The body parts snatchers who used to raid mortuaries are now digging up coffins, according to police.
With coffins worth as much as R12 000, it pays to resell them, say undertakers. Criminals are digging up graves and taking the coffins after removing the bodies.
Two men were charged with violating graves this week when they were arrested by undercover detectives from Alexandra Road Detective Field Unit under the command of Senior Superintendent Chris Wiles. The men had allegedly stolen the coffin of a 7-year-old boy buried on Tuesday.
Wiles said his detectives had received a tip-off that two grave-diggers from Entembeni Cemetery in Lincoln Meade wanted to sell a used coffin. After he obtained permission from the Director of Public Prosecutions, two undercover agents approached the grave-diggers.
"On Wednesday, our informers were offered the coffin of a 7-year-old child buried the day before. Our detectives went to the graveyard and approached workers there.
"They said they were looking for a burial site, as someone in their family had died and they had a problem with the cost of a coffin. They were told a coffin was available for R2 500. They had already dug out the coffin, reburied the corpse and hidden the coffin in the toilet," said Wiles.
He said they would investigate whether such theft was common and look into the possible theft of body parts.
Wiles said the Organised Crime Unit would be called in to help because he believed the incident was not isolated.
The parents of the child whose coffin was stolen have yet to be informed of the incident. Police attempts to contact them have failed.
Midlands SAPS spokesperson Inspector Joey Jeevan said the two grave-diggers would appear in the Pietermaritzburg magistrate’s court on Monday.
Undertakers said they had been forced to stop displaying coffins in their windows to discourage break-ins.
"We know coffins are being stolen from graves, because some families tell us they have already sorted out the coffins. When we ask about price and details, they tell us they bought one from someone for R2 000 or R3 000 because they were used," said an undertaker who did not want to be named.
Grave-diggers approached at various cemeteries in Pietermaritzburg said they had heard of similar incidents.
"There are times when we come to work in the morning and we can see a grave has been tampered with. But we don’t dig to see if anything has been removed. Also, people come to us and offer us money to remove a coffin. We don’t, but we know others who do," said one grave-digger.
Earlier this year, the Tribune reported that body parts were being stolen from corpses at mortuaries.
At the time, right eyes and sex organs had been stolen from two women, and a right eye had been taken from the corpse of a man at an Edendale mortuary.