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Grave Robbing

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"He's just resting, waiting for a new life to come."

A grave robber digs up a grave or breaks into a crypt or mausoleum to steal the corpse inside, whether it be for medical research, profit by selling the body to medical researchers (which used to be done by shady professions called Bodysnatchers or Resurrectionists), resurrection of the dead, or... whatever reason. In some situations, this can also include vandalism of the corpse if the robber is trying to make a statement or just feels especially spiteful.

This practice is generally frowned upon, to the point that most modern archaeologists have been avoiding burial sites for some time now. Not only is desecrating someone's body after death considered extremely offensive in the vast majority of cultures, it's also pretty gross. Either way, stealing a body from the grave and any items buried with it still counts as theft and is therefore illegal.

This is often part of The Igor's job description.

Do not confuse with Robbing the Dead, which is the taking of personal belongings from a corpse. It should be noted, however, that the term "grave robbing" is sometimes used to refer to both tropes.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and its adaptation in Dragon Ball Super: Dr. Hedo served a prison sentence for stealing bodies from graves to experiment on them.
  • In Hollow Fields, the story's namesake school has an entire class dedicated to the subject.
  • Naruto:
    • How exactly did Tobi get all those Sharingan eyes? And then he's actually shown stealing Nagato's eyes, from his tomb.
    • And then Kabuto doesn't even pretend that he got the bodies and DNA samples that he uses for Edo Tensei, without doing so. He even states "I mean, I was basically grave robbing", and with a smile, no less.
  • One Piece:
    • It's implied that in order to get the corpses to make the zombies on Thriller Bark, Gecko Moria and his minions have indulged in this. It's all but assured this was how he obtained the corpse of the legendary samurai Ryuuma, stealing it and his sword from his grave in the Wano Country.
    • Also in the Wano Country, in order to obtain weapons for the resistance against Kaido, the samurai Kawamatsu would steal swords that were buried with their samurai in graveyards. After he was captured by Kaido's forces, a friendly fox-dog continued his efforts.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Dark Bakura's past self in Ancient Egypt. Some justification in that his start was robbing from the evil kings who sacrifice his village for dark magic. Besides, he was also the self-pronounced "Thief King", and generally believed that it was within his right to steal whatever he wanted.

    Comic Books 
  • Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done: The True Crime graphic novel naturally involves a good deal of this, emphasizing that we still don't know exactly how many bodies Gein stole from their graves to make his Genuine Human Hide furniture and other art projects. The comic also recounts (albeit with a grain of salt) the rumour that Werner Herzog once attempted to dig up the grave of Gein's mother to finally settle the question of whether Ed had already done so, but aborted the plan after his partner in crime didn't show up.
  • EC Comics: In the story "Death Suited Him!" (Tales from the Crypt #21), a man robs the grave of the man whose death he made look like an accident so he could marry his widow in the same tuxedo and is poisoned to death by the embalming fluid.
  • The Goon: The Zombie Priest, an evil necromancer, is in constant need of fresh bodies to recruit into his gang. To this end, he hires a broke gravedigger named Houstus Graves to supply him with the recently deceased. The evil of Houstus' involvement in this scheme corrupts his wife's pregnancy, killing her and causing their twin sons to grow up to be a pair of Sackhead Slashers. There's also the Creepy Good character The Buzzard, a sort of "reverse zombie" — a living man who must feed on the flesh of the dead. He's been known to break into the occasional grave for a snack.
  • Judge Dredd: Inverted when a very old widower wants to bury his beloved wife instead of sending her to Resyk, but doesn't have enough credits to pay for a plot. He breaks into the graveyard to bury her body, but is arrested by Dredd, who notes he's not even sure if they have a law for itnote . He does charge him with trespassing.
  • Martian Manhunter: In one story, J'onn is given the case of a presumed mass murderer in his role as police detective John Jones. A man has been found with his apartment full of dead bodies! J'onn pretty quickly figures out he's a grave robber, not a murderer. Among other things, all the corpses were obviously prepared for burial (wearing formal clothing and makeup).
  • In the '70s, DC Comics had a short-lived comic called Plop!, in which a crew of ghoulish-looking folks present stories, each with a Karmic Twist Ending. In one, a kindly old man is actually a secret grave robber who visits funerals only to inventory the jewelry of the deceased. But when the doctor tells him his time is coming, he's frantic to avoid the same treatment at the hands of his apprentice. So he stipulates that he be buried only in everyday clothes. Alas, he forgot that a dentist who believed the man's public image had given him a free overhaul. And in the last scene, the apprentice is happily bashing out the gold teeth from the old man's corpse.
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Horror of Frankenstein: Holmes is first alerted to the case when a string of grave robberies escalates to murder. He is further intrigued when he learns that all of the graves belonged to women of noble lineage, and that only the bodies were taken: leaving behind the valuables, and even the clothes the bodies were dressed in.
  • Spider-Man: In The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #426, the Hand was brazen enough to dig up Doctor Octopus's corpse from a public cemetery in broad daylight in order to enact the evil ritual that restored him to life. As one might expect, Peter and Mary Jane were rather shaken about it after seeing it on the news.
  • Superman:
  • Uncanny Avengers: The clone of the Red Skull demonstrates that he is every bit as vile as his source material when he steals Professor Xavier's body and rips out his brain so that he can steal Xavier's Psychic Powers.
  • Wonder Woman: In Wonder Woman (1942), a mummy whose tomb Etta, Bobby, and Glamora are exploring alongside one of their professors accuses them of being grave robbers before attacking them and doesn't see how the distinction between robber and archeologist is anything more than pedantic.

