We’ve looked at what happens when entire
bodies are stolen from the grave , and it’s
pretty morbid stuff. But occasionally, people’s
body parts—real and fake, from the living and
the dead—just sort of take off without them.
With a little help, of course.
10 Isaac Ebey
Head And Scalp
The Ebey family is buried in the Sunnyside
Cemetery in Coupeville, Washington. Isaac
Ebey, the patriarch of the family, is at the
center of a bizarre mystery.
Ebey was one of the first white settlers on
Whidbey Island in Washington State. In a
letter to his brother, Ebey called the island “ a
paradise of nature.” In fact, it was such a
paradise that it shouldn’t have been
surprising that someone else had gotten there
first. Conflicts between white settlers and
Native Americans became so violent that the
USS Massachusetts was eventually dispatched
to protect settlers and shipping interests.
When the ship fired on a native settlement
and killed most of the people there, the
survivors vowed revenge.
It came on August 11, 1857. A group knocked
on the door of Ebey, who was a Collector of
Customs. When he answered, they cut off his
head and fled with it.
Just what happened to the head is still up for
debate. Although some claim that it was
recovered about two years later, family
documents differ from official military
records. According to the family, only Ebey’s
scalp was returned in 1860, after his brother
petitioned the military to seek justice. In
1859, a Captain Dodd supposedly purchased
Ebey’s scalp from his Kake contacts in
exchange for some blankets, a handkerchief,
three pipes, some cotton, and some tobacco.
Ebey’s brother wrote in his diary about
getting the scalp back, noting that it was in
terrifyingly good condition and included
Ebey’s ears as well as his hair. A few months
later, Ebey’s brother wrote that he never had
the chance to thank Dodd for returning the
grisly memento because Dodd had died. But
there are no records that the brother buried
Ebey’s scalp or got the rest of Ebey’s head
Other records suggest that the scalp was
passed on to his sister, who apparently
showed it to a doctor as many as 10 to 12
years later. The scalp then went to a niece,
and subsequent records suggest it found its
way to a branch of the family in California.
With no more mentions of Ebey’s scalp—or
the rest of his head—the details of what
happened are still unclear.
9 Santa Anna
In addition to being responsible for the
development of today’s chewing gum
industry, General Santa Anna is also at the
heart of some bad blood between Texas and
After the Battle of Cerro Gordo, Illinois
soldiers on the battlefield stumbled across a
carriage that contained gold and Santa Anna’s
wooden leg. They took the leg with them, and
for years, one of the soldiers displayed it
proudly in his home. Eventually, the leg
passed to the state’s military museum, where
it’s been ever since. In another version of the
story, the Illinois soldiers surprised the
general while he was eating lunch. When he
hopped on his horse and rode away, the
soldiers picked up the wooden leg that he had
accidentally left behind.
Either way, Texas wants the leg back, and
Illinois isn’t giving it to them.
Although there are no concrete ties between
Santa Anna’s wooden leg and the state of
Texas, the San Jacinto Museum of History has
been petitioning to get the leg back, even
trying to collect enough signatures to take the
matter to the White House. So far, they’ve
been unsuccessful, and Illinois seems to be
unwilling to return the leg voluntarily.
Strangely, Illinois has more than one of Santa
Anna’s wooden legs. Although his real leg
was buried with full military honors when it
was amputated after close contact with
cannon fire, Santa Anna had two replacement
legs made—an ornate one and a pirate-style
peg leg. The peg leg is now housed at the
Oglesby Mansion in Decatur, after its
illustrious (and alleged) career as Abner
Doubleday’s baseball bat.
8 Walt Whitman
At the beginning of the 20th century,
anatomists were still searching for physical
signs in the brain that would explain why one
person was great and another was a monster.
Edward Anthony Spitzka had already
examined the brain of assassin Leon Czolgosz
for such signs without success. So Spitzka
decided to examine the brains of extremely
successful people instead. He was looking for
something physical that would account for
At that time, it was fashionable to donate
your brain to science if you were of a certain
class or standing and you wanted scientists to
discover why you were so amazing. Spitzka
got Walt Whitman’s brain. But in a 1907
publication, Spitzka casually commented that
a lab assistant had been holding the brain
when it dropped it on the floor and broke.
