The mysterious disappearance of a grave robber who literally stole the clothes off of people’s backs.
When George Clawson dug up his brother Moroni’s body a week after it had been buried in a Salt Lake’s cemetery, he made the startling discovery that Moroni’s clothes had been stolen. Immediately law enforcement officers suspected a local grave digger named Jean Baptiste had taken the clothes. When the police showed up at Baptiste’s home they found a neat stack of stolen burial clothes. In all, the grave digger was thought to have robbed close to 300 graves.
Baptiste was immediately arrested and thrown into jail, but had to be moved when threats of a lynching started to surface. The alleged grave robber was exiled to Fremont Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, where authorities imagined the unpopular prisoner would be safe. But when a group of cattlemen arrived on the island only three weeks after Baptiste had been shipped there, they found no sign of him other than a dead cow whose hide had been tanned and some wood torn off a shed. Putting two and two together, legal authorities thought Baptiste had taken the wood in order to cobble together a makeshift raft and try to get off the island.
In the end, the grave robber was never found, though, there is speculation that he had been able to make it to the mouth of the Jordan River where he died of drowning.
Image: Ghost and Grave Robber. An enraged ghost, rising from the earth with a thighbone in each hand, wards off a grave robber. Engraving by George Cruikshank, c. 1830. Courtesy of The Dead History.
See the March 1995 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission. The History Blazer can be found on the Utah History Suite CD available from the Utah State Historical Society. Also see Linda Sillitoe, A History of Salt Lake County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Salt Lake County Commission, 1996), 34.