    Comic Strips 
  • Scary Gary: When Gary's henchman Leopold talks with Dr.Frankenstein’s henchman Egor about their respective bosses over drinks at a bar, Egor mentions that Dr.Frankenstein makes him rob graves every night.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Atomic Brain (also shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000), Dr. Otto Frank steals the bodies of the recently deceased so he can test his atomic-powered revival machine. These "recently deceased" have been dead for a bit, reviving them leaves them as mindless zombies, but it's proof of concept that he can revive the dead.
  • The Awful Dr. Orloff: After finding Morpho's fingerprint at a crime scene, Tanner and his assistant dig up Morpho's grave to see if he is really dead and discover it is empty.
  • The 1945 film The Body Snatcher, directed by Robert Wise, starring Boris Karloff (and with Bela Lugosi in a bit part). This was based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story of the same that was Very Loosely Based on a True Story of Burke and Hare (body snatchers who sold the body of a dead tenant to pay his back rent, liked the money, and decided to increase their income by increasing their supply of the dead.) Karloff's character is specifically compared to Burke and Hare a few times, and the doctor he's stealing the bodies for is supposed to be a protege of Dr. Knox, Burke and Hare's own main buyer.
    • In the later film Corridors Of Blood, Karloff plays a well-meaning doctor forced to buy cadavers, acquired in this way by a sinister fellow named Resurrection Joe (a young Christopher Lee).
  • In Dark Heritage, Clint and Jack dig up Eric Dansen's grave only to find an empty coffin and a tunnel leading away from it.
  • DC Extended Universe:
  • In The Devil Commands, Dr. Blair has been conducting experiments to communicate telepathically with the dead, and to expedite this he has been robbing a few graves here and there.
  • An accidental version in Dracula 2000. The gang of professional thieves are not impressed when they break into Van Helsing's high-security vault and find only a coffin, even though it's made of silver. However their leader is convinced this is just a trick to convince people there's nothing valuable inside except a corpse. The fact that a Booby Trap kills two of them with Spikes of Doom the moment they move it only reinforces this belief. Unfortunately the only thing inside the coffin is Dracula.
  • In The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Vera Frankenstein steals her father's body from his tomb so she can revivify it and hear his last words.
  • In The Flesh and the Fiends, Burke and Hare begin as 'resurrectionists'—stealing bodies from graveyards to sell to medical schools—before they decide that murdering Disposable Vagrants will provide them with a much more steady supply.
  • Frankenstein:
    Frankenstein: What a filthy job!
    Igor: Could be worse.
    Frankenstein: How?
    Igor: Could be raining.
    *clap of thunder and torrential rain*
  • Friday the 13th:
  • In Gang of Roses, Left Eye's gang spends a large amount of time digging up graves in the town's cemetery; looking for either the treasure or the map detailing its location.
  • The Gravedancers: The protagonists break into the cemetery and dig up the remains of those haunting them, so they can rebury them and lay them to rest properly.
  • Indiana Jones is accused of robbing a grave at the banquet in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • The Field Guide to Evil: In "The Kindler and the Virgin", the Kindler robs the graves of the freshly dead: cutting out their hearts and eating them in a quest to gain infinite knowledge.
  • In Knife for the Ladies, Burns and Jarrod (illegally) break into Travis' tomb to see if his corpse is actually there. They choose to do this at night just as a storm breaks.
  • In Murder at Yellowstone City, Thaddeus digs up Robert Dunnigan's body so he can extract the bullet from it to prove that it didn't come from Cicero's gun.
  • The Phantasm films feature large-scale grave robbing by the Tall Man, who animates and shrinks the dead to provide slave labor on another planet (or another dimension, other time, etc).
  • In Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge, Melody wonders if Eric is truly dead, and Peter insists they must exhume his body. When they dig up his coffin, they discover it is empty.
  • Ed and Joey in Return of the Living Dead Part II are at the graveyard to open graves and take their owner's heads for selling. When the zombies start to rise, Ed believes that they're sent by God to punish him.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has a singing, dancing Mr. Exposition in the Graverobber (played by the fantastic Terrance Zdunich). He slinks around stealing Zydrate from dead bodies and telling us how this Crapsack World came to be.
  • Santo vs. la hija de Frankestein opens with a grave-robbing scene.
  • In order to test a theory in Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear, Holmes has Watson dig up a recent grave in the village graveyard. The coffin is empty, thereby proving that the conspirators have been stealing bodies from the graveyard and using them to fake their own deaths.
  • Torture Garden: In "The Man Who Collected Poe", Lancelot Canning reveals that his grandfather was resurrection man who stole bodies to supply medical schools. He also robbed Poe's grave and stole the dust of his mortal remains before using black magic to resurrect him.
  • In We Are From The Future the protagonists are four young Russians who make money digging up World War 2 battle sites for artifacts and selling them to collectors. They descend into this trope when they discover a collapsed bunker that still contains the bones of the soldiers killed in it. Rather than report this so the remains can be reburied in a military cemetery, the protagonists rob the corpses of all surviving personal items and one of them goes as far as using a skull for target practice. This complete disregard for Due to the Dead is punished by them being transported to 1942 into the middle of a battle between Soviet and German forces. To their horror, they realize that the remains they desecrated might be their own.



