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 iTunes, Stitcher, 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books-a-Million, and Apple.