Clara Loeper was born partially paralyzed, and died in 1883 at the age of 21. Dr. Rudolph of the Eclectic Medical College approached her mother about donating Clara’s body to the school for study even before she died. He was refused, more than once, and Clara was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.
At Clara’s April 5 burial, her mother felt unsettled and shared suspicions that Dr. Rudolph might try something uncouth, so someone slipped a piece of wire into the mound of dirt covering the grave. On the 6th, Mrs. Loeper returned “and perceived at once that the grave had been violated,” the Oakland Tribune reported in 1883. Dirt was scattered, and the wire was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Loeper alerted the cemetery superintendent, who started digging and confirmed the wretched truth: The coffin lid had been axed open, and Clara was missing.
She had been taken away nude. “Clothes were rudely torn off and thrown pell-mell into the grave. Even the stockings were pulled off,” noted the Tribune article. It’s hard to say why the thieves left Clara’s garments behind; maybe they thought the clothes would be easy identifiers, or perhaps they were concerned about adding property theft onto the crime of body theft. Grave-robbing was a felony in California, and a conviction could lead to a five-year prison sentence.
The investigation that followed involved both police and private investigators, and the scandal exposed Eclectic Medical College’s unsavory methods of obtaining cadavers for study. Read the story of Clara Loeper’s restless corpse at Atlas Obscura.
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