  • H. P. Lovecraft:
    • Herbert West–Reanimator: Herbert West frequently resorts to grave robbing in order to acquire subjects for his experiments.
    • "The Hound (1924)": The narrator and St. John are two peas in a pod desperate to escape boredom. To this end, they've started robbing final resting places; sometimes of grave goods, sometimes of body parts. Their collection contains samples in all states of preservation and decay and from all walks of life. They also own a number of ancient mummies, which likely they've purchased from other graverobbers rather than extracted themselves.
    • The ghouls in Pickman's Model (and to a lesser extent, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) rob graves for food.

Individual works

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: This is what Dr. Robinson, Injun Joe, and Muff Potter are doing in the graveyard (presumably for medical research, as the ringleader is a doctor) until Joe murders Robinson and frames Muff.
  • The Orcs, sorry, Shanka inhabiting the ruined city in Joe Abercrombie's ''Before They Are Hanged'' live on dead bodies from mass graves.
  • The Bible: Mary Magdalene believes this is what happened to Jesus' body until she finds proof otherwise. Also the Romans, anticipating this possibility, put some serious security on Jesus's tomb: blocked it with a heavy stone, put a seal on that (breaking the seal alone was a serious offense), and posted guards. All that still didn't keep him inside.
  • The Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen: One of the thief's story is about his robbing a grave.
  • One of the tasks Mrs. White asks the four protagonists to do in The Candy Shop War. Granted, the guy did leave a note granting permission to break into his tomb (he hid a valuable artifact there and gives instructions on how to get in) but the kids are uneasy about it at the very least.
  • Conan the Barbarian: In The Hour of the Dragon it is necessary to revive the Big Bad.
  • Doctrine of Labyrinths: Resurrectionists have their own Weird Trade Union in the city of Melusine.
  • Committed a couple times by the protagonists of Dracula, since vampires sleep in their coffins. Some of them really take issue with it at first.
  • In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, Yasa brings along Ziantha because of her readings that they could find a rich tomb.
  • Doctor Evazan was doing this for his zombie experiments in Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead. He's soon killed and buried. Later Tash wishes to exhume him, and her uncle and his droid agree, but local customs don't let that happen legally. So they'll just have to grave rob surreptitiously.
  • In Lynda Robinson's Lord Meren mystery series, the tomb of heretic pharaoh Akhenaten is broken into, and his body dismembered, by his vengeful political enemies. Their intention is to deny him an afterlife.
  • The Matthew Hawkwood novel Resurrectionist is about the grave robbing trade that supplied the medical schools in Regency England.
  • Played for Laughs in A Night in the Lonesome October: not only do all the Players, good guys or bad, engage in the practice, but one night they all raid the same cemetery at the same time and commence trading the excavated body parts needed for their various rituals and schemes. By throwing them to one another, no less. "Oi, here's that liver yer wantin'. Catch!"
  • The Ambrose Bierce short story "One Summer Night" involves a couple of medical students who hire a cemetery keeper to help them do this... unaware that the guy they're digging up was actually Buried Alive.
  • Return of the Archwizards trilogy begins when an elven tomb guards' routine patrol detects what they think is yet another desecration by a bunch of human "adventurers". Things don't go well when these specific humans turned out to be extremely uninterested in the tomb stuffed with traps, magic, and valuables, other than as a place marker.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 4400: Grave Robbing: In "As Fate Would Have It", Jordan Collier's body vanishes from the 4400 Center immediately after his memorial service.
  • Angel ("Just Rewards") When Angel takes over Wolfram & Hart, one of the first things he does is shut down their Interment Acquisitions department. This gets him on the bad side of a powerful necromancer.
  • In the fourth season of Arrow, Laurel and Thea dig up Sara's body to resurrect her at Nanda Parbat.
  • On Babylon 5, a race called the Markab dies off and others start using the local jumpgate to strip their home planet bare until Sheridan blows it up (for other reasons, but he mentions his disdain for grave robbers and clearly considers cutting off their access to be a bonus).
  • Black Saddle: In "Client: Starkey", Clay and Scott exhume an unmarked grave in the middle of the night while attempting to unravel the mystery of a Town with a Dark Secret.
  • Obligatory Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference - when Giles hears about graves opened from the outside his academic curiosity is stirred:
    Giles: Grave robbing - that's new...interesting!
    Buffy: I know you meant to say "gross and disturbing!"
    Giles: Yes, yes, of course. Terrible thing; must...must put a stop to it. ...umm, dammit!
  • On Deadwood it came up during one of the town meetings that Doc Cochran had been arrested for grave robbing, presumably For Science!.
  • In the Farscape episode "Taking the Stone", set on an entire planet used as a cemetery for royalty, Lovable Rogue Rygel steals gold and jewels from graves, but returns them after suffering poltergeist phenomena. It's left unclear whether this was due to actual vengeful spirits or to the team psychic Zhaan using her powers to teach him a lesson.
  • Forever Knight. In "Ashes to Ashes", a modern graverobber breaks the seal of Ra on a sacrophagus in Eygpt. It doesn't end well for him or anyone else.
  • Harrow: After his request to exhume Chester's body is refused in "Parce Sepulto" ("Forgive the Dead"), Harrow buys a shovel and goes to the graveyard to dig it up himself.
  • Horrible Histories gives a cheery song about the gruesome activities of historical grave robbers Burke and Hare.
  • House and his team did this once. Obviously a medical benefit, probably for the patient at the time. After all, they're a bit late to provide any benefit to the patient they're digging up.
  • On Lost, Charles Widmore took this trope to extremes when he had 324 graves in Thailand dug up just so he could create a fake wreckage of Oceanic 815.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Habeus Corpus", the body of a dead man is stolen from his bed minutes after he is pronounced dead, and then the body of a woman who died five months previously is dug up and stolen from her grave.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "The Catafalque", part of the IMF's plan requires to steal the body of the former leader of a Ruritania while while it is on public display.
  • NCIS: New Orleans: In "Second Line" the NCIS team uncovers a case of tomb-robbing, with the robbers stealing valuable artifacts from tombs to sell and on the black market and taking the bones as well to establish the provenance of the artifacts.
  • Larry, Darryl, and Darryl of Newhart were first introduced when they were hired to dig up a long-dead body.
  • Night Gallery episode "Deliveries in the Rear". Dr. Fletcher uses grave robbers to obtain bodies for dissection. Multiple other people are disturbed at the very possibility, but Fletcher just defaults to "don't ask, don't tell" regarding his suppliers' sources.
  • Once Upon a Time episode "In the Name of the Brother": How Victor initially plans on finding a body to attempt resurrection before his brother dies and is used instead.
  • On Penny Dreadful, Victor Frankenstein is recruited to the team from where he'd been earning a living - and acquiring raw materials - assessing and prepping the cadavers brought in by resurrectionists for London's medical schools.
  • In the third season premiere of Pretty Little Liars, someone digs up Alison's grave and steals her body, as well as the mementos her friends buried with her.
  • Pushing Daisies:
    • Dwight Dixon robs Chuck's father's grave in order to get his gold pocket watch. Ned and Chuck later dig up Chuck's father and bring him back to life so that they can find out the truth about Dwight.
    • 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.
  • On Supernatural the most common and effective way to defeat the ghost is by finding the bones and burning them. This will almost always lead to a scene of the boys acting as grave robbers. Technically, they aren't robbing graves, just desecrating them. In-Universe, however, they are accused and charged with grave robbing when the law caught up with them.
  • Taboo: During the time period, it was an unofficial practice among some medical professionals to perform experiments on recently buried, excavated corpses. After James hires a doctor to perform a post-burial autopsy on his father so he can confirm that the man was killed through poison, the latter makes a sly remark that it would be wise to bury him a bit deeper the second time around. James immediately threatens to kill him and any of his colleagues if the body is desecrated in any way.
  • Wishbone: Subverted in the pilot episode, "A Tail In Twain". In Part I, Joe, Sam, David, and Wishbone go to "The No-Name Grave", an unmarked grave that's the source of local urban legends, where they see a strange man digging up the grave, who scares them away when he spots them. In Part II, when they go back with Joe's mom, Ellen, and their neighbor Wanda, they learn that he was recovering the belongings left behind by the man's settler family in the 19th century.


