke was found guilty,
he was hanged and, in what some might consider to be poetic justice, publicly
dissected.

Did you know?

  • In
    the US, anatomist Thomas Sewell, who later became the personal physician to
    three presidents, was convicted in 1818 of digging up a corpse for dissection.
  • Anatomists
    would even dissect members of their own family. William Harvey, who is famous
    for discovering the circulatory system, was so dedicated he dissected his
    father and sister.
  • Resurrectionists
    were known to hire women to act the part of grieving relatives and claim the
    bodies of the dead at poorhouses.
  • John
    Collins Warren Jr was the son of the Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at
    Harvard Medical School. In 1796, John Jr was part of a group who disinterred
    the body of a man “without relations”.
  • In
    February 2006, Dr Michael Mastromarino was convicted of illegally harvesting
    human bones, organs, tissue and other body parts from individuals awaiting
    cremation, and for selling them to medical companies without the consent of
    their families. The 42-year-old former New Jersey-based oral surgeon and CEO at
    Biomedical Tissue Services was sentenced along with three of his employees to a
    long prison term. 

If you're interested in Anatomy, check out all our models, charts, posters, software, simulators and trainers …but leave the Body Snatchers to the history books and Halloween horror stories!

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