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Robbing the Dead
Isabela: Don't forget to loot the bodies!
Hawke: Do I ever?

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, despite cultural requirements to inter it with the body. (When the property is considered legitimately removed, see Personal Effects Reveal). 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, most of their allies' gear is technically considered property of their military organization, and they are not inclined to care about the dignity of the enemy. In a war setting, this is usually at least implied to be The Scrounger's primary source of supplies.

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 (wherever they aren't using Unusable Enemy Equipment, that is). 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.

This form of 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).

Do not confuse with Grave Robbing, which is the theft of the actual corpse, or a part of such.

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 And Inheritance Tropes. May be presaged by the thief with the comment, 'If You Die I Call Your Stuff'.

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

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     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.
  • Revy engages in this during the Nazi arc from Black Lagoon, which Rock takes exception to, leading to Revy's laying down of her nihilistic outlook to him (and her Ax-Crazy rampage later aboard their ship).
  • Attack on Titan has a few examples that stand out.
    • In an anime-only sequence, Jean's equipment jams in the middle of battle and leaves him stranded on the ground. He ends up having to steal the equipment from a classmate's mangled body, and initially hesitates before accepting he's got no other choice.
    • Though the exact circumstances remain a mystery, Annie Leonhart presents the equipment of a deceased comrade in order to cover up a crime. Whether said comrade was dead before or after the equipment was stolen is still unknown.
    • Bertolt Hoover steals the equipment off a corpse after eating the unfortunate soldier in Titan form.

     Comic Books 
  • In the Sin City story "The Big Fat Kill," Dwight sifts through Jackie Boy's wallet after the latter and his buddies are killed by Miho and the girls of Old Town. He finds a wad of cash (which he puts in his own pocket)...and Jack's police badge, which sets off an unholy shitstorm that makes up the rest of the story.

     Film 
  • The main characters in Plunkett And Macleane meet when James MacLeane attempts to take a ruby from a buried thief in the cemetery. 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 (2009), Scrooge takes the coins right off the eyes of Marley's corpse, muttering, "Tuppence is tuppence", establishing his character as a miser, and his lack of respect for the dead in general and his old partner in particular.
  • At the end of National Lampoons Vegas Vacation, Clark Griswold has lost a significant amount of money gambling. In a last-ditch effort to recoup his losses, he buys a Keno ticket. As he waits for the results, he befriends a lonely old man who's spent the last few years trying to win at Keno. When the numbers are announced, the old man turns out to be the winner... but then he suffers a heart attack. Clark quickly grabs the ticket. After the old man told him to take the money with his last breath.
  • The Boondock Saints: The Brothers McManus are forced to kill a pair of Russian mobsters in self defense. Immediately after, Murphy loots their bodies, taking their guns and money, before taking Connor to a hospital. They fence the stolen guns and use the proceeds to purchase their Chekhov's Armory.

     Literature 
  • The Radix: Downplayed. One of the asylum's guards is eating a cake he bought for two bucks since someone ordered it, but never picked it up. On the cake's frosting there are words: "Happy Ninety-first Birthday Uncle Fred". Guard's only comment is "His loss is my gain". Which makes said guard's decapitation by Borgias a pathetic kind of Karmic Death.
  • 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. He learned the 'trade' from his own (supposed) father who once stayed sober long enough to make him some toy soldiers with little boots to steal.
    • One of the explorers listed in The Discworld Mapp was a member of the Royal Sto Plains Riflers, famed for their bravery in battle - entirely with a view to ensuring there were plenty of boots and gold teeth to collect afterwards. Some of them entered battle armed with nothing except shoehorns and pliers.
  • 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 effects 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.
  • Moon Crash Series: 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 Viking expys of the Iron Islands also a phrase, "paying the iron price", which refers to taking something from an enemy they killed - therefore, they paid for it with the iron of a sword, as opposed to "paying the gold price", which is paying with coins.
  • 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.
  • Referenced explicitly in Mary-Grant Bruce's "Jim And Wally" (one in her series of Billabong Books) set during WW1 when Walter (Wally) Meadows is warned off this practice, somewhat ironically for practical rather than ethical reasons:
    "What's this game of yours I hear about? - crawling round on No-Man's Land at night, and collecting little souvenirs? The souvenir you'll certainly collect will come from a machine-gun."
  • The topic of The Hound by HPLovecraft: two self-described ghouls remove an amulet from an infamous grave. The amulet's owner is less than happy about this.
  • In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, by the time after World War III when the radioactivity in the Los Angeles Basin has dwindled to safe levels, the After the End civilization is busy mining clothes and other things from people's graves.
  • Several heroes of the sagas do this to obtain a sword. Quite often the corpse will get up and try to get their swords back.
  • Some opportunists in the first Left Behind book have been doing this to the graves of those who have been resurrected in the Rapture.
  • In Reamde, a Cambridge professor of Medieval literature is hired to create the backstory of an MMO video game. Not a gamer, he's shocked to learn that looting corpses is a major game mechanic.

