Grave-Robbing Allegations in Nashville in 1895
They Robbed Her Grave. So the Friends of Mary Lee Charged last Night. Medical People Are Suspected.
Suspicion Is Aroused Concerning the Burial, and Investigation Shows the Body To Have Been Stolen — Excitement over the Event at a Medical College last Night
There seemed to be no little excitement in the neighborhood of the University of Tennessee Medical College on Broad street last night. Several Deputy Sheriffs were searching the building for the body of Mary Lee, a young white girl, who died of scarlet fever Monday afternoon. The officers made two diligent searches of the college, besides they visited other medical institutions, but they found no trace of the girl’s remains.
Mary Lee was an orphan girl, 18 years old. For some time she was an inmate of the Tennessee Industrial School. Several weeks ago she contracted scarlet fever, and, although everything known to medical science was done to save her, she died at the institution Monday at 5 p.m. The school has one of the prettiest lots in Mt. Olivet, in which to bury its pupils, and it was there that Supt. W. C. Kilvington, of the institution, desired to bury Mary Lee. However, the three brothers and two sisters of teh deceased girl persuaded Prof. Kilvington to let them bury the remains, they saying that they wanted to place them beside those of their mother in Mill Creek Cemetery. After some hesitation, Prof. Kilvington acceded to the request. However, he saw that the dead girl was properly shrouded.
The Lees buried their sister beside her mother in Mill Creek Cemetery. A neat and impressive ceremony was observed at the grave. Yesterday morning one of the Lee brothers, his sister-in-law and Charles Valentine visited the cemetery. They noticed that Mary Lee’s grave had been disturbed since she was laid to rest, and they suspected that the body had been tampered with.
When the coffin was exhumed, to their horror and surprise, it was empty. It contained only a piece of the dead girl’s clothing, while it was stained here and there with spots of blood, showing that the ghouls had been rough in their work. The prints of buggy wheels were plainly discernible in the tall grass, and it was surmised how the body was carried off. The Lee brother stayed in that neighborhood for several hours attempting to get a clue as to who the grave robbers were, but nothing came of it.
About noon he came to the city to see if he could learn anything of the remains about the medical colleges. He went to the University of Tennessee Medical College. Here one of the painters who was working in the building told him that the body of a woman had been received at the college about 3 o’clock in the morning. He asked the janitor if such was the case, and the latter told him that the body of no woman had been received for over a week.
He said the remains of a man had been brought there that morning, and that the painter had probably taken them to be those of a woman. Lee was not satisfied, and so about 6 o’clock in the afternoon he went before Justice E. A. Dodd and swore out a warrant to have the college searched.
About 8 o’clock the paper was placed in the hands of Deputy Sheriffs Walter Sharp, Vernon Sharp, Sam Borum and Detective Sam Fryar, the latter of the National Detective Agency.
The officers searched the college from cellar to roof, but they found no trace of the girl’s body. Then they left to visit other colleges. They had been gone hardly twenty minutes when a telephone message was received at the jail by Night Jailer James Wilkes from a citizen residing near the college stating that he and several other gentlemen had seen the two janitors at the college take a body from the rear of the college and carry it inside directly after the officers left.
Night Jailer Wilkes, after some trouble, succeeded in locating the officers, and apprised them of the situation. The officers at once surrounded the hospital and kept guard until reinforcements arrived. When other officers came they were stationed around the building while the others, including an “American” reporter and Prof. Kilvington, searched every crack and crevice in the building from the cellar to the chimneys. They found a number of “stiffs,” but not the body of the girl. There were several bodies barreled, and several of them were exhumed, yet the one sought for was not found.
Dr. Duncan Eve, Dean of the Faculty of the college, was present during the second search. He told the janitors if the body was in the building to produce it at once. The man told them it was not there. Dr. Eve assured Prof. Kilvington that if the girl’s body was in the college he would turn it over to him without a moment’s delay.
Source: Nashville American, August 22, 1895, page 1
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