Body Snatchers Foiled Again (1904)

On a November night in 1904, Missouri farmers Tom Caywood and John Dodson were on their way home from enjoying “a good supply of joy water” when they stumbled upon a curious scene at Bethel Cemetery. A wagon and horses were by the graveyard fence and voices were heard from the burial grounds, not typical for that time of night. Caywood and Dodson hid out in nearby shrubbery and observed two men carry a body from the cemetery, put it in the wagon, and cover it. When the ghouls left the wagon to fill in the grave, the two sneaked out of the brush and carried the body to an out-of-sight spot. Then Dodson climbed under the canvas inside the wagon.

The grave robbers returned and started towards another town with Dodson in the back of the wagon and Caywood tailing them from a safe distance. Due to the hard physical demands of body snatching the men decided to have a drink. One of the ghouls said, “Let’s give the stiff a drink.” Dodson, pretending to be the corpse, responded “in a sepulchral voice” with “Well, I don’t care if I do.”

The grave robbers, terrified that their stolen body had seemingly returned to life, fled the scene. When Caywood caught up they decided Dodson would hold onto the horses and wagon for five years. If the owners hadn’t returned by then, they would sell the team and split the money. They returned to Bethel, reburied the body, and the wait began.

In 1910 Caywood approached Dodson to collect, so the wagon and team were sold yielding a total of $300.

If this story is true, I wonder what Dodson’s plan was when he crawled into the wagon. How far would he have ridden with the grave robbers before revealing himself? What if they weren’t frightened and instead decided to murder him? They obviously needed a body for something and since the one they’d stolen was back at Bethel, Dodson might’ve made a suitable replacement. Of course “joy-water” allows many people to engage in impulsive behaviors and/or embellish details to make a better story.

(From The Marshall Republican [Marshall, Missouri] on Dec. 3, 1909.)