Robbing the Dead
Stealing personal items from a corpse.


(permanent link) added: 2012-11-20 17:35:55 sponsor: Generality (last reply: 2012-12-09 20:37:26)

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"What's the problem? He's not using it anymore."
-- The most common defense of this trope.

The taking of property from a grave, tomb, or the person of an actual corpse itself. While objectively practical, this is generally frowned on because 1) it's unsanitary, and 2) it's considered extremely disrespectful in most cultures. And it's an easy way to set off an Indian Burial Ground.

Most often the theft happens because the property in question has a great value, or the thief has great need of it. As such, the act occurs most under dramatic circumstances, making it a premium storytelling device.

People in an emergency situation, especially an apocalypse scenario, will procure what they need to survive wherever they can, and while the issue of morality may arise, it typically loses to pragmatism. Similarly, it's very common for soldiers to take equipment, both from the enemy dead and their own. This is typically accepted, as they need the equipment and are not inclined to care about the dignity of the enemy.

In fact, this trope perhaps crops up most frequently in video games and tabletop games, where it is a reliable way to reload on ammunition and acquire new weapons. Other games simplify the issue by having enemies spontaneously produce useful items upon death.

However, specifically killing someone in order to take their property is a very different kettle of fish, falling rather under the more mundane heading of aggravated robbery.

Grave-robbery is also in the purview of an Adventure Archaeologist, who will justify his deeds with the claim that It Belongs in a Museum (This position is undergoing increasing scrutiny at present, with many cultures decrying what they see as both the desecration of their ancestors and the theft of their history).

Can easily overlap with Creepy Souvenir. If the item is bequeathed by the deceased, see Take Up My Sword or I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin, or more generally, Will. May be presaged by the thief with the comment, 'If You Die I Call Your Stuff'. If it's the actual corpse (or a piece thereof) that's taken, that's Grave Robbing.

For video game examples, see also: Kleptomaniac Hero, In Working Order; contrast Unusable Enemy Equipment.

Examples:

Note: This will be folderised upon launch

Anime and Manga
  • Defied in Berserk: Guts has just killed a bunch of thieves just paid off by Griffith (so they can't bear witness) and is about to take back the gold when Griffith stops him.

Comic Books
  • In Sin City, Dwight sifts through Jackie Boy's wallet after the latter was killed by Miho. He finds a wad of cash (which he puts in his own pocket)... And Jack's police badge.

Film
  • The main characters in Plunkett And Macleane meet when James Macleane attempts to take a ruby from a buried thief in the cemetary. However, Will Plunkett was already waiting and takes it for himself at gunpoint.
  • Mr. Sardonicus gained his trademark Frozen Face when he dug up his father's grave for the Lottery Ticket that was left in his pocket and the sight of his father's smiling corpse frightened him to no end.
  • The Wild Bunch opens with a shootout that leaves a lot of bandits, law enforcement, and civilians dead. After the dust settles, surviving bandits and bounty hunters emerge out of hiding and take anything valuable that the corpses may have had on them, including gold teeth. This is the first indication that this Western is Darker and Edgier.
  • Young Frankenstein begins with the old Baron von Frankenstein's coffin being opened and a ledger containing his will taken from the skeleton, which resists momentarily.
  • At the beginning of Disney's A Christmas Carol, Scrooge takes the coins right off the eyes of Marley's corpse, muttering, "Tuppence is tuppence."