  • The Creature Feature song Grave Robber At Large, naturally.
    There's a grave robber at large
    Ripping bodies from hallowed ground
    Desecrate those who rest in peace
    There's profit to be made from the recent deceased
  • Macabre's "Burke and Hare" begins with the two villains starting off as this, then move on to living bodies.
  • "Night Stalker" by Stormwitch describes a grave robber who takes ten pounds per corpse.


  • In the John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme Edinburgh Festival special, the Storyteller sketch has Finnemore sent to get the thumbs needed for his uncle's thimble factory (yes, just go with it) from two men named Pratt and Rabbit who meet him at midnight in Greyfriars Kirkyard. He finds them in an open grave and is unconvinced that they're re-burying someone who digs himself out to look for his wee dog. ("We call him ... Greyfriars Body.")
    Storyteller: Plainly, Pratt and Rabbit were nothing more than grave robbers! But could I truly pretend to be surprised? My employer's hints, the graveyard rendezvous, and also I had eventually worked out the pun in their names.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu. In several adventures, ghouls are noted as stealing grave jewelry and other valuables buried with the dead, and eating the dead.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has enough of it to make twists and subversions relatively common.
    • The Entomber is a specialized undead monster that's a perfect minion for necromancers, since it has the magical ability to exhume a corpse through up to ten feet of loose earth, which leaves no trace of its passage and doesn't harm the body. The undead gets its name from the fact that the same ability can just as easily be reversed to dispose of evidence or leave an opponent Buried Alive.
    • Ravenloft:
      • The adventure Ship of Horrors pits heroes against a grave-robbing clan of reanimated corpses which provide bodies to a nasty necromancer.
      • According to Van Richten's Guide to the Lich, there's even a high-level spell Ghoul Lattice that makes the work easy by digging a maze of tunnels that connects to all graves and other underground pockets in an area that may be a mile or more wide.
      • Robbing graves is one of many, many misdeeds that may warrant a Powers check, as the act can draw the attention of the Dark Powers that rule the realm.
    • Forgotten Realms sourcebooks and novels has "fun" with long-dead (and sometimes un-dead) people's tombs. This includes things like...
      • "Tomb robbers" turning out to be a bunch of ghouls, eating corpses but always ready to diversify the diet.
      • "Tomb robbers" turning out to be there about a certain Sealed Evil in a Can, so a clash with tomb guards accidentally breaks the can, which they otherwise could avoid.
      • Adventurers breaking and entering a crypt only to face a room seemingly empty except one old man with a pipe, who answered the obvious question by stunning everyone (as in "power word"), introducing himself as Elminster and stating that "despoilers of tombs" will leave him and his friends alone—right now. (Lords of Darkness)
  • In Exalted, grave robbing is discouraged not only for cultural reasons but also because desecrating a tomb/corpse will unleash a raging Hungry Ghost (one of the person's souls that remains with the body to protect it) on the local area. Powerful people often receive highly secure tombs as much to reduce the chance of anybody angering the resident ghost to protect their valuables and dignity (although lavish tombs also help keep the ghost placated).
  • Many Magic: The Gathering cards are based around this, usually allowing the exhumed creature to be played again.
  • Tomb robbing is the Hat of the Yitek race in the Talislanta game.
  • Talisman: The aptly named Grave Robber character has a special ability that allows him to encounter the top card on the discard pile instead of drawing a card for their space as normal. This presumably represents the character digging up graves for their treasure, though interestingly enough the power lets them encounter any type of card, including events, places, and previously killed enemies. The character can rob graves in a more traditional sense by visiting the graveyard space, which allows them to take one item of their choice from the top 8 cards in the adventure deck.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, you are required to dig up 2 graves (1 if you know where you are going) to beat the game. You can also dig up various other graves.
  • Bloodborne features the Tomb Prospector, a whole clan of Healing Church graverobbers designed to rob the ancient tombs of Pthumeru.
  • Darkest Dungeon has the Grave Robber class, which specializes in dodging, knife throwing, pickaxing enemies' faces in, and delivering Blight via poison syringes. Her backstory shows she was a widowed noblewoman who fell into hard times and resorted to grave robbing. You can also loot grave curios provided you have a shovel to spare. Plus, your adventures often take you into the undead-haunted Ruins of your ancestry in order to grab heirlooms belonging to your family for purposes of rebuilding the Hamlet.
  • Dark Souls features Trusty Patches, an Easily Forgiven graverobber with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, who kicks people into a bottomless pit and loot them, and he hates clerics.
  • Dark Souls II features Afflicted Graverobber, The Squadette of a Wolfpack Boss, she looted Alva's Armor and carried two Berserker Blades.
  • Demon's Souls features Graverobber Blige, who takes what he can from the dead to sell to passing Demon slayers. In fact, almost every merchant but the Once Royal Mistress gets their ways by taking advantage of the demon invasion this way.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online, as you might imagine, has you visiting quite a few tombs — and given the best way to raise money for maintenance and magic items is to smash apart sarcophagi, one can safely guess that you get to do a lot of this. One of the earliest such quests has you thwarting a grave robbing attempt by Sahuagin and their Devourer cultist allies, who want to raise the dead of the family entombed there as undead to use against the village of Korthos.
