In 1830, William Patrick and William Whayley, labourers of Farcet were charged with bodysnatching from Yaxley churchyard.
Together they stole the recently interred body of Jane Mason.
Abraham Rist, labourer of Yaxley told the court of Patrick’s attempts to get him to enter a body-snatching partnership.
Patrick assured him that the watchmen turned a blind eye when he carried the sacks from the churchyard if he tipped with a few pieces of silver. Patrick also said that a certain ‘Grimmer’ repeatedly offered him money for the dead bodies.
A common purpose of body snatching, especially in the 19th century, was to sell the corpses for dissection or anatomy lectures in medical schools. Those who practised body snatching were often called “resurrectionists” or “resurrection-men”.
Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.
Those who were sentenced to dissection by the courts were often guilty of comparatively harsher crimes. Such sentences did not provide enough subjects for the medical schools and private anatomical schools (which did not require a licence before 1832).
While during the 18th century hundreds had been executed for trivial crimes, by the 19th century only about 55 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year.
However, with the expansion of the medical schools, as many as 500 cadavers were needed.