The Real Reason A Gangster Tried To Steal Abraham Lincoln's Corpse

There's an unfortunate fact that needs to be stated way upfront. Yes, someone once put a lot of effort into trying to steal the corpse of a United States president ... and no, it wasn't Nicolas Cage.

Which isn't to say that the whole thing wasn't remarkably cinematic. The plot came courtesy of James "Big Jim" Kennally, a Chicago gentleman with a criminal streak. Kennally's bailiwick was counterfeiting, but his operation had hit a snag — his best engraver, Benjamin Boyd, had gone and landed himself in the hoosegow in early 1876. Convicted on charges of forging a $50 bill, Boyd was sentenced to 10 years in Joliet, and Big Jim Kennally missed his special boy very much. So he did what any right-minded American would do in that situation. He hired a couple of his buddies to kidnap the body of Abraham Lincoln, planning to exchange it for a $200,000 ransom, and a pardon for Boyd.

In for a penny...

Body snatching, according to History Access, was alarmingly common in those days, with medical schools in search of snazzy cadavers often paying cash on site for a freshly exhumed Nana or Pop-pop. Still, the corpse of a martyred U.S. president would've been well-guarded, right? Especially in the wake of the Civil War?

No, actually. Turns out it wasn't. US News reports that Lincoln's body was kept in a marble sarcophagus, sealed with plaster, at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Guards? Why would they need guards? Who was going to steal Abraham Lincoln? Carmen Sandiego wouldn't be born for another 75 years. And Kennally might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddling Secret Service. More specifically, it was a man named Lewis Swegles that doomed the plot: Hired by Kennally's crew as an expert in yoinking corpses, he was, in fact, a paid informant. A bevy of government agents were waiting at the graveyard when Kennally's employees showed up. The dramatic reveal was spoiled when one of the officers' guns went off on accident, and the gangsters fled, but an arrest was made a couple of days later.

Afterwards, Lincoln's body was hidden in an unmarked grave, where it stayed put until 1901. After that, it was placed in a steel cage and buried under 10 feet of wet concrete, effectively ending any further supervillain skulduggery.