Death + the Law Death Ethics

Day 3: Necrophilia is a Guaranteed Attention Getter

Why we are so fascinated by people who want to have sex with dead bodies
John Troyer, The Conversation (July 03, 2014)

Three days into the 31 Days of Death and I’m already writing about necrophilia. It was going to happen, this much I knew, but I didn’t think so soon. So it goes.

Necrophilia is one of those topics that always grabs a person’s attention. Most recently, allegations of necrophilia appeared in the UK news and involved the deceased and publicly disgraced Jimmy Savile. An editor at The Conversation, a news and information platform that features articles by academics, asked if I could address why it is people find necrophilia simultaneously fascinating and disgusting.

That article is at the top of the page.

This request wasn’t entirely random. Indeed, I’m asked to discuss necrophilia at least 2-3 times a year and there’s a good reason for the requests. In 2008, I published one of the few peer reviewed academic journal articles on necrophilia and necrophilia laws. That article, Abuse of a Corpse: A Brief History and Re-theorization of Necrophilia Laws in the USA is available on the website.

If Meg, Kim and I have learned anything these past five years it’s that stories about dead bodies and sex, especially dead bodies being used for sex, will always attract attention on the interwebs. And then, if you’re lucky, people will start e-mailing you their tasteful nude photography taken in cemeteries. This really happened. I’m not making it up.

I have a hunch that before these 31 Days of Death are over I will end up discussing necrophilia at least once more. Maybe twice.

You should also check out Carla Valentine’s blog posts on necro topics.

Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Enter now the FBI into the Arlington Cemetery Debacle

Arlington Cemetery’s Mishandling of Remains Prompts FBI Criminal Probe
Jerry Markon and Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (June 29, 2011)
The Justice Department is investigating the mishandling of remains at Arlington National Cemetery in a broad criminal inquiry that is also seeking evidence of possible contracting fraud and falsification of records, people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday

I have no idea who is going to make the documentary film about the rise and fall of Arlington National Cemetery but it is going to be a long and complicated movie. Twists and turns will emerge from nowhere and then suddenly it will turn out that the FBI was investigating the whole situation.

At this point, nothing which emerges from the ongoing and unstoppable Arlington cemetery train wreck surprises me. Nothing. The Washington Post has been singlehandedly leading the charge on this case. Now we have FBI Agents, a federal grand jury handing out subpoenas, and increasingly obvious cases of multi-million dollar fraud.

Here’s the rub: it’s only going to get worse. That’s my guess after following this case since day one.

You can read all the previous Arlington Cemetery posts here.

The Death Reference Desk will of course follow this case until the end.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

Arlington National Cemetery Update…Now with Hints of Conspiracy

Warner to Introduce Bill to Revoke Reserved Plots at Arlington
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 30, 2011)

A quick update on Arlington National Cemetery and its ongoing problems. The lead didn’t necessarily get buried in this most recent article from the Washington Post but the entire Arlington debacle just got a lot more interesting.

As The Washington Post reports, a list has surfaced of 84 names, mostly generals and colonels, who have been promised choice spots in the cemetery, despite the ban on such favoritism. This unofficial reservation system seems to contribute to the failure to computerize records, despite millions of dollars spend on such a project, starting in 2002. It’s easier to falsify and deliberately mismanage a paper trail than it is a digital facsimile.

There has already been a Congressional investigation but I won’t be surprised if we see another.


Arlington Cemetery Debacle Gets Worse and Worse

Arlington Cemetery Struggles with Old Reservations
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 21, 2011)
Officials at Arlington National Cemetery — still unable to fully account for who is buried where at the nation’s premier military resting place — are struggling to determine who has reserved plots and whether some of those grave sites are already in use.

Oh poor, sad black-hole-of-problems Arlington National Cemetery. One day, a book about running modern cemeteries will be written and in said book will be a chapter entitled Arlington National Cemetery: A Case Study in Totally Preventable Burial Disasters.

Last week, I posted another Washington Post article on the mass burial of ‘unknown’ urns.

