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Stacy Conradt

10 Graves That Are Remarkably Secure

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Stacy Conradt

People go to great lengths to keep their deceased loved ones safe and secure. There are locked mausoleums, indoor burials, and stone walls with thick gates that only caretakers can access. And then there are the people who dump several tons of concrete into the grave and call it secure.

Here are 10 graves that are remarkably secure. Alternatively, here are 10 zombies that we’ll never have to worry about.

1. George Pullman

Thanks to job cuts, wage cuts, and working his employees to the bone in general, Chicago railroad industrialist George Pullman was not a popular man. When he died of a heart attack in 1897, his family was concerned that angry ex-employees would take vengeance. To protect Pullman, his heirs buried him in a pit that was eight feet deep and lined with steel-reinforced concrete. As a finishing touch, the casket was covered in asphalt, concrete, and steel.

2. Abraham Lincoln

Stacy Conradt

A decade after Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Chicago crime boss organized a team and attempted to steal his body for ransom while his tomb was under construction in Springfield, Illinois. They were thwarted by undercover Secret Service agents, but it was enough of a scare that surviving son Robert Todd Lincoln took drastic measures to ensure that his family would never be disturbed again. He shelled out $700 to have the coffin placed inside a steel cage and encased it in concrete, a move borrowed from his former boss, George Pullman.

3. Levi Leiter

As the co-founder of Marshall Field’s department store, Levi Leiter sold his half of the business to fellow co-founder, the eponymous Marshall Field. This made Leiter a very, very rich man. In 1876, he became worried about what would happen to his remains after he died, after the corpse of a fellow retail entrepreneur, Alexander Turney Stewart, was dug up and held for a $250,000 ransom. By the time Stewart’s widow paid up a portion of the cash ($20,000, reportedly), two years had passed and there was no guarantee that the bones she received were actually her husband’s. Vowing to prevent such a thing from happening to his family, Leiter gave specific instructions, asking that his casket be encased in a cage-like grid of steel beams, then covered in concrete upon his burial in Washington, D.C.

When it was reported that grave robbers were plotting to break into the grave three months after the funeral, extra security was hired, but the graveyard’s superintendent knew his remains weren't going anywhere, and they haven't.

4. Eva Peron

Although she died in 1952, Eva Peron’s body continued to travel for a good 20 years. In 1955, military officers stole her remains when they overthrew the Peronist government. Her body was hidden in Milan, and then eventually transferred to Spain to the estate where Juan Peron was living in exile. Her remains were finally returned to Argentina in 1974. The Argentine government took extreme measures to stop another theft from happening, and her tomb in Buenos Aires' Reloceta cemetery was designed by a bank vault manufacturer. Her body is buried twenty feet underground and her sister was given the tomb's only key.

5. Charlie Chaplin

On March 2, 1978, a few months after his death, Charlie Chaplin’s body disappeared from his grave in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. Shortly thereafter, his widow received a call demanding $600,000 for the return of her husband’s corpse. Police launched an investigation and captured the two men responsible. They also found Chaplin's body, which was buried in a field. To ensure this never happened again, Chaplin’s reburial included a vault made of reinforced concrete. “You would need a pneumatic drill to open that vault," the village gravedigger later said. "And that is bound to make a lot of noise."

6. John Dillinger

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The answer to why Public Enemy Number One was buried underneath a three foot sheet of concrete in an Indianapolis cemetery depends on the person you ask. The standard story is that Dillinger was killed in a 1934 Chicago sting and his father ordered the concrete blanket to prevent grave robbery. Dillinger Sr. had received offers from unscrupulous businessmen who wanted to display his son’s body for profit.

On the other hand, those who believe that the man killed outside that Chicago theater was a decoy think that the extreme burial was intended to keep anyone from discovering the corpse's true identity.

7. H.H. Holmes

If you've read The Devil in the White City, you know that notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes did unspeakable things to the many victims he lured to his hotel near the site of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, both before and after their deaths. But after he was executed for his crimes in 1896, Holmes wanted to make sure that his corpse remained untouched. He left specific orders for his burial to include a concrete-filled coffin. Any would-be grave robbers are going to have their work cut out for them in more ways than one, however: Holmes is buried in an unmarked grave near Philadelphia.

8. Ronnie Van Zant

After Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead singer was killed in a plane crash in 1977, he was buried in a mausoleum in Orange Park, Florida. He rested there peacefully for 23 years, until a vandal broke into his tomb and the tomb of fellow bandmates Steve and Cassie Gaines. To protect Van Zant from future attempts, his family had him relocated to a cemetery in Jacksonville and buried in a concrete vault.

