Why did thieves dig up this New Yorker’s corpse?

When he died in 1876, department-store magnate Alexander Turney Stewart was one of the wealthiest men in New York City.

He opened a succession of dry-goods stores in Lower Manhattan beginning in the 1820s.

But it was his “iron palace” at Broadway and 10th Street (in photo), the first store to have dozens of departments, that made him rich and renowned.

Which must be why greedy thieves decided to dig up his body two years after he was interred in a family vault at St. Marks in the Bouwerie and hold it for ransom.

This couldn’t have been easy. The vault, covered by a stone slab, was several feet in the ground.

 

 

Once the robbers removed another slab and entered the 15 foot–long vault, they still had to open the casket carry out the decomposed body.

The ghoulish crime netted the corpse-nappers $20,000 from Stewart’s widow, who then reburied her husband on Long Island.

The A.T. Stewart store was taken over by Wanamaker’s in the 1890s. Today, it’s the site of a massive apartment building called Stewart House.

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4 Responses to “Why did thieves dig up this New Yorker’s corpse?”

  1. Early Addition Says:

    [...] Alexander Turney Stewart died in 1876, he was one of the wealthiest men in New York City. Two years after he was interred in a family [...]

  2. Ben Says:

    The corpse robbery of millionaire merchant Alexander Turney Stewart, in 1878 from St. Mark’s cemetery was one of the great historical crimes in New York City. Michael Newton’s book, The Encyclopedia of Kidnappings, says that kidnapping a corpse involves less risk for the criminals than kidnapping a live person.
    Stewart’s kidnappers were likely inspired by Jim Kenealy and his gang, who were caught in 1876 for dragging the casket of President Abraham Lincoln out of his tomb. Stewart’s corpse robbers sent his family coded ransom notes demanding $200,000 for the return of his body. The family paid the snatchers and Stewart’s body was reburied in Long Island. A New York Times article reporting on the body snatching gives a graphic and revolting description of Stewart’s empty casket: “When the outrage was discovered on Thursday morning the bottom of the casket was covered with liquid slime, and on the cover of the cedar box, on which the corpse was evidently laid… were several splotches of similar slime, evidently only recently dripped from the body.” There was a massive police investigation and many curios New Yorkers stood staring through the cemetery gates as investigators searched for clues.

  3. The Gothic castle that once stood in Inwood « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall fame later lived there, as did department store millionaire A.T. Stewart, who bequeathed it to his business partner, William Libbey (yep, the castle’s name is a [...]

  4. A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] shops at A.T. Stewart’s dry-goods store on Chambers Street and likes Arnold and Constable on Canal Street, where “they keep elegant […]

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