Literature
  • On the Discworld, Nobby Nobbs was discharged from Ankh-Morpork's army because he spent all his time scrounging the dead of either side, mostly for boots.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, gathering equipment and money from their own dead is one of the duties of the Bridgmen, and considered the most unpleasant, both because it's disgusting and because the area where the bodies wash up is very dangerous. Later, Kaladin has the idea of taking the armor from the enemy soldiers, which seems to be an actual part of their body, not for protection but because the desecration pisses them off, allowing the armored person to act as a decoy.
  • Scrooge is shown this in the Bad Future of A Christmas Carol, with several people including his chambermaid taking the affects from his still-cooling body and pawning them off. This serves as another sign of his being unloved and driving him toward reform.
  • In Les MisÚrables (book and musical), this is what Thenardier's participation amounted to in the Napoleonic Wars, and he resumes this occupation during the day-long July Revolution.
  • In Remnants, some characters feel a bit off about robbing the bodies of Mother's artificial constructs, despite the fact that they need the supplies and the "victims" were pretty much mindless automatons only meant to imitate real people.
  • In the dead and the gone, Alex supports his family by stealing valuables off corpses and trading them to Harvey for food.
  • Harry Potter: Voldemort steals the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's tomb in the last book of the series. This backfires epically.
    • And Bill Weasley works as a cursebreaker for Gringott's tomb raiding expeditions in Egypt.
  • In Andre Norton's Witchworld, taking a weapon from a tomb was considered acceptable in some cultures. One just had to ask the dead corpse for it. No corpse has so far risen to smite those who did it.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story Black Colossus a thief among thieves is trying for the great treasure.
    Many a thief sought to gain the treasure which fables said lay heaped about the moldering bones inside the dome. And many a thief died at the door of the tomb, and many another was harried by monstrous dreams to die at last with the froth of madness on his lips.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire soldiers and even common folk are routinely looted for supplies. Most notably The Second Sons, a mercenary army, has at least two wagons full of weapons and armor scavenged from battlefield corpses.
  • The Art of War Sun Tzu advocates stealing from the dead bodies of enemy soldiers, as this would allow an army to not need to carry as much in weaponry and food.
  • In Animorphs, one Andalite warrior was discharged because he was selling organs from fallen comrades (Ax notes this is forbidden by the Andalite's code because it might encourage the less patient to hasten their comrade's death).

Live-Action TV
  • In the Farscape episode "Taking the Stone", Rygel steals a particularly large stash of goods found in a tomb on an ancient royal burial planet--and soon regrets it.
  • On Copper, the police officers routinely loot the dead bodies they are sent to investigate. The main characters limit themselves to taking the possessions of criminals they kill in the line of duty. Sgt. Byrnes on the other hand, prefers to personally 'investigate' the death of any person without living relatives and steal anything valuable he finds in their homes. This finally catches up to him when he eats the cake belonging to a dead dentist and fails to realize that the cake was laced with arsenic.
  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Dead Man's Shoes". A derelict steals a pair of shoes from a corpse. The shoes give him the personality of the dead man while he's wearing them.
  • On Pushing Daisies, Dwight Dixon robs Chuck's father's grave in order to get his gold pocketwatch.
    • In the first season episodes "Pie-lette" and "The Fun in Funeral" has the Schatz brothers, who own a funeral home, and regularly steal valuables from corpses.

Music

Real Life
  • Ancient Egyptian pharaohs were buried with huge wealth, in the belief that these things would go to the afterlife with them. The artifacts are now the main source of Egyptian archaeological information, but most of the tombs were robbed long before any scientist got there.
  • Dentures used to be made using, among other things, the teeth of dead people. After the battle of Waterloo, so many teeth were harvested that for some time dentures were known as "Waterloo teeth".
  • Ancient Greeks had no qualms about looting dead and this was considered a normal part of war; the Spartans had captured shields in the temple of Artemis in Sparta (see also Battle Trophy).

Tabletop Games
  • Call of Cthulhu. In several adventures ghouls are noted as stealing grave jewelry and other valuables buried with the dead.

Western Animation

Video Games

Action
  • Assassin's Creed games from II onwards allow you to rob any guards you kill of money, knives, crossbow bolts, medicine and other items that one would need.

