On this day in history : 17th May 1978 – The intact coffin of Charlie Chaplin is found after it had gone missing from his grave over two months before….

Charlie Chaplin – Public domain

Chaplin had died at his home in Switzerland, at the age of 88, on Christmas Day 1977…. He had been buried four days later in the cemetery of the village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, in the hills above Lake Geneva….

On the 2nd of March 1978 his grave was found empty…. Massive media speculation followed; had Chaplin been dug up by fans – or anti-Semites objecting to a Jew in a Christian burial ground – or even pro-Nazis taking revenge for the film ‘The Great Dictator’….

Chaplin satirising Adolf Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator’, 1940 – Public domain

A ransom demand of 600,000 francs (£400K) had been made to Chaplin’s widow, 51-year-old Lady Oona Chaplin, for the return of her husband’s body…. It appeared the kidnappers were willing to negotiate, as in all 27 phone calls were made to Oona and to her lawyer…. What they didn’t know was that Oona had no intention of paying up – saying “my husband is in Heaven and in my heart”…. She added “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous”…. However, by keeping the dialogue open police were able to watch some 200 telephone kiosks in the area….

Chaplin, Oona and 6 of their children, 1961 – Public domain

On the 16th of May 24-year-old Roman Wardas, a Polish refugee car mechanic was arrested in a phone booth…. His accomplice, 38-year-old Bulgarian Gantscho Ganev was arrested shortly afterwards…. Chaplin’s coffin was found the following day buried in a corn field about a mile from the Chaplin family home…. It was reburied in a more secure concrete grave….

Chaplin’s grave, Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland – Silk Tork CC BY-SA 3.0

Wardas claimed he had been inspired by a similar case that he had read about in an Italian newspaper…. As the mastermind behind the crime he received four and a half years hard labour…. Ganev was given an eighteen month suspended sentence….

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