So they threw it away.
That’s the official story, but no one really
bought it. When friends pushed the matter
further, they got an official follow-up from
the Wistar Institute of Anatomy confirming
that the brain broke when scientists were
trying to pickle it. However, another story
suggested that the brain wasn’t broken but
instead was lost somewhere at Jefferson
College. Also, not a real answer.
When Spitzka started his study, he used high-
class brains collected from the founding
members of the American Anthropometric
Society (AAS). The society didn’t keep records,
and they didn’t take good care of the brains,
either. When Spitzka received them, several
of the brains were broken, their weights had
been recorded incorrectly, and others were
simply missing. One brain had been left in a
hardening agent until it crumbled. Then there
was Whitman’s brain, which was reportedly
According to the Walt Whitman Quarterly
Review , the whole thing was a massive cover-
up. No one seems to know whether Whitman
was actually a member of the AAS or whether
he or his family ever gave the AAS permission
to remove his brain. In fact, no one seems to
know much about the AAS at all. However,
it’s been suggested that the society’s
members, recognizing an opportunity that
they couldn’t pass up, initiated Whitman into
the AAS while he was on his deathbed and
then made off with his brain after he died.
But again, no one knows for sure.
7 Sarah Bernhardt
As the 19th-century equivalent of an A-list
celebrity, French actress Sarah Bernhardt
went on nine tours across the United States.
Victor Hugo described her as having a voice
of gold. In Europe, the audience reaction to
one of her performances as Napoleon’s son
was likened to the “deliriousness ” of a Roman
Although most of her body was buried at
Paris’s Pere-Lachaise Cemetery after she died
in 1923, her leg has been sitting in a
storeroom at Bordeaux University. However,
the school is quick to point out that there’s a
difference between losing something and
forgetting that you have it.
In 1898, Bernhardt was performing in a play
called Tosca and needed to jump off the top of
an onstage castle. Already 54 years old, she
injured her knee in one of the jumps, and
over the next few years, the chronic pain got
to be too much for her. In 1915, she insisted
that the leg be amputated above the knee .
Afterward, an examination of the leg
determined that it had been the right
decision. Within a few months, she was
making the rounds on the front lines of the
war, visiting with and performing for the
Bernhardt’s missing leg wasn’t rediscovered
until 2009, although some people question
whether the mystery has really been solved.
As most of the pain was in her knee, the
amputation was done above the knee. The
recently discovered leg doesn’t have a knee,
leading some people to believe there was a
mix-up and it isn’t Bernhardt’s leg. Other
people think we have found Bernhardt’s leg
and that the knee was separated from the rest
of the leg, dissected, and discarded.
6 Lord Uxbridge
According to one story, Lord Uxbridge and the
Duke of Wellington were watching the Battle
of Waterloo when a mortar arced over
Wellington and hit Uxbridge in the leg.
Uxbridge reportedly said, “By God, sir, I’ve
lost my leg .” To which Wellington replied, “By
God, sir, so you have.”
While that may sound like an understated
British exchange, it’s actually not true.
Uxbridge was in the midst of the battle when
he lost his leg. He was taken from the field
and moved to a house in Waterloo. The house
belonged to Hyacinthe Paris, who watched the
influx of high-ranking officers and doctors
coming in to assess Uxbridge’s mangled leg.
When doctors decided that the leg was
beyond repair, they sawed it off.
Apparently sensing a profit opportunity, Paris
asked to have the amputated leg. He placed it
in its own little coffin and buried it in his
garden with a tombstone that he charged
people to come and see. Later, when Uxbridge
returned to the house to visit the Paris
family, he found that they were still eating
dinner off the table where his leg had been
However, no one’s sure what ultimately
happened to Uxbridge’s amputated leg.
Although the house isn’t there any longer,
there are several conflicting stories that may
provide clues to the leg’s whereabouts.
In one story, the leg was uncovered in Paris’s
yard when a tree was uprooted during a
windstorm. Little more than a bone at this
point, the leg was supposedly moved into the
house for display there. When Uxbridge’s son
asked to have the leg returned, the Paris
family tried to sell it to him instead. But a
second story claims that the leg was
eventually reunited with Uxbridge when he
died. Yet another story says the leg is still
buried in Waterloo.
