I love reading about cases where the bodysnatcher is that nervous, his mind plays tricks on him. This story, about three students making a raid on Penicuik churchyard, shows how the bravado can soon disappear when faced with the unexpected.
The three students who made their way from Edinburgh to Penicuik to steal a cadaver for their anatomy lecture were nervous to say the least. This was their first raid and they probably didn’t quite know what to expect. They’d all seen a dead body, even touched one in the dissecting rooms at University, but up till this point, they had never acquired a cadaver themselves.
With one of the students keeping guard outside the churchyard wall and holding onto the horse so that it didn’t wander off, the other two picked their way through the graveyard heading for the recently filled grave.
Having happily dug away at the loose earth and exhumed the body of a recently buried female parishioner, it wasn’t until the pair needed to carry the body to the gig that they realized they’d made a fatal error. They had forgotten to bring anything with them in which to carry the corpse.
Being slightly squeamish and not wishing to carry a naked woman over their shoulders, both students were adamant that neither of them could remove the burial shroud from the lady. There was nothing else for it other than carry the corpse to the gig as she was. If they were discovered and it was proved that they had stolen the burial clothes as well as the body, a prison sentence certainly awaited them.
So over the shoulder she went. Kept in position by a firm grip on the wrists. But unfortunately, cadavers can be a ‘dead weight’ and as the student was making his way back to the gig, he began to lose his grip on his prize. Slowly, the clammy form began to slither further down the student’s back until its feet were scraping along the road.
It was when the corpse’s knees started knocking against the back of the student’s legs that imaginations really began to fly. ‘She’s Alive, She’s Alive, My God She’s Alive’ shouted the horrified student, dropping the poor woman in the middle of the road and making his escape out of the village with his colleagues.
Now, this may have been the end of the tale had it not been for the husband who was walking past the graveyard the next day. The poor soul, on spotting the corpse of his dead wife, still fully dressed in her burial clothes, believed that she had indeed been buried alive and that had managed to escape from the coffin and had been in the process of returning home.