  • One evil fundraising option in the Empires Gaiden Games to the Dynasty Warriors is opening a tomb and taking whatever's inside.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, if you are a Necromancer yourself and learn both Dead Thrall and The Ritual Stone, you can recruit the corpses from ancient tombs to your service, in addition to just taking their gold.
  • Empire Earth 2's Egyptian campaign features a different kind of grave robbing in one level set in a famine, where starving people pull the mummified corpses out of the pyramid to eat them.
  • Fallout 2 allows players with a shovel to dig up graves. Beyond an odd few sidequest important ones, they give you the "gravedigger" reputation (bad).
    • It's also very profitable. And the reaction when you dig up a ghoul who was accidentally buried. This leads to funny comments and one confused PC.
    • Fallout: New Vegas also allows players to do this if they have a shovel in their inventory. No significant consequences are attached but what loot there is to be found is usually pretty mild (a few meds, some ammo, or maybe a damaged weapon)
  • In Luck Be A Land Lord, Hooligans destroy Urns, Big Urns, and Tombs to release Spirits that give out 6 coins for 4 spins before disappearing. The Grave Robber item also destroys these symbols automatically 66% of the time.
  • 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.
    • Jungle temples have arrow traps that are triggered the moment you walk through the linked tripwires or destroying the wire itself. The only safe way to disarm the trap is to use shears to cut the wire. Luckily, you can just stand on one side of the hall to avoid the arrows and just loot the dispensers of their arrows. Jungle temples also have chests that contain similar treasure from the pyramids.
  • Guybrush does this in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge in order to make a voodoo doll of Largo. The scene is complete with thunder and lightning accompanied by swelling musical dread, ending with Guybrush hoisting the stolen item over his head while his pants fall to his ankles.
  • In the PC game based on The Mummy (1999), the first levels include tomb raiders as enemies, who will try to murder Rick with pickaxes, presumably so they can eliminate a witness to their thievery.
  • 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.
  • Pharaoh: Once burial goods have been placed in a tomb, unsafe areas of a city will spawn grave robbers, who will head straight to the grave in order to plunder it. Unlike regular thieves who will drain the city coffers, the grave robbers only take things that were already accounted for and in small quantities, so there's no major inconvenience... except that the afterlife being the Serious Business that it is, your Kingdom Rating takes a hit if a grave robber gets through.
  • Planescape: Torment has a 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 runs the Mortuary and prepares and inters the bodies of Sigil's dead. The Collectors almost always strip the bodies of everything valuable first. One of your party members, Annah, is one... and met you by finding your Player Character dead and collecting his body. (The game starts with you waking up at the morgue, and you meet up with her again later.)
    • You can later discover that a particularly rich Collector has become rich by finding ways into the Dustmen's own crypts, essentially robbing them of their own charges and re-selling them back. The Dustmen will not be happy to learn this.
  • Elika accuses the Prince of being this in Prince of Persia (2008). He doesn't deny it.
  • In Red Dead Redemption, one of the people John Marston is forced to interact with is Seth Briars, a thoroughly insane, extremely Squicky Grave Robber who prefers the company of corpses to real people. This reaches its natural conclusion in the Halloween Episode Undead Nightmare, where Seth's reaction to the Zombie Apocalypse is to play poker and hold parties with the walking dead, and to express disgust with Marston for wanting to end the curse that brought them back to life.
    • Red Dead Redemption 2 has a very atmospheric mission where you must catch some graverobbers in the above-ground cemetery of Saint Denis, although it's ambiguous whether these guys are merely Robbing the Dead or after the bodies themselves.
  • In Star Trek Online, the second expansion Delta Rising revealed that the Kobali, who populate their race by reviving the dead via a special virus who transform them into Kobali, have gone into this, taken fallen Vaadwaur and changing them into Kobali. This angers Harry Kim, as he was never told this. This gets even worse when he finds out that they have the real Harry Kim and are turning him into a Kobali, too. This last incident makes Harry decide to force the Kobali into changing their rules over someone being revived. The Kobali usually don't rob actual graves, but that's because there appears to be limits to how damaged a corpse can be and still be possible to turn into a living Kobali — the main source of Vaadwaur is actually a giant cryostasis facility meant to preserve thousands of Vaadwaur for their eventual return. The Kobali just keep an eye on it and pull out corpses for transformation whenever a cryopod fails.
  • As revealed in the Team Fortress 2 supplementary comic Loose Cannon, Engineer's grandfather built Blutarch and Redmond Mann machines that would extend their lifespans indefinitely. When Blutarch eventually demands that Engineer fix his when it starts to break down. Engie points out that without his grandfather's blueprints it'd be impossible, and said blueprints were buried with him- at which point Blutarch presents a large stack of old papers before him.
    Blutarch: Yes, yes, I dug up your grandfather and looted his corpse.
  • Some of the character bios (in-game and in the instruction manual) outright state that Lara Croft is often accused of this.
    • The series is named Tomb Raider. You don't need the manual to figure it out.
  • Uncharted, as part of the territory. Lampshaded in Drake's Fortune:
    Elena: Whoa, reading 16th-century Spanish. Not just a grave robber after all, huh?
  • You can find a band of gravediggers in World of Warcraft in Duskwood as a Rare Mob Encounter. If you listen to them talk long enough they complain about how it's okay for adventurers to loot corpses (that they made) while they're abhorrent for doing it to corpses that have been sitting around rotting for a while.
    Marina DeSirrus <Thief of the Dead>: Adventurers are such hypocrites! Like YOU just FOUND your weapon on the side of the road!