9. Ned Kelly

Australian bushranger Ned Kelly’s last wish was ignored. Though he wanted to be buried with his family, his remains were thrown into a mass grave at the Old Melbourne Gaol after his execution in 1880. It wasn’t until 2011 that Kelly finally got his wish: Most of his skeleton was exhumed from the pit at the Gaol and given to his descendants, who buried Kelly in the family plot. To ensure that no one disturbed him again, his family had the grave surrounded by concrete. Unfortunately, it's only a partial skeleton: His skull is still missing.

10. Leon Czolgosz

There is likely no hope of exhuming the body of anarchist Leon Czolgosz, the man who assassinated William McKinley. Though it’s rumored that his unmarked grave was encased in cement, it hardly seems necessary—there’s not much there. To deter Czolgosz supporters from making him a martyr, acid was poured into his coffin. It was estimated that his body would be completely liquefied 12 hours after the burial.

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The Professional Mourners of Arlington Cemetery
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The stranger couldn't help herself. Attending the funeral of an Iraq war veteran at Arlington National Cemetery in 2006, she leaned over and gently kissed the forehead of the fallen soldier's widow and mother.

For the woman who sensed palpable grief, it was a natural thing to do. But as an Arlington Lady, an official representative of four United States military arms dispatched to military funerals, it was a breach of policy. After the service, she was reprimanded by her supervisor. The Arlington Ladies have a very specific role. They are not there to grieve or console, but to make certain no soldier is ever buried alone.

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Hoyt Vandenberg, Chief of Staff for the United States Air Force, was driving to his office in the Pentagon in 1948 when he noticed a funeral being conducted at Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery. There was no sea of crisp uniforms or sobbing family members. Aside from the chaplain and the Honor Guard, there was no one there at all.

Vandenberg didn’t like it. Soldiers, he felt, deserved the presence of at least one civilian to bear witness to their burial. His wife, Gladys, agreed. She set about recruiting friends and wives of the enlisted to begin attending Air Force funerals, even though many of the deceased were complete strangers. They called themselves the Officers Wives Club and acted as both military representatives and as proxies for family members who might not be able to afford to travel to Arlington for services.

By 1973, the Army had formed its own version. In 1985, the Navy followed suit. And in 2006, the Coast Guard organized a group of their own. (The Marines send a Commandant representative to funerals.) Collectively, the roughly 150 women are known as the Arlington Ladies.

Participation is usually by invitation only, with the group largely made up of ex-military members or their spouses 40 years and older. If a woman is invited to join, she is first instructed to sit at funerals as an apprentice, observing the customs of the role depending on which branch of service she’s been assigned.

Naval Ladies are given a sheet that details the deceased’s biography, rank, service awards, and passing. They’re allowed to briefly introduce themselves to family prior to services; after the widow or other attendee is given the folded American flag, the Arlington representative approaches the bereaved to offer condolences and two cards—one from her, and one from the Chief of Staff. When they’re finished, they walk backwards; turning their back on the flag is prohibited.

Their duties don’t end there. If a family member is unable to attend, a Lady will write a letter offering details of the service—what was said, what the weather was like, and what she felt during the proceedings. They’ll also extend an opportunity to tend to the deceased’s grave by placing flowers on it on anniversaries or holidays.

If family members are present, the Lady is a welcome sight: although they have a dress code (no slacks or loud colors), they help ease the tension of a highly structured military funeral. If no members are present, then the Lady acts as a surrogate witness to a soldier being laid to rest.

The Ladies are expected to maintain their composure, however difficult it may be. The organization’s chair, Margaret Mensch, told The Washington Post in 2007 that she tries her best not to tear up, even when it’s a former Honor Guard escort of hers that was being buried. "You are still," she said. "You just don't cry. When I got there, I thought, 'Just concentrate on that leaf on that tree over there.' A military funeral is very dignified. Very precise. It may sound cold, but that's the beauty of it."

A mourner typically volunteers one day a month. With more than 30 funerals at Arlington a day, she might attend up to six during a single shift. Doreen Huylebroeck, whose late husband was a chief petty officer, has attended more than 500 since beginning work in 2009.

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Getting an Arlington Lady to discuss her duties on the record can be daunting. Most are averse to publicity, wary that someone might think of them as self-congratulatory. A portion of the Army's contingent, however, had to endure some recognition in 2015, when Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno held a reception to acknowledge the Ladies for their selfless service.

"There's no more important time than when a family is going through the incredible grief of loss … that they understand the Army is there for them and you all make that a little easier by what you do," he told the women. "By letting them know that we do care about them, so for me this is very important for us to have you here to thank you for helping our soldiers, past and present, as they continue to serve through difficult times."

The Ladies were cordial, but the session was brief. Seven funerals were still scheduled for that day.

