Allegations of Body-snatching Against TMC in 1890

Robbed a Grave.  Ghouls Steal the Body of Rufus Ferguson and Dispose of It to the Medical College.  It Is Afterwards Found and Identified — a Sensation Created — Professors Under Arrest

Hardly cold before the body was made ready for the dissecting table!

This was the fate that the remains of Rufus Ferguson met.  A few days ago Ferguson was found lying beside the dummy line tracks on Park street.  He was badly injured and unconscious.  He was taken to his home in Shieldstown and died on Sunday evening last.  A coroner’s jury said that Ferguson met death from injuries received by being struck with the dummy train.

Monday his remains were nterred [sic] in the county cemetery, and the matter was forgotten, save by the immediate friends and relatives of the deceased.  It was supposed that the body of the unfortunate young man was resting in peace.

On Wednesday last, the mother of Ferguson heard in some vague way that the graves in the county cemetery were being robbed, and the bodies stolen and carried away.  She at once imagined that the grave of her son had met with the same fate, and the poor woman sent immediately for her husband, and upon his arrival, told him of her fears.  The father treated the matter lightly, and attempted to dispel such thoughts from the mind of his wife.  But Mrs. Ferguson refused to be comforted, and insisted that an examination of the grave be made.

Accordingly, Mr. Ferguson, with several men, armed with picks and shovels, went to the grave of young Ferguson.  The burial was so recent that it was impossible to ascertain from outward appearances whether the grave had been tampered with or not.  The men went to work and in a short time exhumed the coffin and brought it to the surface.  Then the lid was unscrewed and the worst fears of the mother realized.

Nothing remained in the coffin but the funeral apparel in which young Ferguson was buried.

The news of this fact was at once conveyed to the home of the Fergusons, and the grief of the already stricken family was increased ten-fold.  Ferguson, the father of the young man, notified the police and gave them full particulars in regard to the affair.  The first impression was that the body had been stolen and disposed of to the Tennessee Medical College.  It was concluded that the first necessary step to take was to procure a search warrant and search the dissecting room of the college, with a view of ascertaining the result of the surmise made by the police.

Yesterday afternoon the search warrant was sworn out, and Lieutenant Jud Reeder went to the college and made the search in company with Ferguson.  The search was successful, for in this dissecting room was the body of the young man.  It was at that time undergoing a chemical process, prior to being placed in the pickling vat.  The body was identified by the elder Ferguson, and it was taken in charge by the police officers.

About four o’clock the undertakers wagon drove up to the college entrance with a coffin.  It was carried up stairs, and Ferguson’s remains placed therein.  By this time an immense crowd had assembled in the vicinity of the college, and the most intense excitement prevailed.

The remains were once more placed in the undertaker’s wagon and again removed to the cemetery, where they were interred once more.  After the remains had left the college, the crowd dispersed, but the excitement still prevailed, and the matter was the principal topic of conversation everywhere for the rest of the night.

After the body was found and identified, Ferguson caused warrants to be sworn out for a number of the faculty of the medical school.  They were served on Profs Cawood, dean of the college, C. M. Drake, Charles Cates, Wm. Bowen and C. E. Ristine.  The trial was set for today at 1 o’clock, and the Professors were allowed to go on their own recognizance.

The statutes of Tennessee define the matter of body snatching as a misdemeanor, fixing the fine at from $2 to $50.

The Tennessee Medical college, like every other institution of a like description in the country, are compelled to have subjects for dissection.  Grave robbing has gone on for many years and as long as medical colleges are in existence it is more than likely that it will continue.

The faculty of the college do not, as a usual thing, inquire into the facts of the case whenever a subject is offered them.  They probably did not do so in this case.

The matter has created considerable of a sensation for the time being.

The police officers who assisted Lieutenant Reeder in making the search for the body of young Ferguson report the fact that a number of other subjects, in various stages of dissection, were on the tables.  One of them was supposed to be the fallen woman who committed suicide at No. 216 Crozier street some time ago, and whose body was buried in the county cemetery.  These facts became street rumor during the evening, and intensified the excitement that already existed in the matter.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, January 10, 1890, page 1


Did Not Come Up

The Tennessee Medical college faculty, who were summoned to appear before Justice Dickson yesterday and tell what they knew about the finding of Rufus Ferguson’s body in the dissecting room, did not do so.  The matter was continued until ten o’clock this morning.

