Why Did Two Robbers Steal Charlie Chaplin's Coffin?

One night in March 1978, two criminals entered the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery and stole Charlie Chaplin's coffin. Hear the whole story in Giles Milton's Unknown History podcast.

Giles Milton
2-minute read
Episode #21

It was a moonless night and the rain was being driven hor- izontal by the wind. The villagers of Corsier-sur-Vevey, on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, were already in their beds, unaware that a macabre crime was about to be com- mitted  on their doorstep. 1 March 1978 was to be a night  of grave-robbery, deception and ransom.

Two criminals dressed in black scuttled into the little village cemetery. One of the men, Roman Wardas, was a twenty-four- year-old petty criminal from Poland. The other, thirty-eight- year-old Gancho Ganev, was from Bulgaria. Together, they had hatched a plot intended to net them a fortune.

The two men stumbled in the darkness as they picked their way through the 400 graves. Most of the tombs were marked with simple wooden crosses, but one was far grander. Sculpted from white stone, it was engraved with the words: ‘Charles Chaplin 1889–1977’. The world’s most famous comedian, who owned a mansion in the village, had died just two months earlier, on Christmas Day.

As the rain sluiced down, Wardas and Ganev pulled out a pickaxe and started to dig their way around the grave. The soil was still loose, even though  the  rain  had  made  it wet and heavy. It took them almost two hours to reach their goal.

Shortly after midnight they managed to prise Charlie Chaplin’s coffin from its resting place. They heaved it across the churchyard and loaded it into the back of their estate car. They then  drove it to a cornfield at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, dug a shallow grave and reburied the coffin. It was the perfect hiding place.

To hear the full story, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook



This post is roughly excerpted from When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank. You can preorder a copy of the book, due out in November 2016, on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieboundBooks-a-Million, and Apple


About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.