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The Highly Unusual Funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald
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The director of the Miller Funeral Home was a man named Paul Groody. He told the grave diggers that the piles of dirt they were moving were in service of a deceased man named William Bobo. Bobo, an old cowboy in the Fort Worth area, occupied one of the tables inside the funeral parlor, old age and sun-drenched living having caught up to him at the age of 75.

That’s right, Paul Groody told them. That hole is for Bobo.

When Groody called and arranged for flowers, he told the florist to put “Bobo” on the tag.

When Groody picked out a brown suit for the service, the reporters who were milling around the funeral home asked him who it was for. “Mr. Bobo,” Groody told them.

Groody was lying. The suit wasn’t for Bobo. Neither were the flowers, nor the grave, nor the eight policemen and two guard dogs stationed at the property, some of whom had accompanied Groody when he visited Parkland Memorial Hospital on November 24 to claim the most infamous corpse in the country.

All of these arrangements were in the service of burying Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of assassinating John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, who was himself murdered on November 24, and would be laid to rest on November 25. It would be a most unusual send-off. 

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Perched at the window of the Texas School Book Depository, alleged communist Oswald reportedly took aim at a motorcade traveling through Dallas, fired three shots, and pierced the skull of Kennedy. He was captured, jailed, then shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while in transit to another facility. At Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same site where Kennedy was rushed in an attempt to save his life—Oswald was pronounced dead 105 minutes after being shot.

Never had a dead body been such a source of consternation and concern among the Secret Service, the FBI, and local officials. Oswald had obviously been a target while he was still breathing; dead, the authorities were concerned that he might attract people looking to desecrate his corpse.

Quietly, law enforcement phoned Groody, who operated a funeral home in Fort Worth. He collected Oswald's body in the middle of the night on November 24 and made plans for a service the following day, when Oswald’s mother, widow, brother, and two children would be able to attend. But there were some problems.

Problem one was the issue of finding someone to lead the service. No one, not even clergy members, could seem to put aside their anger long enough to say even a few parting words about a man who sent the country into mourning. Two Lutheran ministers agreed, then backed out when Groody told them the service would be held outdoors. (Both feared sniper fire would disrupt the proceedings.)

When Oswald’s family showed up for the 4 p.m. service, Groody encountered another issue. Aside from law enforcement, no one other than Oswald's widow and mother had showed up for the funeral—there were no friends and no other family members to serve as pallbearers. So Groody turned to the one thing he did have in plentiful supply: members of the press. Acting on a tip, dozens of reporters had gathered on the grounds to photograph and witness the burial of Kennedy’s assassin.

Groody approached Preston McGraw, a local reporter with whom he had some previous dealings. McGraw agreed to help carry the casket. Michael Cochran, the Associated Press’s Fort Worth correspondent, saw McGraw assisting and felt compelled to join him (after initially refusing to help). Another reporter, Jack Moseley, hung on to the casket’s handle for a few steps before walking away; he couldn’t stand carrying Oswald, even if it was to his grave.

Eventually, at least seven reporters labored to move him. Then, with Oswald in the ground, the Reverend Louis Saunders—executive secretary of the local Council of Churches and the only man willing to lend the service a religious overture—uttered some spare words.

“Mrs. Oswald tells me that her son, Lee Harvey, was a good boy and that she loved him,” he said. “And today, Lord, we commit his spirit to your Divine care.”

That was all. Oswald’s casket was opened one last time so that the family could pay their last respects. It was then lowered into the grave.

It wouldn’t remain there.

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The morbid fascination with Oswald so feared by authorities turned out to be warranted. On the fourth anniversary of Kennedy’s murder, in 1967, thieves stole Oswald's modest headstone in Rose Hill Cemetery. When it was recovered, Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, replaced it with a simple plaque and kept the original in her home.

When Marguerite died in 1981, she was buried in the plot next to her son. That same year, Oswald’s body was exhumed in order to satisfy conspiracy theories regarding whether he really occupied the grave or whether a body double had been used instead. After the curious parties were satisfied, Oswald was buried once more.

Because his pine bluff casket had been damaged by water, the Miller Funeral Home—now known as the Baumgardner Funeral Home—told Oswald’s brother, Robert, that they’d be putting him in a new coffin. Robert agreed, assuming the old one would be destroyed.

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It wasn’t. Unbeknownst to Robert, the funeral home put the casket up for auction in 2010. In 2015, a judge ruled that the business owed Robert $87,468 in damages and needed to return the casket to the family.

No one ever appeared eager to let Lee Harvey Oswald rest in peace, save for the journalists who put him there. When Cochran stood deliberating whether to assist Groody in 1963, a reporter named Jerry Flemmons turned to him and said, “Cochran, if we're gonna write a story about the burial of Lee Harvey Oswald, we're gonna have to bury the son of a bitch ourselves."

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