    Visual Novels 
  • The third case of the second game in the The Great Ace Attorney duology explores this. One of the witnesses explains he used to be a grave robber while at university, stealing a corpse but leaving all valuables behind, because it proved lucrative for medicine studies. He eventually ends up coming across a man rising from his grave, the man thought to be the mass murderer known as The Professor, and his account of the events ends up ruining his promising career. Grave robbing to provide bodies for medical schools during the nineteenth/early twentieth century is Truth in Television.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • During Jschlatt's funeral on the Dream SMP, just to drive home the fact that the man had a 0% Approval Rating, the members of the server showed their Last Disrespects to the former President/Emperor of Manburg by, among other things, robbing his coffinnote . Tommy and Tubbo played with his bones, Puffy sold his remains at the Targay, her renovated Target store, and Quackity took his heart and ate it, then stole the remaining bones from his grave to try to resurrect him as a political puppet.

    Western Animation 
  • 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. It turns out she died of baldness. Also, rather than her spirit being vengeful, her skeleton simply thanks him for freeing her and wanders away.
    "Hey, that's perfect! And...sort of macabre...oh well."
    • The events of the Adventure Time: Distant Lands special "Together Again" reveals that after Finn and Jake died, Peppermint Butler took their bones without getting their approval.
  • Bender of Futurama apparently has a grave robbery kit, and by the end of the episode "The Luck of the Fryrish" is "one skull away from a Mouseketeer reunion."
    • In the same episode he is seen emerging from an open grave saying that "no one can say that I don't own John Larroquette's spine".
    • He also says that grave robbing isn't a crime in the 31st century...but knowing Bender that's probably a lie.
  • In the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero miniseries "Arise Serpentor Arise" the villains engage in this to obtain the DNA needed to create Serpentor; Sergeant Slaughter even uses the word "grave robber" while insulting them.
  • The Owl House Given the fact that one of the ingredients of the Grimwalkers is 'bone of the ornet' it can be concluded that Belos must have dug up his brother's grave in order to obtain his body.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants had Mr. Krabs digging up a grave of a guy he (seemingly) made up to retrieve a valuable hat buried there by Spongebob (long story). The deceased is annoyed at this and summons an army of zombie fish skeletons to stop Krabs (only for Krabs to defeat them all).
  • In Transformers: Prime, the ancient artifact known as the Forge of Solus Prime can only be used to its full potential by a Prime; otherwise, it's just a big hammer. Megatron, in possession of the Forge, decides that the next best thing would be to replace his arm with one from a Prime, so he takes Dreadwing to a tomb on Cybertron to take an arm off a long-dead Prime, and then has Knock Out perform the surgery. It works.

