Averett Amateur Spiritualists Arrested for Grave Robbery

Stars & Stripes, 30 Mar. 1952

I can’t remember what I was researching when I ran across the article  “Students Rob Grave to Hold Weird Seance“, but as soon as I saw the words “Averett College” and “Chatham, VA” in the body, I abandoned whatever it was.

Barrier Miner, 28 Mar. 1952

The scandal involved Jay Heze(kiah) Ford Pigg, a member of a prominent Pittsylvania County family and five of his friends: Clifton Cook (21), Miss Merle Goad (20), Robert Leach (20), Miss Carol Stuart (21), and Steve Meadows (20). With the exception of Leach, who attended Danville Technical Institute, the gaggle of ghouls were Averett commuter students. They had been reading about spiritualism and decided “as a joke” to go to a cemetery on Pigg family property to dig up a grave to gather remains for a seance. On March 1, during the day, they took turns shoveling the soil of a grave until they reached the coffin. They removed the skull, a few bones, the coffin’s handle, and a plate bearing the inscription, “rest in piece” from a grave originally reported to belong to one of Pigg’s ancestors. The skull was taken to Merle’s home, where her mother insisted she take it back. Merle returned to the grave and reburied the skull, only to dig it up again on Monday around 4 p.m., along with Pigg, Stuart, Meadows, and Cook.

Berkshire Evening Eagle, 3 Apr. 1952

The group took the skull to the dimly lit basement day room at Averett and held at least three seances between Monday evening and Tuesday morning. Specific details of these seances weren’t reported, but it was said that they’d put a lit candle in the skull for a spooky effect, still not realizing the severity of their actions. Other students wandered in to gawk at the skull and bones in between classes as people whispered about the “stolen corpse” in the lounge. Some students were highly offended by the disrespectful manner in which the skeleton was being treated, which prompted Pigg and another male from the group to incinerate the skull and other bones in the college’s furnace on the afternoon of March 4. Despite attempts to destroy the evidence, Averett’s President Bishop caught wind of the on-campus spooky spectacle and after speaking to each member of the group, suspended one and expelled the others. Averett was and still is a Baptist-affiliated college. If word got out that students were dabbling in the occult on school grounds, the school’s reputation could be damaged.

The Bee [Danville, VA] 27 Mar. 1952

Back at the graveyard, Dennis Jones noticed that the grave had been tampered with and contacted law enforcement. The six original grave robbers were  indicted for violation of sepulture and faced five to ten years in prison, a pretty serious penalty for what was originally intended as a prank. To make matters worse, the story appeared in newspapers across the country after being picked up by the Associated Press drawing unwanted attention to the area.

All six pranksters plead not guilty to the charges. Some of them didn’t think their actions were illegal because the grave was on Jay’s family’s property. In the end, they were found not guilty of the original charge, but they were found guilty of trespassing and each was fined $50.

The Bee, 19 May 1952

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