No Rest for the Wicked: What Becomes of Bad Guys' Bodies?

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It took more than two weeks after Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed to find a grave for his body. Both Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy had said they would not allow the body to be buried within their cities’ limits and the funeral director struggled to find a cemetery elsewhere.

It’s not exactly surprising that no one wanted the body. Aside from the distaste that comes from having a terrorist buried next to someone’s kindly grandmother, there was legitimate concern that a grave like Tsarnaev’s could attract vandals, protests, admiring jihadists or other disruptions. (Tsarnaev's final resting place has not been disclosed.)

Tsarnaev isn’t the first public enemy to run into this problem. After Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death, Congress passed legislation that barred military veterans who had been convicted of capital crimes (e.g. McVeigh) from burial in military cemeteries. McVeigh’s remains were cremated, and scattered at an undisclosed location by his lawyer. Terrorist Osama bin Laden was buried at sea after his home country Saudi Arabia refused to repatriate his body.

After WWII, the Soviets worried that Adolf Hitler’s body, which the Red Army had found partially cremated outside the Führerbunker, would attract neo-Nazis and any unsecured gravesite would quickly be turned into a shrine. The KGB decided to destroy the remains and dispose of them in secret, and three agents finished burning the body in the German woods and scattered the ashes in the wind.

The family of Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley in 1901, wanted the assassin’s body turned over to them, but government officials refused and opted to destroy it instead. Taking some inspiration from Walter White’s playbook, they buried Czolgosz in the prison where he was executed, in a coffin filled with quicklime and sulfuric acid, which destroyed the corpse.

In some cases, one man’s trash is another’s treasure, and disposing of a defeated bad guy hasn’t been very difficult. The bodies of the five Palestinian terrorists killed by German police during the 1972 Munich massacre were turned over to Libya, where they were greeted by adoring crowds and buried with full military honors.

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May 10, 2013 - 9:30am
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