Unknown Italian’s Body Stolen from the City Hospital (1890)

The Deed Committed Monday Night and the Journal the First to Expose It — Loose Management

Last Friday afternoon there walked into the police court at the city hall two men, apparently of Italian extraction.

One was broken down in health and was evidently suffering considerable from his illness.  He proved to be a full-blooded Italian, and could hardly speak a word of English.  His companion could talk a little English, and from his talk it was learned that he wished to get his sick friend into the city hospital if such a thing were possible.

Dr. Chas. Cawood, the city physician, was called and, after an examination, he pronounced the Italian a very sick man.  The poor fellow was removed to the hospital and his companion who brought him to the city hall departed, no one knows where.

At the hospital, the man was made as comfortable as possible and, although suffering from a severe attack of typhoid fever, it was thought that he would recover.

Despite tender nursing and the most careful attention he expired about six o’clock Sunday evening surrounded by no one he knew or by any one who knew him.

Before his death, the attendants made every effort to learn his name, but he was unable to make himself understood.  When given nourishment of any kind, he would utter the word “good,” which was about the extent of his knowledge of the language.

Every article of his clothing was searched, but not an article could be found which told the unfortunate man’s name, or his former place of residence.

After his death he was prepared for burial and a coffin ordered.  Dr. Cawood visited the city hall that afternoon, and upon stating that the man possessed $7.50 in money, asked if a photograph of him should not be taken.  This, however, was not done.

Tuesday afternoon he was removed to the “dead house,” a frail little wooden structure connected with the city hospital, it being the intention to keep the body as long as possible with the hope that some one who knew him would turn up.

The body didn’t remain long in the “dead house” for some time during the night it was “snatched” so to speak and where it has gone no one knows.

The theft was first noticed yesterday morning by a colored attendant at the hospital.  The city physician did not reach the building until about midday yesterday, when the fact of the inhuman act was reported to him, and in turn sent to the city authorities some time later.  Arrests in the case are expected to-day.

A negro named Robert Metler, an attendant at the hospital, was seen at that place by a Journal reporter last night.

Robert stated that the corpse had been confined in a small house, known as the “dead house,” at the rear of the building proper and facing on State street.

“Monday evening about six o’clock,” said the negro, “Dr. Cawood came to the hospital and gave me a paper, a certificate of burial, to take to Mann & Johnson, undertaker.  I took the paper, but a yellow man then told me to take it to the man who made coffins and I returned to the hospital.”

“About nine o’clock two men came to the hospital, one off them a young man with a smooth face, the other an older gentleman with long dark brown whiskers, streaked with gray.”

[“]The old man told me to give him the paper and to tell Dr. Cawood that he would attend to the burial; that he was an Italian himself and would see that al was right.  I gave him the paper and both of them went down State street together toward the river.  That was the last I saw of them.”

“I got up this morning about daylight and went to the dead house as I usually did when there is a corpse there.  I found the back door open and the body gone.  The door had not been locked but was closed.  That’s all I know about it.”

The stealing of the body of this Italian is one of the boldest pieces of “body snatching” ever heard of.  The hospital authorities are certainly worth of censure for allowing such a crime to be committed.  The police should spare no pains in capturing the guilty parties and punish them to the fullest extent of the law.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, November 19, 1890, page 8

Leave a Reply