The excitement over the matter, which was quite intense Thursday, has nearly died out.  The whole affair will be completely forgotten in a short time.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, January 11, 1890, page 4


Waived Examination

The Professors of the medical college who were arrested a few days since were before Justice Dickson yesterday.  They waived examination and were bound over to the criminal court in the sum of $250.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, January 12, 1890, page 7


Not Body Snatching.  A Sensation Nipped in the Bud Yesterday.  The Body of Mrs. Ellen McGuire not at the Medical College — very Sensational

A week ago Sunday Mrs. Ellen McGuire died at her home on the corner of Clinch and Crozier street.  She was buried on Monday following in the county cemetery with proper ceremonies.

Sunday last, Doc. McGuire, a son of the deceased was informed that the grave of his mother had been tampered with.  He examined the grave and was convinced by unmistakable evidences that the statement was true.  Yesterday he obtained permission from the cemetery authorities to open the grave in order that he might see if the body was there.  He secured assistance and removed the earth until the coffin was reached.  The lid was taken off and to his horror he found that the body of his mother was gone.  Nothing remained except the burial clothes.

He at once came to the city and procured a search warrant in order that he might see if the body was at the medical college.  He secured the services of Capt. Jack Atkins, of the police force, and went to the dissecting room of the institute.  On a table the body of a woman was found.  It was much mutilated, only the head and face being intact.  The young man was not able to say positively that it was the body of his mother, but believed that it was.  He wished to be sure, however, and went for his sister and wife to review the remains.

By this time the reports of the case had become circulated on the streets and a number of persons collected about the doors of the college.  The sister and wife wife [sic] of McGuire finally came and with them a man who had known the deceased.  They all viewed the remains but could not fully identify them.  The man was positive that it was the body of the woman, so was the daughter-in-law, though she said she was unwilling to make an affidavit to that effect as she might be mistaken.

The daughter scarcely believed that it was the body of her mother.  With this condition of affairs the constable who had been called in in place of the police officer, refused to move the body, as the authorities of the school insisted that the body was not the one wanted.  They also forced the officer to give an indemnity bond, and told him that if he removed the body they would force him to prove that it was the body of Mrs. McGuire, at the same time assuring the parties interested that it was not.

Young McGuire finally went before Justice Dickson and asked that he allow the officer to hold the warrant until this morning before he returned it.  The ‘Squire told him the matter was in the hands of the officer.  The parties wanted a postponement in order to get others to see the remains.  About this time, one of the doctors asked if Mrs. McGuire had perfect teeth.  All of the relatives said positively that she had no front teeth, also that what teeth she had were good and had never been filled.  This was a clue to work on and all went bent to the medical college and examined the teeth of the body on the dissecting table.  It was found that the mouth was provided with a full set of teeth and that several had been filled.  Close examination also revealed that the hair was different from Mrs. McGuire.  The proof was positive that it was not her body.  The friends were so convinced beyond a possible doubt and dismissed the warrant and went home, after apologizing to the physicians for the trouble they had been given.

The body of Mrs. McGuire is not in the college nor has it been there.  The physicians know nothing about it.  Thus is the sensation nipped in the bud.  There were very startling reports on the streets during the afternoon and all erroneous.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, February 4, 1890, page 4


Search Warrant Issued.  Still Another Man Asks for One To Search the Tennessee Medical College Dissecting Room for His Wife’s Body

The following special was received at the Journal office last night:

“Morristown, Tenn., February 6. — On January 12th Mrs. J. Croxdale died at Knoxville and was brought for interment in the cemetery here.  A few days after some parties who were at the burying discovered indications that the grave had been tampered with, but nothing was done about it until this evening, when to make sure a party went and opened the grave and an empty coffin was found.  There is no clue here to the perpetrators of the outrage or to the exact time when it was done.  The impression is that parties from Knoxville followed the funeral party.”

Immediately upon its receipt a Journal reporter was detailed to investigate the matter.  Justice Mel Dickson was found.  He stated that a search warrant had been issued late last night to search the dissecting room of the Tennessee Medical college, Mr. Croxdale had asked for the warrant, which was issued to him.

The gentleman took the warrant, and, obtaining the assistance of an officer, proceeded to the medical college.  He obtained entrance to the dissecting room at the college about 12 o’clock but was not able to identify his wife’s body if there.  He is terribly wrought up about the affair, and grieve beyond measure.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, February 7, 1890, page 1


Medical Colleges

[Editorial] Our afternoon contemporary of yesterday had a well considered editorial on the Tennessee Medical college, which meets with the earnest approval of the Journal.

It is the settled policy of the college to use bodies for the dissecting room procured from a distance.  It is very near a persecution that every time a grave is robbed in this vicinity officers should go through the building looking for something that is not there.