     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 

    Podcasts 

     Tabletop Games 
  • Games that center around the Dungeon Crawl tend to involve breaking into tombs, descrating graves, and robbing people (or beasts, blobs, creeping fungus, whatever) that you just killed. Tends to create a subconscious mindset that persists even when the group switches to other genres in which robbing corpses is taboo or illegal, leading to unexpected complications.
  • Call of Cthulhu. In several adventures ghouls are noted as stealing grave jewelry and other valuables buried with the dead.
    • In Lovecraft's own stories they are noted to steal the gravestones themselves to use as weapons or decoration.
  • In Exalted, the returning Solar Exalted can usually only acquire orichalcum artifacts (the kind designed for Solars) by taking them from the tombs of the ancient Solars. Whether this is theft depends on whether you consider the new Solars to be the reincarnations or heirs of the ancient Solars whose exaltations they carry, or if the fact that their other two souls are separate makes them different people. Considering that accurate knowledge of Celestial Exaltation has been suppressed for over a millennium, Second Age Solars are likely to take their past life memories at face value.

     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

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.
  • Looting corpses for money, food or ADAM is practically a necessity in the BioShock franchise. They even formalized the process in the first two games with the Little Sisters, who harvest ADAM from dead bodies and then process it using implanted sea slugs in their stomachs.
    • In BioShock Infinite, Booker may encounter a pair of Vox Populi thugs pulling gold teeth from an exhumed corpse.

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 requires you to go grave-robbing in parts of the Original Campaign, and many community-made modules feature similar themes.
  • 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).
  • In one mission in Dragon Age II you track down a dwarven merchant and kill the mercenaries he hired. If you decide to spare him, the guy decides to start his new life away from Kirkwall by looting his now-dead mercenaries' corpses. His comments are comedy gold. The frequency of this trope in role playing games is also lampshaded repeatedly throughout the game.
  • Final Fantasy VI sends you into Daryl's Tomb to recover her airship.
  • A game mechanic in both Knights of the Old Republic games, where instead of getting a list of loot, you have to manually search the remains of the person, droid, or creature you just killed. It's lampshaded by Kreia in the second when the first conversation with the Jedi Exile starts in a morgue, where the Exile is searching the corpses for clues and/or useful items.
  • In Fallout 3, you can retrieve the keys of dead merchants and loot their shop inventories. Notably the brahmin caravans, who are easily curbstomped by high-level monsters while traveling the wastes, and Panada from the Point Lookout DLC, whose shop is out in the open and vulnerable to attack by tribals or smugglers.
  • Mass Effect: you spend a lot of time pilfering tech upgrades, credits, medigel, heat sinks and the like from either safes, computers, medical supply points and datapads left behind by the dead, or from the dead themselves. Becomes hilarious when you stumble on some looters in Mass Effect 2 during a plague that doesn't affect humans, and can say, with a completely straight face and no hint of irony, that you disapprove of what they're doing.

Stealth-Based Game
  • Garret in Thief usually robs the living, but he's not above scouring crypts and graves if it's necessary. In Thief grave robbing can be extremely dangerous, thanks to the undead that tend to inhabit them.

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.

Wide Open Sandbox
  • Any dead body in Red Dead Redemption can be searched for supplies, usually ammunition, money, or alcohol. Depending on John's Karma Meter, he may jokingly pay his respects, or insult the person he killed.

     Webcomics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, Halley loots Zz'dtri's corpse. Oddly enough, given the RPG Mechanics Verse, this trope does not appear more often, though given the amount of money Halley acquires in the dungeon crawl, she may have done it off-stage.

     Western Animation 
  • In the Futurama episode "Luck Of The Fryrish", the cast goes to a graveyard intending to steal a seven leaf clover that belonged to Fry's nephew, and which Fry's brother had stolen from him from his grave. Meanwhile, Bender goes off on his own, returning with this line:
  • On Adventure Time, Finn needs to find princess hair to save his best friend from an evil, balding witch. He winds up in a cemetery and finds a grave belonging to "Princess Beautiful," whom he digs up.
    "Hey, that's perfect! And... sort of macabre... oh well."
  • On Sponge Bob Square Pants, Mr. Krabs goes to the cemetery to dig up a grave to retrieve a valuable hat. The skeletons of the dead rise from the ground and fight him to get the hat back.
    Am I really going to defile a grave for money? Of course I am!
  • An odd variation in The Simpsons. Lisa's discovered evidence that suggest that Jebediah Springfield, the founder of Springfield, was actually a pirate and the missing link was a silver tongue. When his grave was opened up, there was no tongue, humiliating Lisa. However, she confronted the curator of the museum dedicated to Jebediah, who confessed to stealing the tongue while everyone was distracted, wanting to preserve Springfield's history and let his past life just fade away.

     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).


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