And I now have a prediction: We have not yet reached the bottom of this continuing fall from postmortem grace. It boggles the imagination to imagine what will happen next, but I know that some new terrible development is on the way.

In all fairness, Arlington Cemetery’s new executive director, Kathryn Condon, is doing an impressive job of dealing with the multiple problems she inherited from the previous overseers. You can read about all of the problems confronting Arlington Cemetery here.

The newest problem confronting Arlington, as reported in the Post article linked above, is they don’t have accurate records for who holds a gravesite reservation and where, and whether that grave is already occupied.

At some point, it would be good to compile an entire list of everything that has gone wrong at Arlington…I’ll plan on this for the future.

Coincidentally, Meg posted information yesterday on some proposed legislation working its way through the United States Congress. The Bereaved Consumer’s Bill of Rights Act of 2011 was written to deal with the kinds of problems afflicting Arlington Cemetery. Sadly, this Bill would not encompass Veterans Affairs cemeteries, such as Arlington, so it’s up to the Federal Government to make the fixes.

This story will continue.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

Arlington Cemetery Re-Buries the ‘Unknown’ Dead

For First Time in Decades, Arlington National Cemetery Must Bury Multiple ‘Unknowns’
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 06, 2011)
When the remains of a Vietnam War soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery were identified in 1998 using DNA, Pentagon officials proudly said that the days of interring service members as “Unknown” could well be over.

It is difficult to imagine the situation at Arlington National Cemetery getting any worse. But the bad news just keeps coming and coming. Hats off to the Washington Post, whose reporters have been rigorously following this case.

The newest revelation is that eight sets of unidentified, cremated human remains were chucked into a single gravesite because of human negligence.

When Arlington Cemetery’s problems first came to light, I remember referring to the entire situation as a ‘Code Red’ alarm for any cemetery.

I’m not sure that even Code Red is an adequate description anymore.

One day, a final tally of all the mishandled burials might be known. But I’m not counting on it.

To read more about the Arlington National Cemetery debacle, click here.

Burial Death + Crime Death + the Law

Update on 91 Year Old Pennsylvania Woman Keeping Corpses in House

Happy Homecoming for Widow Who Lived with Corpses
Authorities found out and took the embalmed corpses away. She is having a mausoleum built on her property to get them back.
Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press (January 04, 2011)

A quick update on the July story about 91-year-old Jean Stevens in Pennsylvania. Stevens, many people will recall, had been keeping the embalmed bodies of both her husband and twin sister in her home. Pennsylvania officials quickly determined that this was not an appropriate form of final disposition for the bodies and took them away. I wrote about the original case here.

Back in July I suggested that Pennsylvania authorities should think twice about prosecuting Stevens and, instead, help her build a mausoleum for the bodies.

And lo, if that isn’t exactly what happened. The AP explains:

The 91-year-old widow [Jean Stevens] who lived with the embalmed corpses of her husband and twin sister — until authorities found out and took them away — is hopeful they’ll be returned soon.



Workmen at Stevens’ rural property outside the northern Pennsylvania town of Wyalusing have been busy the past few months, erecting a gabled building with gray siding and a white door. It resembles an oversized shed, or a smaller version of Stevens’ detached garage.


In reality, it’s a mausoleum that Stevens intends as the final resting place of her husband of nearly 60 years, James Stevens, and her twin, June Stevens. And authorities have told her it’s the only way she can get them back.

So there you go. Jean Stevens will be re-united with her dead husband and sister, forevermore.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

Year End Look at Arlington Cemetery’s Future

Restoring Arlington Cemetery
Washington Post Editorial Board (December 27, 2010)
What does it mean to restore accountability in the nation’s cemetery?

This is a good, succinct Washington Post Editorial on everything that’s gone wrong at Arlington Cemetery. This last year has been particularly bad for Arlington Cemetery and you can read Death Ref’s coverage of those problems here.

The Washington Post Editorial Board also mentions the fixes being implemented to help remedy the problems. One key improvement will be the the use of a computerized tracking system for all the graves. It is hard to believe, given Arlington Cemetery’s national significance, but before now all the graves were kept track of on pieces of paper.


