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Grave Robbing in Walter Pierce Park: The Story of Vijo Jansen

Learn the story of Vijo Jansen, the notorious "resurrectionist" who was caught grave robbing in Walter Pierce Park in the 19th century. Read about his arrest and the ghastly scene that was discovered in the wagon.
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Chalk another great find up to GoDCer and Poolesville resident, Jack. Thanks!

guy digging grave
guy digging grave

Do you hang out with your kids in Walter Pierce park? Maybe you played kickball or soccer on the fields there, or take your dog to romp in the dog park. In the 19th century, it was the site of the ghastly (and not uncommon) practice of grave robbing. Jansen, the creepy dude we mentioned in this morning’s post was at it again.

Early this morning two mounted policemen, F. M. Sullivan and Thomas Markland, halted an express wagon in front of the Young Mens’ Burying Ground corner of Chaplian avenue and Columbia road. On the front seat of the wagon sat Vijo Jansen, the notorious “resurrectionist,” sandwiched in between two colored men named, respectively, Thomas Brown and James Stovenson. Right behind them in the body of the express were the dead bodies of a man and woman, both colored. Jansen made no attempt to resist arrest, and was driven with his ghastly burden to the Second precinct station-house.

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The officers who made the arrest had been watching for about an hour, their attention being attracted by a noise in the cemetery. Jansen made no resistance whatever. He said he had taken up one body and put it back again, as it was not in a marketable condition. The negroes were not so cool and appeared considerably frightened at their arrest.

When the wagon was driven into the police-station yard, the following was found painted on each side: “C. E. Sill, 25 cent express, Fifth and I northwest.” The sight inside the wagon was horrible. The body of the man lay with the head towards the end board and the woman was jammed up against the left side of the vehicle.

It was evident that they had been thrown in hurriedly as they were taken up from their coffins. The stench was intolerable, and the policeman, who, candle in hand, conducted a POST reporter to the spot, turned away with a shudder from the sickening spectacle.

Jansen was found smoking a short clay pipe in his cell. He said to the reporter: “This is a bad night’s work, but it cannot be helped.”

“You still pursue your old trade regardless of consequences?”

“Yes” (with a smile), it pays better than anything else that I know of.”

“For whom did you snatch those bodies in the wagon?”

“For the National Medical College and the Columbian University, if you will only call down on Dr. Adams, the demonstrator, he will get me out of here.”

“What price could you procure for this morning’s haul.”

“Well, about $30, that is $15 a piece; the women and men sell alike.”

Jansen recently came out of jail for snatching the body of the boy Shaw, who was hanged here for murder. A few years ago he was arrested in Baltimore for stealing the body of a young lady named Jennie Smith. The desecration of her grave was discovered by the finding of a scapular [sic] near her mound. Friends who visited the grave remembered that she had it round her neck when buried and ordered a disinterment. It resulted in the discovery of an empty coffin, and Jensen was arrested as the body-raiser. He managed to escape. Jennie Smith was a beautiful young lady, and one of her arms, preserved in alcohol, is now in possession of Dr. Coroner Alexander Hill, of Baltimore.

1907 Baist real estate map of Young Men's Burying Ground (Library of Congress)
1907 Baist real estate map of Young Mens’ Burying Ground (Library of Congress)
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