    Real Life 
  • In Scotland back in the day, selling corpses to medical schools could be quite lucrative as mentioned in the article. Thus, many were obtained through not-so-legal methods. Many graves had mortsafes - a sort of metal cage - installed over them to deter grave-robbers. Poor families who couldn't afford mortsafes usually had to resort to literally sitting on the grave for a few days and nights until the corpse would be too old and thus uninteresting to be used by doctors.
    • Not just Scotland, the practice was common in many countries. "Doctor riots", mobs beating up medical professionals after a grave had been found desecrated, occurred in several US cities in the nineteenth century. Scotland is most famous because of those jolly chaps William Burke and William Hare who realised that waiting for bodies to be buried, then digging them up took longer than making fresh bodies out of unsuspecting boarders. They then sold the corpses to Dr. Robert Knox for anatomy classes with no questions asked. Horrible Histories has a hilarious sketch about this. "Burke and Hare had murdered them, that was plain to see, then brought their bodies to my lab and pocketed the fee!" Children soon began to sing an eerie rhyme in the streets, "Up the close and doon the stair, But and ben' wi' Burke and Hare. Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief, Knox is the boy that buys the beef." The act of murdering a person (normally via smothering so as minimize damage to the body) for the purpose of selling their corpse for dissection became known as "Burking". Burke was ultimately executed for the murders and himself dissected, while Hare got off scot-free by testifying against Burke. A few years later, another gang of body snatchers decided Burke had been onto a good idea went on their own murder spree to sell corpses to anatomists. They were known as the London Burkers.
    • Edinburgh has the local story of how at every hanging of criminals, there would be three groups watching: onlookers, the family of the criminal, and medical students. Once the criminal was dead, a struggle would always erupt on who got the corpse down first.
      • It should be noted that, for a period of time in Britain, it was actually illegal to give executed murderers a proper burial, with the dead bodies either being put on display in a gibbet as a warning to others or given to medical schools. This was done because it was felt that the death penalty wasn't an effective detterant to murder.
    • Still true today, as a number of U.S. cases have been in the news lately. Not just selling to medical schools, but also body parts such as bone, skin, and other organs to be transplanted into patients.
    • H. H. Holmes, one of America's first (known) serial killers and a failed physician, may have begun murdering just so he could sell the bodies to anatomy departments at the colleges he'd attended.
    • At the height of the British grave robbing trade, stealing the corpse itself wasn't actually against the law: officially, a dead body had no monetary value, so taking one wasn't a criminal offense. Stealing anything buried with the corpse was illegal, so graverobbers often stripped a body naked and threw everything it wore back into the coffin. This legal loophole existed because the government knew that medical schools needed bodies to study, so dragged their feet about closing it.
  • Egyptian pyramids and mummies:
    • The pyramids were often targeted by thieves for the incredible amount of wealth stored in there. Tutankhamen's tomb is famous for being one of the rare exceptions since by then the Egyptian kings had switched to the more hidden and easily guarded caves in the Valley of Kings, the smallest and most easily overlooked (and even so, that particular tomb was robbed twice). None of the pyramids has anything worth stealing left in it.
    • Recent studies with modern technology indicate that many pyramids still have hidden chambers that are nigh impossible to get to without drilling through a good part of the structure.
    • Speaking of body desecration, currently there is a number of mummified corpses on display in the central museum of Cairo (and maybe other ones too) for all those tourist drones to gawk on and serve as an attraction (along with the tombs themselves).
    • Ground up Egyptian mummy was a key ingredient in folk remedies for various ailments in medieval Europe and the Middle East. It would also be used as a source of pigmentation for mummy brown, a type of paint that was highly coveted in Europe from the 16th century to the 19th for its rich, earthy tones. It wasn't until the late 19th century that interest in mummy brown declined thanks to the general public learning that it was made with actual human corpses, and by the 20th century it was completely supplanted by an artificial version made with kaolin, quartz, goethite, and hematite.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci often resorted to this to advance his research, as did Michelangelo for his art.
  • An Ohio congressman, John Scott Harrison, was the victim of grave robbers in 1878.
  • The same thing happened to Alexander Stewart, a prominent New York businessman, although this time it was for ransom, not medical research.
  • Charlie Chaplin, whose body was stolen two months after his death. The ransom was not paid and the body was recovered eleven weeks later. Chaplin was reinterred in a concrete vault to deter other would-be grave robbers.
  • In late 2009, unknown grave robbers stole the corpse of former Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos for unclear reasons. It was found a few months later in another cemetery, but the case remains unsolved.
  • In South America, "dentista da meia-noite" (midnight dentistry) is a common practice in which the grave robber breaks into mausoleums and steals gold teeth from the corpses.
  • Ed Gein, the infamous source of inspiration for Norman Bates, Jame Gumb, and Leatherface, exhumed bodies from graveyards and created trophies out of their bones and skin. His own grave was a frequent target as well, resulting in his burial site to be unmarked.