That system didn’t work particularly well. In early December, for example, the Washington Post ran a story on 8 sets of cremated remains found buried in the same, single gravesite. What was most interesting about that specific case was that the US Military brought in an Army Anthropologist (who usually works on gravesite forensic investigations) to ascertain what happened.

So, on the whole, 2011 will be a tricky year for Arlington Cemetery.

Especially since US Military personnel continue to die overseas, and those individuals deserve what the Department of Defense calls a dignified transfer to the grave.

Death + Crime Death + the Economy Death + the Law

And the Corpse Rides Shotgun Follow-Up

Portrait Emerges of Woman Whose Mummified Body was Found in Car Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (October 28, 2010)

Last week I wrote about a California news item which involved the police finding a dead body in a car. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times did a follow-up piece and as I suspected the emerging story is really sad. Death Ref has run several pieces on Death and the Economy and this most recent article fits the bill. The Times provides this addendum to last week’s story:

The two women met last year at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley and were unlikely acquaintances. One was a Costa Mesa real estate agent, the other a homeless woman [Signe Margit] who frequented the park. The real estate agent allowed the woman to sleep in her father’s old sedan. But sometime in the last 10 months, the homeless woman died in the car. And for reasons that Costa Mesa police are still trying to determine, the real estate agent decided not to report the woman’s death to authorities. Detectives said she drove the car with the mummifying corpse covered with clothing in the passenger’s seat. She used baking powder to reduce the smell.

I decided to post a follow-up piece since so many dead body stories function as macabre fantasy tales without an actual ending. It seemed only appropriate to end this particular story with a fuller acknowledgement of the hard economic times many people now face.

Death + Crime Death + the Economy Death + the Law

And the Corpse Rides Shotgun

Woman Drove Around With Mummified Body
Salvador Hernandez and Greg Hardesty, The Orange County Register (October 22, 2010)

I am a little surprised that only a few people sent me this recent decomposing-dead-body-in-the-news article. Like so many of the other dead body stories on Death Ref this particular California tale is both macabre and sad. Indeed, it looks as if the economic problems currently afflicting a great many Americans played a role here. We’ve got an entire Death Ref section devoted to just Death + the Economy items. This most recent story also reminds me, a little bit, of the Pennsylvania case from last July.

More than anything, the Orange County prosecutor will have to look at the California statutes which define how and when a corpse is mishandled.

I have a hunch that no legal action will be taken.

And in case anyone is wondering, the smell described by the Police is the result of the body’s decomposing fluids seeping into the car’s interior.

I know I know. Too much information.

Never Stop Learning.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

And the Problems at Arlington Cemetery Just Keep Growing…

2 Bodies Found in Wrong Plots at Arlington Cemetery
Christian Davenport, Washington Post (September 15, 2010)
Arlington National Cemetery officials discovered that two people were buried in the wrong plots after exhuming their remains last month, an Army official confirmed Tuesday.


More Details Emerge about Bodies Buried in Wrong Arlington Plots
Christian Davenport, Washington Post (September 21, 2010)
The mystery of missing bodies at the nation’s most hallowed military burial ground keeps getting more troubling.

Two more articles on the problems at Arlington National Cemetery recently ran in the Washington Post and the situation is going from bad to worse. Way worse.

These are two interrelated articles, separated by about a week and represent a huge problem for cemetery authorities: bodies in the wrong plots, plots marked with headstones that lack bodies, and multiple sets of remains in single plots.


Early on, when the problems at Arlington Cemetery first emerged, I suggested that mass disinterments might be required. This was partially in jest but I am beginning to think that it could happen. These are Code Red, worst case scenarios for ANY cemetery, let alone Arlington National Cemetery which handles military funerals.

At this point, it is hard to know what Arlington officials can do other than check every single grave. That is a total of 300,000 graves (give or take), with approximately 6,900 new funerals every year. Even if officials cut the total number in half, it’s still 150,000 graves that need checking and that would be a Herculean task.

You can read all of Death Ref’s Arlington Cemetery reports here.

Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Arlington Cemetery Problems Just Keep Coming

At Arlington Cemetery, Years of Problems
Aaron C. Davis and Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post (July 26, 2010)


Arlington Cemetery Problems were Documented in 2005 but Never Fixed
Aaron C. Davis and Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (July 28, 2010)


As Many as 6,600 Arlington Graves Mixed Up
Anne Flaherty, Associated Press ( July 29, 2010)


Ex-Cemetery Official Takes Fifth
Christian Davenport and Aaron C. Davis, The Washington Post (July 30, 2010)


Editorial: Arlington’s Broken Trust
The New York Times (August 02, 2010)

The Arlington Cemetery story just keeps going and going. At this point, and based upon the reporting largely by the Washington Post, it looks like Arlington Cemetery is going to require a review of the entire cemetery.

I have no idea how that will work or how much money it will require but it’s going to get complicated.


The issues at Arlington Cemetery have gotten so complex that I have added an Arlington Cemetery tag so that people can directly follow the stories.

Two things happened last week: 1.) The former head of Arlington Cemetery testified before a US Senate Sub-committee and he plead the 5th Amendment on some question. The 5th Amendment. 2.) It’s become clear that no one knows how many graves are mis-labeled, incorrect, or non-existent.

These are not insignificant obstacles.

I’ll keep following the story as it develops.

Burial Death + Crime Death + the Law

91 Year Old’s Pennsylvania Corpse Abuse Case is Complicated

Widow Lives with Corpses of Husband, Twin
Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press (July 05, 2010)


DA: Woman can Keep Corpses in Crypt
Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press (July 07, 2010)
No charges yet for disinterring her kin

I am going to guess that more than a few people saw this story earlier in the week. It’s a classic dead-bodies-are-so-creepy narrative, which is made all the better because the story involves a totally normal, lovely old woman who kept said corpses in her home.

In this particular case, it was 91-year-old Jean Stevens keeping her dead husband in the garage and her dead sister in the spare bedroom. Here is the real shocker: these situations are not uncommon. They pop up from time-to-time with the usual macabre sense of horror and fascination. Indeed, when I was a child in Cincinnati, OH an older woman who lived in my neighborhood kept her dead father in the house for months. A whole army of children watched as the police went into the house and eventually wheeled out the dead man on a gurney (covered in a sheet), coughing from the smell.

What is slightly different about this Pennsylvania case is this: the dead bodies in question were embalmed, buried in their graves, and then exhumed for Jean Stevens. Who or whom did the exhuming has not been revealed. She then placed the bodies above ground.


corpses-300x225I give Stevens credit for keeping both bodies undiscovered for a number of years. It also looks like Stevens was/is next-of-kin for both her husband and sister, which means that she had/has the legal right to determine final disposition for the dead bodies. She was fine until she had the bodies disinterred and moved to her home. This would be why the District Attorney is saying that Stevens can build a crypt on her property which could then be used for the husband and sister.

The DA is in a tight spot here, too, because he is talking about using Pennsylvania’s Abuse of Corpse law to charge Stevens with a misdemeanor. Here is that law:

Pennsylvania Statute: 5510. Abuse of Corpse.
Except as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.

In case you are wondering, this is the same law used to charge people with necrophilia related crimes.

Which brings me to the following point. Without a doubt, Stevens improperly exhumed two different dead bodies and then improperly kept both bodies above ground. What I’m not so clear on is whether she outraged ordinary family sensibilities. I say this because it is clear that Jean Stevens committed these incomprehensible acts out of both love and grief. Furthermore, if she’s the last family member on the planet then whose ‘family’ is being outraged? These are philosophical arguments that don’t necessarily stand firm before the law.

That said, I expect that the DA won’t actually pursue misdemeanor charges. If he’s smart, he’ll help Stevens raise money for the crypt.

Macabre as this story initially sounds, it’s a useful lesson on how the law sees death in contradistinction to how family members do the same. Besides it not nearly as gruesome as this other Pennsylvania corpse story.

Alas, and unfortunately, most of the reporting uses the easiest hooks and angles. The WNET-TV nightly news video at the top is a perfect example.