OF BEAUMONT'S By
W. T. Block
MISSING MARBLE CORPSE
was July of 1901 in Beaumont,
and the frenzy of oil excitement rushed on unabated. Gusher No. 15 had just blown
in on the hill, and each arriving train deposited a new horde of traders and roughnecks,
boomers and hangers-on of every hue in a city that was already smothering with
new population. In a few days an oil field fire would sweep across much of Spindletop
Hill, proving to all that the quest for quick wealth must be bridled with a safety
In the midst of all the oil madness, there emerged one of the strangest
tales ever to unfold in the "sawdust city," the case of Beaumont's missing corpse
that had turned to stone.
The story began when G. W. Davis, a 46-year-old
car repairman for the Gulf, Beaumont, and Kansas City Railroad, contracted a malady
diagnosed in January, 1901, as being Bright's disease. On February 7, Mr. Davis
died, and since his family owned no burial plot, the management of Magnolia Cemetery
agreed to a temporary interment at a remote spot on their property until a cemetery
lot was bought and paid for.
A few weeks later, J. R. Carroll, an intimate
friend of the Davis family, engaged an assistant and went to the cemetery to transfer
the remains to the new plot. After removing the dirt, they quickly discovered
that the bottom of the grave had filled with about twenty inches of discolored
water, which had to be pumped out.
Despite their best efforts to remove
it, the coffin refused to budge. Mystified, Carroll then removed the wooden plate
which exposed the corpse's head and torso to view through a glass cover. To his
astonishment, he found that the body had become petrified, as white, and solid,
and heavy as marble could become, but otherwise had not decomposed except for
a part of the upper lip.
All hair had fallen away from the head and face.
And to the extent that the glass cover permitted vision, it appeared that the
clothing had also, exposing an upper torso that appeared to have been chiseled
from marble with the expertise of a sculptor. The eyes were still in place, and
even the hands, which were still folded in the usual manner, were "joined together
Faced with that astonishing dilemma and the extreme weight of
the coffin, Carroll had to locate additional help and equipment before he could
complete the reburial. No further examination of the body was attempted, and the
grave diggers were cautioned to remain silent about its condition. Carroll did
not want the family to learn of the strange occurrence, and he also had cause
to fear body snatchers. The secret soon leaked out, however, because at least
ten persons among the grave diggers and cemetery personnel were privy to the unusual
Within a few days, the widow received an offer from an unnamed
party to purchase her husband's petrified corpse. She refused, but the would-be
purchasers persisted until their offer reached $4,000. In desperation, she ended
the bargaining sessions between herself and an intermediary by informing the would-be
purchasers that family sentiment would not permit the sale of her husband's body
at any price.
As the weeks rolled by, the subject of the petrified corpse
was a frequent topic of conversation in the Davis household at 1474 Laurel Street.
The family survivors feared that the would-be purchasers, having failed in their
efforts to buy the corpse, might rob the grave and sell the body to a circus or
carnival. When interrogated by a local reporter, C. J. Davis, a son of the deceased,
"We in the family have discussed the matter not a little, and
have finally concluded to take up the body, and if it is found to be in a perfect
state of petrifaction, have decided to bring it home with us."
Sunday, which was July 1, Davis, Carroll, and several family friends went to the
cemetery to exhume the corpse. The cemetery sexton tried to discourage them from
completing the unpleasant task, however, explaining that grave bodies sometimes
had been known to disintegrate when exposed to the air.
At the burial
site, Carroll expressed some fears that the grave site had already been tampered
with. The first shovel-full of earth was quite loose and not nearly as compactly
settled as it should have been after the passing of three months. And upon uncovering
the coffin, his worst fears were indeed confirmed, as Davis revealed to the reporter
during the interview:
"We finally opened the grave to find that the corpse
was gone. The lid of the coffin had been removed and replaced, and the boards,
which had been placed across the top of the coffin to protect it from the weight
of the earth, were also gone."
"The coffin was taken out, and the bits
of clothing and other things in it were removed. But not a sign of the body could
be found, and until this minute we know nothing about its whereabouts, nor have
we the slightest clue as to who could have stolen it. Of course, we have not made
an extensive search. And there is no question but that the grave robbers laid
their plans well and far too deep for us to fathom without the help of expert
detectives and systematic and costly search that the family cannot afford."
The intermediary, an attorney, disclaimed knowledge of the would-be purchaser's
identity, except that he was from out-of-town. Their conversations, except the
intial one, had been on the telephone. And certainly, the truthfulness of those
who had witnessed the bizarre event seemed beyond question. C. J. Davis was a
trusted employee and machinist for the Beaumont Iron Works, and Carroll was a
well-known and veracious citizen, not noted for tall tales or pranks, and was
a respected member of the E. A. McNeely Insurance firm.
missing marble corpse eventually become a freak and ghoulish sideshow in some
distant circus or carnival? If so, one could wager that the carnival would never
returned to Beaumont for fear of being caught up in a case of grave robbery. So
far as is known, the mystery was never resolved and remains to the present day,
for a careful check of the newspapers by the writer for months and years afterward
revealed no solution or indictments for grave robbery. And as the mad quest for
oil gushers sped forward on the hill, the strange case of Beaumont's missing marble
corpse was quickly forgotten.
W. T. Block, Jr. |
August 7, 2006 column
from Beaumont ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL, September 24, 1978, p. 7-A.
Galveston DAILY NEWS, "The Body Petrified," July 7, 1901, p. 2, c. 5; also Beaumont
JOURNAL, July 6, 1901, p. 8, c. 1