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Grave Robbers Exhumed And Held Charlie Chaplin's Body For Ransom In 1978

Events | March 1, 2020

As a performer and director, Charlie Chaplin revolutionized filmmaking. He was one of the few people who successfully transitioned from vaudeville to silent films and then to talkies. By the time of his death, Chaplin's star was fading, but he was still a known quantity, which is why he was a target for grave robbers. Don't worry: He wasn't gone for long, and he made it back to his resting place safe and sound. Still, it was a wild weekend at Charlie's.

Chaplin passed on Christmas Day

Source: MGM

After a lengthy decline of health, Chaplin passed away at his home in Switzerland in the early hours of December 25, 1977, following a stroke in his sleep at 88 years old. Per his request, he was buried in the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery. He left behind his fourth wife, Oona, and their eight children, all of whom were horrified when they found out that Papa Charlie's body had been stolen out from under their noses.

Chaplin had nearly three months to rest

Source: Little White Lies

On March 2, 1978, Charlie Chaplin's body was dug up from the Swiss cemetery by two unemployed men, Roman Wardas and Gantcho Ganev, who hoped to ransom him back to his family for a hefty fee. Before the body thieves could lay out their demands, however, the police broke the news to Chaplin's widow and children. His son, Eugene, told the Independent what it was like to receive that phone call:

We got a phone call from the police who said, look, somebody has dug up the grave. The coffin has gone. It was a horrendous thing to happen–especially in Switzerland where everything is so quiet.

The grave robbers wanted to get rich off Chaplin's body

Source: Pinterest

How much do you think you can get for a body? Forty, fifty bucks? What about a famous body? Wardas and Ganev, unsure themselves, called Charlie Chaplin's widow and offered to return his body for the hefty sum of $600,000. Obviously, she balked, but that didn't deter the industrious grave robbers. While they went back to the drawing board, the police bugged Oona's phone and staked out the 200 phone booths in the area. Oona later remarked that her husband would have thought that the whole situation was "rather ridiculous."

Wardas and Ganey kick things up a notch

Source: Vintage Everyday

Meanwhile, Wardas and Ganev returned from their deliberations not with a more reasonable dollar amount but with threats against Oona's youngest children if she didn't cough up the $600,000. As scary as it must have been, Oona once again denied the exorbitant demand. Thankfully, she never got the chance to find out if Wardas and Ganev were serious about their threats. They were swiftly arrested, after which they led the police to Charlie Chaplin's body, hidden less than a mile away from Oona's home in Switzerland.

Life went back to normal after Chaplin's body was discovered

Source: Britannica

Following their arrest, Wardas and Ganev were convicted of grave robbing and attempted extortion, but Wardas got the heavier boot of justice. It's believed that Wardas came up with the plan after reading of a similar plot in an Italian newspaper, so as the mastermind, he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years of hard labor while Ganev was given an 18-month suspended sentence. After their sentencing, Ganev's wife wrote to Oona and apologized for the crime, but Oona simply responded "Look, I have nothing especially against you and all is forgiven." Everything went back to normal as Charlie Chaplin was returned to his original grave, albeit with a few extra security measures. This time, the coffin was encased in concrete.

Tags: 1970s | crime | death | silent movies

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.