Uxbridge’s artificial legs have gotten around,
too. He owned three of a high-end model,
called an “ Anglesey Leg ,” that had a hinged
knee and flexing ankle. One each is kept at
Plas Newydd in Anglesey, in the Musee
Wellington in Waterloo, and in the Household
Cavalry Museum of Whitehall.
5 Antonio Scarpa
Head, Thumb, Finger, And
Antonio Scarpa is the neurologist credited
with discovering Scarpa’s nerve, Scarpa’s
ganglion, and the liquor Scarpae. Apparently,
those who knew him would not have been
surprised that he named all of his discoveries
after himself. Once dismissed from a
university position because he wouldn’t
swear allegiance to the new king, Scarpa was
a pompous jerk. He favored his many
illegitimate children when it came to making
appointments, spread rumors about the
supposed criminal activity of people he didn’t
like, and pointedly told people how he was
intellectually superior to them.
Scarpa was so universally disliked that it
wasn’t long after his death that people
defaced his marble statues. Needless to say,
he wasn’t missed. If his story has a moral, it’s
to be careful how you treat your assistants,
especially those responsible for your body
after you die.
His postmortem was conducted by Carlo
Beolchin, his former assistant. Beolchin and
the other assistants who had worked for
Scarpa turned his head, index finger, thumb,
and urinary tract into preserved anatomical
specimens. No one’s sure why they did it,
aside from a morbid sense of vengeance
toward the man who took all the credit and
was undoubtedly horrible to them.
Scarpa, who never married and had no family
to overrule his assistants, had his specimens
meet the rather ignominious end of not even
being put on display—until recently. On the
100th anniversary of his death, the Museo per
la Storia dell’Universita di Pavia was founded,
and Scarpa’s head was put on public display.
The rest of his body parts were placed in
4 Daniel Sickles
In 1859, Daniel Sickles gained a certain
amount of notoriety when he shot and killed
his wife’s lover, Francis Barton Key (son of
Francis Scott Key). Sickles was acquitted after
using the insanity defense. He went on to
serve in the military and was promoted to
major general in 1862.
Sickles served at Gettysburg, even though
there were huge numbers of people who
wished that he hadn’t. Not one to listen to
other officers or follow the plan, he had
already royally screwed up at Chancellorsville.
Royal screwups turned into outright
disobedience when he was given orders at
Gettysburg, and his actions led to the
massacre of the Third Corps .
During the battle, Sickles’s leg was hit by a
cannonball. Undeterred, he continued to sit
on his horse and issue orders. Finally, his
staff took him off the horse and transported
him to a nearby field hospital. According to a
story repeated by a number of Union writers,
Sickles spent the entire trip to the hospital
sitting up, smoking a cigar, and giving more
orders. When his leg was amputated, he
ordered that it not be discarded.
A short time earlier, the Army Surgeon
General had issued a directive that called for
the collection of “specimens of morbid
anatomy ,” and Sickles undoubtedly saw his
chance for a bit of immortality. He had his leg
preserved, put in a little coffin of its own, and
sent to the Army Medical Museum with a note
that read, “With the compliments of Major
General D.E.S. ”
Despite his disobedience on the battlefield,
Sickles received a Medal of Honor and a
position as an ambassador to Spain, where he
remarried and had more children. His leg was
put on display in the museum, and Sickles
visited it every year on the anniversary of its
3 King Badu Bonsu
In 1837, two Dutch emissaries were murdered
in the court of Ghana’s King Badu Bonsu II.
Their severed heads were displayed on the
king’s throne as a clear message of how he
viewed the Dutch presence in his country.
The Dutch vowed revenge, dispatching an
expedition that was supposedly a scientific
one. The expedition bribed a member of the
king’s court to gain access to the king and
then captured, hanged, and beheaded him.
His head was sent to Holland, where it
became part of a study on phrenology. That
branch of science was discredited long ago,
yet the king’s head remained in Leiden
University. Kept in a jar and tucked away, it
had been forgotten by the Dutch but not by
those who remembered Badu Bonsu as their
In 2002, Dutch novelist Arthur Japin found
the king’s head locked in a university
cupboard while researching his book titled
The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi. Ironically,
his novel was the story of an Ahanta boy who
was taken from his homeland in Ghana (then
the Gold Coast) and brought to Holland. It was
set in 1837, only a year before Major General
Jan Verveer actually returned with the head
of King Badu Bonsu II.