  • The United States systematically plundered and destroyed many Native American sacred sites. This practice continued well into the 20th century until it was banned by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990.
  • Thanks to the approximately-2010 economic recession (combined with a strong lack of morals,) some morticians have developed a new form of grave robbing: Cremating blocks of wood or burying 150 pounds of concrete or garbage, leaving the real bodies to rot in a storage shed, and charging the surviving family members for services rendered. The fires used to incinerate wood (or garbage) aren't nearly as hot as crematorium fires (a few hundred degrees versus a few thousand—thus much, much cheaper to run).
    • The homeboy just lit some trash on fire, gave the ashes to the bereaved, and threw the bodies in a mass grave in a nearby swamp. The smell was how the dumb-ass got caught.
    • A particularly chilling example occurred in 2002, at the Tri-State Crematory; they used fine concrete.
  • Averted, or curiously procrastinated, by the archaeologists in charge of the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China. The famous Terracotta Army surrounding the tomb-mound was discovered in 1974, thus indicating the long-lost site of the mausoleum itself, which contains magnificent treasures if ancient historians are to be believed — and which still has not been excavated. Ostensibly the archaeologists are simply being cautious about damaging its contents — but perhaps even after 22 centuries, including most recently more than 50 years of purportedly rationalistic, forward-looking, science-minded Communist rule, the Chinese retain some superstitious awe of the First Emperor.
    • The fact that the soil around the mausoleum being polluted by mercury and the legend that they made a sea of mercury inside the tomb probably also helps to preserve the grave from gravediggers.
    • The Terracota Army actually used to have real weapons. Some were recovered from the soil, but most were stolen in the meantime.
  • An Animal Wrongs Group did this to the corpse of the mother-in-law of a farmer they'd targeted in England. For many sympathizers, this was a Moral Event Horizon they did not want to cross...
  • In the aftermath of the American Civil War, there was an unsuccessful plot to steal Lincoln's corpse and hold it for ransom. One of the first investigations ever carried out by the U.S. Secret Service was launched against the ring of counterfeiters, who were plotting to steal Abraham Lincoln's corpse and hold it hostage for the release of their imprisoned engraver. This is, in fact, one of the ways how a governmental department originally established to protect the nation's currency became responsible for guarding Presidents, living or dead.
  • Joseph Haydn's head was stolen out of his grave so that his skull could be examined by phrenologists. After Haydn's patrons found out, the thieves replaced it with another skull of unknown origin. The original went on various adventures, and was only reunited with his body in 1954. The extra skull was never removed, so now Haydn's tomb now contains two skulls.
  • Necrophiles...well, they are not always murderers so this trope will be used to fulfill their urges, and it's better than killing the living but still...
  • Necromancers... well, while real-life necromancers cannot resurrect dead bodies, they do occasionally use the corpses as medium hoping to communicate with the spirits. Ghost Marriage, marriage arranged for the dead, also applies in this case.
  • A man in Russia was found to have stolen 26 bodies of teenage girls and young women from their graves, dressed them up like dolls and in one case a teddy bear, and kept them at his home. No one seems to be quite sure why.
  • A variation where people aren't stealing the corpses, but the gravesite itself. Reports indicate that numerous sunken ships of World War II vintage have been attacked by scrap dealers who use explosives to break up the wrecks and sell the metal. This has actually resulted in the complete loss of vessels like HMS Exeter and Encounter as well as USS Perch and significant damage to vessels like HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales. Needless to say, these are war graves where hundreds of men perished and this has been cause for widespread outrage from veterans' groups in many countries, who view it as a Moral Event Horizon on par with digging up entire cemeteries with dynamite.
  • A possible Urban Legend/subversion from the turn of the century had a very wealthy new bride going on her overseas honeymoon, contracting a virus while there and dying. After her body was transported back to the United States (a trip that took a few days) and she had a funeral, two men came along and decided to rob her freshly dug grave. After trying and failing to pry her very expensive wedding ring off of her hand, one of the men instead cut the entire finger off. This in turn revived the woman, who sat up in her coffin, absolutely alert, and left both of the would-be grave robbers in shock. In the end, while one of the men's hair turned completely white as a result, the other was so traumatized that he didn't speak for the rest of his life.
  • In 2015, a witch from New Orleans posted in a witchcraft discussion group about using human bones they found in a nearby cemetery (specifically, a potter's field, which meant the graves were shallow and not very well protected) for rituals, and offering to send them to people. (There are in fact some rituals in various forms of witchcraft that require human remains, but none that allow you to just take random bones from a stranger without their prior consent.) This naturally caused a huge backlash, both from other witches, and outsiders who heard about the incident, and eventually led to a raid on the poster's home and a shitload of memes on Tumblr. The witch, for their part, insisted that it wasn't grave robbery because they never literally dug up a grave; they waited for the rain to wash some bones up to the surface. Law enforcement didn't care. When Posting Goes Wrong had an episode detailing the incident.