Monday, October 1, 2018

The Nefarious Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Corpse - HISTORY

In 1876 a two bit Irish gangster in Chicago named “Big Jim” Kennally was certainly in a bind.  His gang’s most profitable venture was in counterfeiting, but recently their master engraver, Benjamin Boyd, had been caught and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Without Boyd, his gang would be out of the counterfeiting business.  To get his man back Kennally came up with a ransoming scheme that was the one of the weirdest kidnapping schemes in the history of kidnapping.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois can be found the final resting place of the Lincoln family.  There the corpse of Abraham Lincoln rested within the vaults of the large Lincoln family mausoleum.  The cemetery had no security, no local police patrols, and the groundskeeper did not live on the premises.  In fact Oak Ridge Cemetery was located two miles outside of Springfield in a very secluded area.  Kennally’s scheme was to break into the Lincoln vault and steal Lincoln’s corpse.  After burying the body in a secret location Kennally intended to use Lincoln as a bargaining chip for the release of Boyd, as well as a $200,000 cash ransom.

Kennally recruited two of his gang members, Terrence Mullen and Jack Hughes, as well as two outsiders, Lewis Swegels, who was a professional grave robber, and Billy Brown, who was the getaway driver.  On the night of November 7th, 1876 the gang broke into the Lincoln mausoleum to steal Lincoln's corpse.  The only thing locking the door to the mausoleum was a padlock, however none had any experience picking locks, so they cut open the lock with a file.  Once in the tomb they pried open Lincoln’s marble sarcophagus.  The thieves attached ropes to Lincoln’s coffin, but found that they could not lift the 500 pound coffin.  Not only was the coffin made of cedar, but was lined with lead, a very heavy metal which was thought to preserve the corpse.  As the befuddled thieves considered their options, Secret Service agents approached the tomb.

Little did the thieves realize, the outside man and graverobber, Lewis Swegels, was really a paid informant of the Secret Service.  Beforehand he had notified the local Secret Service office of the planned body snatching.  As the agents approached, one of the officers pistols accidentally discharged, causing the group of agents to take cover in preparation for a gun battle.  This gave Jim Kennally and his gang enough time to make a getaway.  The Secret Service, however, was led to their location in Chicago by Swegels, where they were all apprehended.  All faced light charges, as there was few laws dealing with graverobbery at the time.

After the attempt to steal Lincoln’s corpse an organization called The Lincoln Guard of Honor was formed to protect the body.  The coffin was kept in a secret location, first hidden under a pile of lumber, then buried under the mausoleum itself.  Finally in 1900 the Lincoln tomb underwent a restoration and renovation project.  In 1901 Lincoln and his family were re-interred in the tomb.  To ensure that no one could steal his corpse again, Lincoln’s coffin was placed ten feet in the ground, surrounded by a steal cage, then encased a several tons of concrete.  Today Lincoln’s corpse still rests peacefully at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. 

Story via USNews:

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