|Charlie's empty grave|
In the early morning hours of March 2nd, 1978, Charlie's coffin was dug up & stolen from his grave in Vevey, Switzerland. The oak coffin, which weighed over 300 pounds and would have required 3-4 strong men to lift it, was dragged a short distance before it was loaded into a car and driven away.
A little over two months later, on May 17th, the coffin was found in a field near Villeneuve. Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev were convicted in December 1978 of stealing the coffin and trying to extort money from the Chaplin family (Wardas, the mastermind, served 4 years; Ganev only 18 mos.). In his lifetime, Charlie had said that if he were ever kidnapped under no circumstances was ransom money to be paid by any member of his family. Oona kept her promise and refused to pay saying: “A body is simply a body. My husband is in heaven and in my heart." However Oona and Geraldine pretended to negotiate with the graverobbers over the phone, which made it easier to apprehend them. At one point the graverobbers even threatened to break young Christopher Chaplin’s legs if the family didn’t meet their demands. The farmer in whose cornfield Charlie was found placed a marker at the gravesite with an inscription translating to: “Here slept, in peace, Charlie Chaplin." His body was eventually reburied in Vevey under a theft-proof concrete slab. Oona Chaplin would often visit Charlie’s second gravesite. “In some ways," she said, "it’s lovelier than the official grave."
|Plaque at Charlie's second gravesite. See more images here.|
Below Oona talks about the return of Charlie's coffin in May 1978.
In 2014, French director Xavier Beauvois made a film about the grave robbery called The Price Of Fame. It was made with the approval of the Chaplin family. In fact, Chaplin's son, Eugene, and granddaughter, Dolores, have small parts in it. Here Eugene talks about the grave robbery and the film. Below is the trailer.