Criminalia

Criminalia

Humans have always committed crimes. What can we learn from the criminals and crimes of the past, and have humans gotten better or worse over time?

Episodes

June 28, 2022 3 min

“Some people are born to treachery,” and it’s those people we’re interested in, in this brand new season. The treasonists. The traitors.  Welcome to season 7 of Criminalia. 

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This season there were plenty of stories of those who dug up the dead for cash -- for various reasons, but really, two primary: to sell them to medical schools, or to maybe get something for it, like ransom. And there were plenty of cocktails and mocktails to go around. Holly and Maria continue their tradition, and talk about which were their favorites shows and favorite drinks of the season. See you there.

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Andreas Vesalius (Andries van Wesel) was a 16th-century Flemish anatomist whose work revolutionized the study of the human body. And he was able to do so because he was also a body snatcher -- and though he never would have called himself one, he was known to share hands-on tips for how to find fresh corpses. He used human cadavers for hands-on observations, and published groundbreaking, forward-thinking works about how our bodies ...

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No one truly knows the identities of those who participated in the Boston Tea Party, but one man’s name always ends up on the usual suspects list -- and that's Dr. Joseph Warren: physician and revolutionist. And, resurrection man. Warren, along with some very well-known names, founded an illicit secret society at Harvard in the late 1700s -- the Spunker Club.

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The first attempt at snatching and ransoming Abraham Lincoln's body was in 1876. It didn’t work out, as you’ll see. But it wasn’t the only attempt at snatching Lincoln’s remains -- and, as it turns, none of them worked out. Lead by counterfeit crime boss James “Big Jim” Kennally, here's what really went down when the Kennally gang tried to snatch Lincoln and spring their man Benjamin Boyd from prison.

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The stories of both Chris Baker and Grandison Harris take place during the American Civil War and period of Reconstruction. Both were body snatchers, or night doctors as they were known in the south, and each worked exclusively for a medical school -- and both men were enslaved.

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Resurrectionist William Cunningham was actively stealing bodies from grave sites around Cincinnati from 1855 to 1871. He was well known, and he was something of a legend. He once returned to the same gravesite at which he had earlier been caught digging – after he’d bought those who had detained him a drink. He dressed the bodies he stole. And, he had a “villainous bald head.”

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Snatching bodies from graves to sell them to medical and anatomy schools was once a super-common reason for disinterring corpses, but it’s definitely not the only reason people have disturbed the dead. And as strange as this may sound, it turns out many people have had their skull stolen from their grave -- sometimes for research, sometimes for ransom, and sometimes, because they were considered prized possessions.

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So far in our season of body snatching, we’ve been looking at things mainly from the point of view of the snatcher. But we’re going to change that up a little. Scottish surgeon John Hunter was “the patron saint of the body snatchers.” What do you have to do to earn that title? Well. Let’s find out.

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Contrary to popular belief, the famous body-snatching duo of William Burke and William Hare were not actually body snatchers. They never robbed graves at all -- they had their own way of supplying anatomists with fresh corpses, and it didn’t involve the graveyard. They simply killed people. And a new word was coined from the pair’s murderous practices: ‘burking'.

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April 26, 2022 26 min

He was hardly the only professional body snatcher in Washington, D.C. in the late 19th century, but William M. Jansen is definitely one of the most colorful. He snatched the body of Charles Shaw, and sold it. And then he stole it a second time. And it all happened within 36 hours of Shaw’s death. Here's how it went down.

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Welcome to first episode of a new season of Criminalia. This season we're talking about body snatchers, and the bodies they snatched. Ben Crouch was the son of a carpenter, and was a well-known prizefighter in his day. He’s described as a tall, flamboyantly-dressed man with a pox-marked face who loved to wear gold jewelry, especially gold rings. He could be violent and intimidating -- and he was the leader of London's most ...

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Holly and Maria continue their tradition: At the end of each season, they pick their favorites shows and favorite cocktails and mocktails. Tell us about the stories and drinks you liked best on social media – #criminalia. Let's see which ones we have in common. 

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In season 6 of Criminalia, you can expect to hear about those who dug up the dead for cash. Grave robbers dug up graves to steal valuable items that had been buried with the deceased. As did tomb raiders. They were known to take everything but the body. Body snatchers and resurrectionists, though, stole bodies from graves. The first recorded case of body snatching is attributed to four medical students in Bologna, Italy, in 1319 --...

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Let’s talk about witch panic. If your crime is not of being a witch, but rather of falsely accusing and then punishing an alleged witch, what led up to that moment? Well, probably more than one thing. There’s a lot of talk about the religious factors that have long been part of purging witches, and while that’s often a fair explanation based on the time and place, it’s not the only explanation. Misogyny. Jealousy. Dreams. Lots of t...

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There’s no mistaking that alchemy laid a foundation for the modern science of chemistry. And though the contributions of alchemists have been dismissed by scholars for years – centuries, to be more accurate -- some of the names we recognize as being influential in the early days of our modern sciences were also alchemists. Whether it was known they were practicing alchemists, that’s a different story.

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Al-Fārābī learned from the Greeks, but he wrote for Muslims. This polymath translated Greek works on science and philosophy, offering important commentaries on both Aristotle and Plato -- in the Arabic language. You might be thinking, neither Plato nor Aristotle were nor are considered alchemists. Yes, but they formulated some ideas that went on to become part of the fabric of the traditions of alchemy, not only Arabic alchemy. And...

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Agnes Sampson was a midwife and local cunning woman in a small village in Scotland at the end of the 16th century when she was accused of practicing witchcraft and conspiring with the devil. After extreme torture, she confessed to 53 indictments against her -- including a plot to assassinate King James VI.

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"One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the One as the fourth.” That’s the most famous axiom attributed to Mary the Jewess, who, it’s said, is the first known alchemist of the Western world. She is known to have invented processes and apparatus that went on to be used for centuries, both in and out the scientific community – in fact one of them, you may have used in your home kitchen.

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March 1, 2022 28 min

John Dee: scientist, or sorceror? Much evidence suggests he inspired Marlowe’s Faustus, Shakespeare’s Prospero, and Ben Johnson’s The Alchemist. He spent much of his life studying alchemy, divination, mathematics, and Hermetic philosophy -- and his library, it's said, housed an amazing 4,000 works. He was accused of using mathematics, of being a conjurer, and of spying for the English crown - which makes sense, because it's...

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