As Japin told The Independent , “The staff took
[the king’s head] out of the round jar and put
it on the laboratory sink for me. It had been
turned white by the formaldehyde but it was
still life-size and he looked as if he was
asleep. I felt, ‘ this is so wrong , you should go
The university disagreed. But a few years
later, Japin was attending a state dinner with
Ghana’s president and Holland’s queen. Japin
told the dignitaries of his discovery, and the
Ghanaians started a petition to get the head
However, the process wasn’t easy. When
Ghanaian representatives were sent to
Holland, they were given the head to take
back to their country. Although Dutch
representatives apologized for a nightmarish
history of slavery and repression in Ghana,
the tribal elders who took possession of the
head were angry because they were only sent
to confirm the head’s identity. To actually
retrieve the head was a huge breach of
Ghanaian protocol .
It wasn’t revealed what would become of the
king’s head when it returned to Ghana.
According to rumor, the king had never been
buried because it’s a major offense to inter an
incomplete body. Only when the head was
returned could the body be buried properly, if
the Ghanaians were able to find where the
body had been hidden away.
2 William Thompson
On August 6, 1867, British immigrant William
Thompson was working with a small group of
men repairing telegraph lines in Cheyenne
country. The lines had been cut by a group
hoping to lure some of the settlers into an
ambush. It wasn’t long until everyone was
dead but Thompson. Later, he would tell how
he was ridden down, shot in the arm, and
clubbed with the butt of a rifle. As he lay
there, he was stabbed in the neck and unable
to respond as his attacker cut into his scalp
and ripped it from his head.
Still conscious and motionless, Thompson
watched as his attacker remounted and
dropped the scalp. Once the group of
Cheyenne left, Thompson got up, retrieved his
scalp, and searched for help. Somehow, he
found it. The first journalist to whom he told
his story was Henry Morton Stanley, who
recounted seeing the scalp in a pail of water .
Stanley said it looked a bit like a drowned rat.
Thompson had kept the scalp in hopes that it
could be reattached, but the surgery was
beyond the capability of doctors at that time.
They did try to reset the scalp, but they
failed. As a grisly token, Thompson gave the
scalp to one of the doctors who had attempted
the operation. It was then passed on to the
Omaha Public Library and finally to the
Union Pacific Railroad Museum of Omaha.
Another journalist, Moses Sydenham, recorded
Thompson’s testimony of what it felt like to be
scalped for the Daily Sun : “The sensation was
about the same as if someone had passed a
red-hot iron over my head. After the air
touched the wound, the pain was almost
unendurable . . . I had to bite my tongue to
keep from putting my hand on the wound. I
wanted to see how much of the top of my
head was left.”
1 Friedrich Schiller
Friedrich Schiller was a German poet and
playwright whose story took some pretty
bizarre twists—and we’re still not sure how it
When he died in 1805, Schiller was buried in
a mass grave in Weimar, Germany. Twenty-
one years later, Weimar’s mayor decided to
give Schiller a proper burial, so they dug him
up. But no one knew which set of remains
was his. After 27 skulls were exhumed, the
mayor simply pointed to the biggest one and
declared that it must belong to the
That worked for a while. But in 1911, rumors
that the skull didn’t belong to Schiller began
to spread. When the mass grave was
reexamined, 63 skulls were seen as
possibilities. Another one was picked as
Schiller’s skull. Those bones were moved into
a crypt, which was disturbed yet again when
the Nazis took possession of both Schiller’s
supposed remains and the body of his friend,
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The Allies returned the remains to Weimar in
1945. However, in the mid-1950s, someone
took another look at the remains and decided
that the skull in Schiller’s sarcophagus
belonged to a woman.
In 2008, Weimar finally agreed to have DNA
tests performed on the skulls to determine
which one belonged to Schiller. The answer
was definitive—neither of them. While some
people are demanding to know how so many
people were fooled for so long, we still don’t
know what happened to Schiller’s actual
skull. Although it’s possible that it’s still in
the mass grave, some historians suggest that
Schiller’s remains were taken by grave
robbers in the 1800s.