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Did Grave Robbers Hold Charlie Chaplin’s Remains for Ransom?

A bizarre crime occurred 43 years ago in the quiet town of Corsier-sur-Vevey, by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It involved one of the most iconic comics of all time – Charlie Chaplin.

Grave robbers dug up Charlie Chaplin’s body for ransom in 1978. Oona, Chaplin’s widow, didn’t pay. She claimed that Chaplin would have thought it was a crazy idea. The robbers were caught after 2+ months of futile attempts.

How Did the Crime Take Place?

Oona Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s widow and previously fourth wife, received a phone call from the local police of their quiet town by Geneva Lake. The call was about Chaplin, who was, at this time, three months dead. “They said, look, somebody dug up the grave, and he’s gone,” recounted Eugene, Chaplin’s son with Oona. (Source: Smithsonian)

Soon after, the thieves started calling Oona’s home. They were holding Chaplin’s corpse on ransom. The thieves were demanding roughly $600,000 for the return of Chaplin’s body. They even threatened to hurt Chaplin’s children should their demands not be met. “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous,” Oona referring to the ransom demands. (Source: Mental Floss)

The ransom demand went on for almost three months. But in May, the police finally captured the two body snatchers Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev. The local authorities tapped Oona’s phone and set up a sting operation using a lot of workforce to monitor around 200 phone booths in the area. When the call came in, it was traced back to the exact phone booth Roman, and Gantscho used.

The two criminals soon brought the police to a cornfield only about a mile away from Oona’s home and divulged Chaplin’s corpse. They were sentenced for their crimes, and Chaplin was reburied in the same plot but now reinforced with thick concrete. (Source: History)

Who is Charles “Charlie” Chaplin?

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on April 15, 1889, to Lily Harley and Charles Chaplin Sr. Charles was born into show business, as both of his parents were quite known entertainers in London, England. Charles and his brother Sydney started early in the entertainment industry. They had to make a living for themselves after their father’s demise and their mother’s subsequent illness at such an early age. (Source: Charlie Chaplin)

Chaplin’s career started when he joined The Eight Lancashire Lads, and when he was twelve, he was already part of the stage show Sherlock Holmes. Soon after, Chaplin found himself in the United States as a comedian with the Fred Karno Repertoire Company. Chaplin traveled to the US in 1910 and won the American audience with his sketch “A Night in an English Hall.” In 1912, Chaplin was offered to be part of a motion picture.

In 1913, Chaplin had shown his immense talent as an actor so much that movie producers approached him. In the years up to 1957, Chaplin starred in many movies that cemented his name and face in entertainment history. He starred, directed, and produced several films in his career. (Source: Charlie Chaplin)

As a famous and charismatic person, women were attracted to him. In his life, Chaplin married four times, starting with Mildred Harris from 1918 to 1920, Lillita McMurray from 1924 to 1926, Paulette Goodard from the early 1930s to 1942, and finally to Oona O’Neill from 1943 up to Chaplin’s death on the Christmas of 1977. (Source: Biography)

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