Adventure
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, Guybrush must dig up the Weenie Hut owner to get the key to his shack. However, he does get the corpse's permission first...
  • You need to dig up several graves in King's Quest IV, although you return the items to ghosts to which they belong so it's not exactly stealing.
  • Averted in Legend of the Crystal Skull, in which the clues Nancy collects and the eponymous crystal skull are adjacent to various tombs and crypts, but never actually inside the coffins themselves. The one clue she has to dig for isn't in a grave, although it does lie within the cemetery grounds.

Action Adventure
  • Quite a few Zelda games have Link go into tombs or graves to find items. One of the better known times is in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, when he goes into the former keeper of the Graveyard's tomb and races the ghost to get the hookshot (on the other hand, the ghost willingly hands it over, so does that count?) A more obvious example in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask would be on the Third Day, when the keeper of that graveyard breaks into the Royal Family tomb and not only openly admits to Link that he is looking for treasure hidden there, he asks Link to help him.
  • Tingle too has to steal from the dead in Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland.

Construction and Management
  • Minecraft lets you rob treasure from pyramids in the desert. Each pyramid can contain things like gold, iron, diamonds, bones, and rotten flesh, but they're also guarded by TNT traps that trigger if you step on the pressure plate. Doing so will destroy all the treasure and kill you.

First-Person Shooter
  • Can be done in Kingpin: Life of Crime, and is good for "earning" cash... Just take it from your dead foes!
  • Castle Wolfenstein. You can take various items from the bodies of guards you've killed. Which items are available depends on the game.
  • In Dishonored, you have the ability to loot money, grenades, crossbow bolts, and bullets of of any corpse you kill or find.
  • Garret in Thief usually robs the living, but he's not above scouring crypts and graves if it's necessary. Of course, in Thief grave robbing can be extremely dangerous, thanks to the undead that tend to inhabit them.

MMO
  • One early quest in Kingdom of Loathing requires you to rob the grave of a deceased legendary wizard so you can get the key to his tower. Humorously, before you can rob his grave, you have to win a grave robbing shovel from another enemy in the area called a grave rober (yes, it's supposed to be spelled like that, the area in question is the Misspelled Cemetary).

Roguelike
  • Diablo and sequels, which allow you to loot crypts, coffins, urns, graves, piles of bones, and corpses both fresh and old.
  • NetHack allows you to rob graves. This has a chance of allowing you to obtain gold and items. This being NetHack, you're just as likely to find an irate mummy or zombie. Grave robbing also has the potential to carry an alignment penalty.

RPG
  • Planescape: Torment has an entire guild of people known as the Collectors whose job is to find dead bodies and turn them in to the Dustmen, a local sect that uses the corpses as zombie laborers. Of course, the Collectors almost always strip the bodies of everything valuable first.
  • Neverwinter Nights
  • In The Elder Scrolls, it's pretty common for players to take items from their fallen enemies or from burial urns in old caves, but in Skyrim there's one mission where an NPC will actually call you out on it: you're helping him clear a necromancer from his family's tomb, and when you take something, he'll protest, but then relent and say that you can keep what you took as long as you help him defeat the necromancer.
    • There's also a mission in the Skyrim expansion Dawnguard where a ghost accompanies the player in a dungeon. When you find her body, she suggests that you take a look at her journal for more information, but if you take her armor as well, she will complain and ask you to let her have her dignity.
  • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance justifies Unusable Enemy Equipment during one scene where Token Evil Teammate Shinon starts looting some dead soldiers, but Ike stops him.
  • Early in Tales of Phantasia, it's possible to loot some treasure from mausoleum coffins, but not without a fight with undead first.
  • In Baten Kaitos, after the first Boss Battle/tutorial, Kalas rummages through the belongings of the Mysterious Waif's friends (who had just been slain by the boss). She takes it as well as you'd expect. It's there to establish his status as an Anti-Hero (he claims to only have rescued her because he wanted to sell the beast's horns).

Turn-Based Strategy
  • Egyptian Burial Tombs in Civilization V increase the amount of money plundered if the city is captured, presumably because of grave robbing.
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