Charlie Chaplin is one of history’s most prolific comedians. The man known as the “Little Tramp” gained international fame through his comedy skits. As a child he lived a difficult life. His father was an alcoholic who didn’t support his family either financially or emotionally. Chaplin’s mother dealt with mental issues and was in and out of care for her issues. As a result, Chaplin never experienced any stability during his childhood. He spent his childhood suffering in poverty and living between homes.
As a youngster, Chaplin had aspirations to become a famous performer. He began his career as a dancer and then pursued acting. His heart, however, was in comedy. Chaplin found his success as a silent film performer doing comedy. These old movies can still be seen today. Although silent, they are brilliant—even by today’s standards. Chaplin classics include City Lights and The Kid. He was an actor, director and entrepreneur. Additionally, he also became a popular comic strip character and America’s most beloved celebrity. Robert Downey Jr. of Iron Man fame once portrayed the late comedian in a movie titled Chaplin.
Although Chaplin became a successful entertainer, fortune and fame didn’t make life any easier for him. His life became engulfed in controversy. He was accused of being a communist sympathizer and womanizer who would marry an 18-year-old girl named Oona O’Neill when he was 54. She would become his fourth and final wife. The couple had eight children and the union lasted until his death on Christmas Day of 1977.
Chaplin and his wife would eventually move to Switzerland after being forced to leave America. The Chaplin family had finally found some peace in their lives. Chaplin spent his final years of life with his family enjoying life near Lake Geneva until his death. But even in death, the Chaplins experienced controversy that would reach beyond the grave.
On March 2, 1978, two auto mechanics stole Chaplin’s body from his grave. The thieves were a Polish man named Roman Wardas and a Bulgarian man named Gantscho Ganev. The two men dug up Chaplin’s body and then reburied it in a nearby cornfield. They then called Oona Chaplin and demanded a $600,000 ransom for the body’s return. They even threatened the Chaplin children with bodily harm. Mrs. Chaplin contacted the authorities who would eventually trace a phone call from the thieves. Little did these bumbling thieves know, but Oona Chaplin had no intention of paying the ransom since the idea of paying for a corpse seemed ludicrous. The thought of a dead body being worth $600,000 would have probably brought the Little Tramp a few laughs if he learned of the dastardly plot while in the afterlife.
Unknown to the thieves, authorities had their officers keep surveillance on 200 local phone booths. When the two mechanics made another call for the ransom, they were easily captured. Authorities charged the two criminals with grave robbing and extortion. Wardas received four-and-a-half years of hard labor while his accomplice received an 18-month suspended sentence.
After the two criminals were caught, the body of Charlie Chaplin was returned to his family. He was reburied with a concrete cover to prevent anyone else from trying to steal his corpse again. The farmer who owned the cornfield where Chaplin’s body was hidden had placed a cross on Chaplin’s empty temporary grave. It must have been an interesting conversation for him since he could tell people that Charlie Chaplin was once buried on his property. Today, Charlie Chaplin remains buried in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. It can only be assumed that he continues to rest in peace.
Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page Life with Grandpa and he also just wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on Amazon.com.