Grave robbing was at one time a very lucrative business. You could make a pretty decent living removing corpses from cemetery plots and selling them to doctors, scientists and any other weirdo with the money to pay you for the job. Let’s face it: grave robbers were not particularly interested in what happened to the corpse once they turned it over. Grave robbing is still pretty lucrative for some people. TV writers being one of them. Watch enough TV shows and you are bound to wind up watching some digging savant form a perfectly rectangular hole in the ground and whisk away a cold dead body. With or without a gun in its hand.
The very first time viewers ever heard the words “I’m Larry and this is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl” occurred in connection with an instance of grave robbing. Well, actually it depends on your definition of grave robbing. If you mean that Larry and the Darryls secreted into a graveyard and stole a corpse, then they are examples of TV grave robbers. If you mean that they were paid to remove a corpse from its burial place without approval of any family member of the deceased, then, yes, they were grave robbers. At any rate, they were called in by Dick Loudon to remove from its grave the remains of a woman buried in the basement of his inn. Oh, and by the way, the woman was executed as a witch in the 1600s.
What is the difference, exactly, between a grave robber who sells corpses to doctors to conduct secret scientific experiments and an archaeologist who removes a mummified corpse for exhibition inside a museum? None, really, if you think about it. On the episode titled of the 1970s version of the TV mystery about Ellery Queen titled “The Adventure of the Pharaoh’s Curse” a wealthy industrialist is found murdered in a museum shortly after the revelation of an ancient Egyptian mummy his funds helped to discover and remove. A mummy’s curse? Not really. Was the industrialist nothing better than a common grave robber? Most assuredly.
The character that one might well consider the most repulsive on “Dark Shadows” was not a vampire. Heck, good old Barnabas Collins was suave, sexy and super-terrific. Willie, on the other hand, while not a vampire, looked like the guy of kind who gets run out of small towns by the sheriff. Apparently, being a grave robber on TV is much lower in status than being a vampire.
The title of the episode should tell you quite a bit about the status of grave robbers on TV. “Deliveries in the Rear” is about one of this physicians of the 1800s who depended on grave robbers to keep his class in which he taught anatomy to aspiring doctors full and interested. “Night Gallery” was Rod Serling’s 1970s version of “Twilight Zone” and therefore you just know that there is going to be an ironic twist to this twisted tale of grave robbers. You can see it coming from a mile away, but it still packs a pretty good punch.
Does the term grave robbing apply when you are merely digging up the gravesite to procure something buried with the body? Dwight Dixon is on the hunt for a gold pocketwatch buried with the father of the girl named Chuck in “Pushing Daisies.” This watch is apparently valuable enough in ways we don’t understand to push Dixon to point of robbing it right out of the casket of an old friend currently pushing up daisies. Unfortunately, “Pushing Daisies” was canceled before viewers ever got to understand the vital importance of that watch.