Where’s Charlie? The 1977 Grave-Robbing Of Hollywood Legend Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin [WikiMedia Commons]

In life, comedian, actor, and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin charmed the entire human race with his baggy-pantsed, bowler-hatted, funny-mustached persona, “The Little Tramp.”

In death, a couple of mooks thought Charlie’s body might be worth a whole bunch of money, so they broke into his grave in Switzerland and stole it on March 2, 1978.

After a storied existence of wondrous achievements (e.g. — creating iconic screen classics and largely inventing Hollywood) and no small amount of controversy (e.g.— getting banned from the U.S. during the Red Scare and regularly wagging his signature walking stick at very young women), Charlie Chaplin died at age 88 on Christmas Day, 1977.

Two months later, Roman Wardas, 24, of Poland, and his pal Gantscho Ganev, 38, of Bulgaria, traded in their grease-monkey wrenches for grave-robbing tools. In the dead of night, the pair removed Chaplin’s remains from his resting place in the Swiss village of Corsier-sur-Vevey.

Related: The Ghoulish and Unforgettable Crimes Of Murderer and Grave-Robber Ed Gein

At the time, Charlie Chaplin remained one of the most famous and beloved figures on the planet. International pressure to catch the ghouls was enormous, so this could be no Keystone Cops operation.

While the heat came down, Wardas contacted Charlie’s fourth wife, Oona Chaplin, and demanded $600,000 for the return of the body (Charlie and Oona had married back in 1943, when he was 54 and she was 18).

After Oona refused, saying her late husband would find such a notion “ridiculous,” the body snatcher threatened the two youngest of the couple’s eight children.

Related: Murder and Grave Robbing on Rise in China for “Ghost Weddings”

Charlie Chaplin in 1918 [Wikimedia Commons]

Charlie Chaplin in 1918 [Wikimedia Commons]

Police monitored 200 phone booths in the area surrounding Oona Chaplin’s home. Five weeks later, they caught Wardas making ransom calls. He and Ganev quickly confessed and led officers to a cornfield about 10 miles from the cemetery. Charlie’s body was there, still in its coffin.

Wardas turned out to be the brains of the operation. He subsequently got to put his body to use while serving a term of four and a half years hard labor. Ganev, identified mainly as “the muscle,” got off with an 18-month suspended sentence.

Related: Drunk Guy Caught Digging Up Grave of Dad Buried 30 Years Ago Because He Wants Him to “Go to Heaven”

The Chaplins reinterred Charlie’s remains and covered the grave with heavy concrete to discourage any future potential big thinkers on the order of Wardas and Ganev. Through a spokesman, Oona said, “The family is very happy and relieved that this ordeal is over.”

And, with that, once again, Charlie Chaplin did his trademark Little Tramp walk into the sunset … this time (or at least so far) for eternity.

Read more:
Smithsonian
History
BBC
Mental Floss
Independent

Main photo: Charlie Chaplin [WikiMedia Commons]

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