People should remember that there are three other medical colleges in Tennessee, and several within shipping distance of this point, and residents of this locality will never find the former occupants of despoiled graves within the building occupied by the Tennessee Medical college.

Of course the feelings of the relatives of those whose graves are robbed are harrowed to a point well nigh distraction and the most hardened of men cannot but sympathize with them.  There is something to the lay mind inexpressibly shocking in the whole business; but we must have doctors and we cannot get them without colleges and colleges cannot do without anatomical subjects.

The legislature of this state should make a provision like that of other states and place at the disposal of the doctors the bodies of criminals and paupers.  When that is done no graves will be rifled and no outrages committed.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, February 8, 1890, page 2


About the Medical College

To the Journal:  I see by an interview in Saturday’s paper that some of the authorities of the Medical College does what is an unintentional injustice to do some of the magistrates of Knoxville.  It is in the statement, or complaint, about search warrants.

It is possibly not known to those gentlemen that some magistrates have steadily refused to issue warrants for the search of dead bodies.  The writer has never thought that he had any legal authority to issue search warrants in such cases and has therefore refused to do so.

He does not deem it necessary to have a court issue injunction to prevent him from transcending his power, nor does he believe any court will restrain another from the exercise of a legal discretionary power.

S. R. Maples

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, February 9, 1890, page 8


A Medical College Sensation

A lively sensation was created at Knoxville, Tenn., recently, when Doc McGuire, a mechanic, aided by the police, broke into the Tennessee Medical College dissecting rooms.  McGuire was in search of his mother’s body, and he found the remains of a woman thought to be her.  The faculty of the college was summoned for investigation, but, upon close examination, the body proved to be that of some one else, and now the public indignation is on the side of the college.

Source:  Huntsville Gazette (Alabama), February 15, 1890, page 1


Want It Stopped.  The Knoxville Medical College Object to Searches for Bodies

Knoxville, Feb. 8. — (Special.) — On account of the frequency with which warrants have been issued within the past few days permitting officers to forcibly enter the dissecting-rooms of the Tennessee Medical College in search of bodies alleged to have been stolen from graves in the vicinity.  J. Croxdale, of Morristown, obtaining three warrants and making three searches, the faculty this afternoon filed a bill of injunction in the Chancery Court to prevent any further investigation being made.  The bill sets forth that a body is not property and therefore a civil action does not lie in the case.  They are not charged with grave robbing, hence the forcible entrance is unlawful.

The following allegation is also made:  “Complainant is informed and believes and so charges that Justice Mel H. Dickson encouraged said Croxdale against his own judgment and opinion of facts to sue out the first warrant, and that he will continue to encourage others who may think the bodies of their deceased friends have been carried to complainant’s dissecting-rooms to sue out similar warrants to be issued by him, and thus continue to harass the complainant and students as often as occasion or his personal caprices may suggest to him, as he has threatened to injure complainant.”  The suit will probably be heard before Judge Logan, as Chancellor Gibson is incapacitated to sit by his being a member of the faculty.

Source:  Daily American, February 9, 1890, page 8


Chancery Court Docket

The following causes are set for trail in chancery court this week:


Tennessee Medical College vs. Doc McGuire, et al.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, December 7, 1890, page 15


Circuit Court.  Cases Tried Yesterday — Those Set for Trial this Week

Causes set for trial in chancery court this week:


…Tennessee Medical College vs. Doc McGuire…

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, June 14, 1891, page 11


Order of Business.  Causes Set for Trial this Week in Chancery Court

Causes set for trial in chancery court this week are as follows:


…Tennessee Medical College vs. Doc McGuire, et al….

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, June 14, 1891, page 11


Chancery Court.  The Numerous Causes Set for Hearing There this Week

The regular call of the trial docket will begin in the chancery court this morning at nine o’clock.  The business for the week will be as follows:


…Tennessee Medical College vs. Doc McGuire et al.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, May 31, 1892, page 4


Cases Set for Trial in Chancery Court next Week


…Tennessee medical college vs. Doc McGuire et al.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, June 1, 1894, page 4


Chancery Court.  Yesterday’s Decrees — Causes Set for Hearing To-Day

The following is a list of causes to be heard in the chancery court to-day:

Tennessee Medical College vs. Dr. [sic] McGuire, et al.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, January 29, 1895, page 3


Chancery Cases.  Cases that Have Been Set for Trial Before Chancellor Lindsay

The following cases are set for trial in chancery court to-morrow:

The Tennessee Medical College vs. Doc McGuire, et al.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, December 3, 1895, page 2

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