Grave Robbers  

  • The Pinkerton Document
  • Chicago Daily Tribune Coverage
  • New York Times Coverage
  • In Defense of the Medical Student Grave Robbers

Detective Allan Pinkerton was well known for his detailed reports of his investigations. This 1857 document from the Common Council files, written in Pinkerton's own hand, illustrates his meticulousness.


North Western Police Agency,
Chicago, December 14th 1857

Alderman Russell Green,
Chm Com on Public Grounds,
Chicago, Ill.


         I beg leave to submit the following Report of my Operations, undertaken at your request, for the discovery and arrest of the parties who have been engaged in robbing the graves in the Chicago Cemetery.

         Suspicion having been directed to Martin Quinlan, as being one of the guilty parties, I detailed one of my men, here designated as “A”, for the purpose of keeping a watch on Quinlan’s movements. He was so engaged during the afternoon and evening of the 27th of October, the day on which you placed the matter in my hands, and also on the 28th October, being assisted during a portion of the latter day by another of my Force, here designated as “B”. The Reports of these men did not develop anything positively implicating Quinlan in the depredations referred to. –

         On the morning of the 29th of October, I detailed two of my men, here designated as “C” and “D”, for the purpose of visiting the cemetery, to make an examination of the grounds, select such positions as would best secure the object desired to be attained, and make all necessary arrangements for the watching of the grounds, which watch it was deemed best to commence on that night.



         Everything being in readiness, and every precaution having been taken to secure success, I went out on the night of the 29th October, the four of my force above mentioned, with two others of my men, here designated as “E” and “F”, with instructions to proceed to the Cemetery, assume their several positions and keep watch during the night. On the following morning they reported to me that all had been quiet.

         On the night of the 30th October I added another of my men, here designated as “G”, to the previous force, thus increasing the number on watch to seven. The result of this nights watching was the Same as that of the preceding one.

         The watch was maintained with this number of men up to and through the night of the 5th of November, but during this time no attempt was made to disturb any of the graves.

         On the night of the 6th November, I was unable to send out more than four men, viz. “A”, “B”, “D” and “F”. At about midnight they noticed a buggy coming along North Avenue, and suspecting something wrong, “A” and “D” followed it to near Chicago Avenue, where Martin Quinlan got out and was arrested. The two parties remaining in the buggy, escaped the buggy (which was found to contain two corpses) and the horse was taken in charge, Quinlan brought to my office, and the team put up.

         During the day of Saturday, 7th November, “A”, “C” and “D” together with two of my assistants, here designated as “H” and “I”, were employed in making investigations connected with the matter, and in endeavors to ascertain who were the occupants of the buggy, who escaped. Mr. E.A. Rucker was also


engaged through the day in the Investigations. In the evening Eli Yorke was arrested by “C”, who had been specially deputized for the purpose. He was brought before Justice Milliken and his Examination postponed until the following Monday, his bail being fixed at $700 – which he gave, Dr. Brainard becoming his Surety. Quinlan had been brought before Justice Milliken, waived an examination, and in default of bail to the amount of $2,000 – had been committed early in the morning of this day.

         On Monday, 9th November Mr. Rucker was engaged during the morning with “C”, in making Investigations connected with the matter, and in the afternoon, with “A”, “B” and “H” at York’s Examination, which was again postponed, at the request of the Defendant’s counsel, until Monday 11th November.

         On Wednesday, 11th November, Mr. Rucker with “A”, “B”, “C” and “H” was engaged in the examination of Yorke, and matters connected therewith. This Examination resulted in the discharge of Yorke.

         On Thursday, 12th November, “A”, “C” and “H” were before the Grand Jury in the morning, and “C” with Mr. Rucker, were engaged in the afternoon in ascertaining the correctness of the account given by Quinlan of his whereabouts on the night of the 6th of November, up to the time of his arrest.

         On Friday morning “C” went to the Cemetery with a Mr. Best, who fully identified one of the bodies found in the buggy as that of his wife. In the afternoon “C” was again busied, with Mr. Rucker, in testing the correctness of Quinlan’s statement. Mr. Rucker was engaged during the morning before the Grand Jury.




         On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 18th, 19th and 20th November, Mr. Rucker was engaged in drawing the Indictments against Quinlan and Yorke, “H” and “J” being similarly employed on the 19th.

         On Thursday, 19th November, “C” with another of my force, here designated as “K”, were engaged in testing the correctness of Quinlan’s statement.

         On Saturday, 21st November, “C” was employed during the afternoon and evening in looking up and notifying the witnesses to appear at the Recorder’s Court on Monday following. Mr. Rucker was engaged at the Recorder’s Court during the day, the question of a continuance of the trials to the January Term, being argued.

         On Sunday, “C” and Mr. Rucker visited the Cemetery to make a plat of that portion of the grounds from which the bodies had been taken.

         On Monday, 23rd, November, Mr. Rucker, with “A”, “B”, “C” and “H” were at the Recorder’s Court in the morning when the trial of Quinlan and Yorke were postponed to the January Term of that Court.

         Accompanying this, I send enclosed my Bill for Services, in which I have charged all time of my men at $6- per day, which is my lowest price for operating.

         A full Report with the testimony in each case, will be furnished you and the Prosecuting and City Attornies previous to the trial.

Yours Respectfully,
Allan Pinkerton,
Per R.W.L

November 9, 1857

November 12, 1857

November 13, 1857

November 13, 1857

November 16, 1857

January 12, 1858

November 17, 1857

The Peninsular Journal of Medicine and the Collateral Sciences., edited by Alonzo Benjamin Palmer, Edmond Andrews, Zina Pintcher., Volume V., 1858.

December, 1857. Original Communications. Article V. From our Chicago Correspondent. Pp. 312 – 313.


(italics in the original)
The pressure of hard times makes itself felt on all classes. Medically it affects the revenues of our profession by cutting off all the lighter kinds of business, where persons would like a physician, but do not feel necessitated to it. Collections are impeded as a matter of course.

Rush Medical College opened as usual at the beginning of November. I am informed that there are about 80 or 90 students, a rather less number than last year.

One of the periodical fusses on the subject of dissection material has occurred. One of the grave diggers in the cemetery found that the occupants of certain holes in the potter’s field had gone to better quarter. It seemed to his righteous soul that, although it was proper to bury the pauper like dead dogs, to save expense to the city, it was not proper to dissect them, to save the lives of the citizens. Therefore he revealed the matter to an undertaker, and he vented his holy horror by informing two members of the city council, how the doctors were undermining the groundwork of his undertakings. The two Aldermen belonged to the genus granny, and it seemed to them to be a grave matter, and that there was ground of alarm, because the dead came out of the ground, notwithstanding the very act of resurrection proved that the subjects of their fears were groundless. Therefore they patted their Aldermanic stomachs where their souls lay, and having pledged the officers controlling the city treasury to foot the bill, they hired a detective police agency to watch the cemetery. The result was that the City Sexton was caught in a buggy and four subjects were captured with him. A student was arrested next day, but was discharged, there being no evidence against him. The Sexton is on bail. The two most rabid political papers here, the Times and the Tribune, vied with each other in a disgraceful tirade in low style suited to move an ignorant rabble against the sin of getting bodies for dissection. They are fighting still over the questions of whether the wicked Sexton was a Republican or Democrat. It is very mortifying to see that, after all that has been done to enlighten public opinion on the necessity of practical anatomy, prominent papers think it necessary to talk of the penitentiary and other legal persecutions as the proper reward for the pursuit of knowledge.

Pamela Bannos © 2021