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The Mystery Behind the Missing Corpse of One of the Richest Men Ever

In the mid-19th century, Alexander Stewart ran a vast business of factories and stores selling clothing and dry goods in New York City. When he died, he left a fortune worth $46 billion dollars in today's money. He died in 1876, and was buried (but not embalmed) in the graveyard at Saint-Mark’s-Church-In-The-Bowery. Two years later, the grave was unearthed by unknown persons, and Stewart's corpse was missing.   

Alexander Stewart made headlines in life as an entrepreneur and shrewd businessman, but his “resurrection” caused a media sensation unparalleled by anything he had experienced in life. Grave robbing was a reality of 19th-century life, but it usually involved the theft of fresh bodies from the poor and disenfranchised for medical experiments. The successful body-snatching of one of the New York’s biggest names, in a bad economy—two years after a failed attempt to rob Lincoln’s Tomb, no less—captured the zeitgeist. (The Lincoln Case, Bess Lovejoy, author of Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, suggested in an interview, may actually have served as direct inspiration for the Stewart robbers.)

Police found some gruesome evidence of the crime, but no body was ever recovered. Or was it? Two men confessed, but produced no body or evidence. Stewart's widow did some private negotiating with someone who demanded a ransom. Stories were told of Stewart's bones being returned to the family, but accounts vary. Read about Alexander Stewart's disappearance at Atlas Obscura.


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