Strange case about corpse still unsolved
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday February 6, 1999.
Less than a month after the first Lucas gusher excitement, the strange case of Beaumonts missing marble corpse went largely unnoticed.
In Feb. 1901, G. W. Davis, a railroad car repairman, died of an illness diagnosed as Brights disease. Magnolia Cemetery permitted Davis to be buried temporarily in a remote spot, pending the familys purchase and payment for a family plot.
A few weeks later, J. R. Carroll, a family friend, and some grave diggers removed the dirt from the temporary site, but soon discovered that the coffin would not budge from the bottom of the grave. Mystified, Carroll removed a wooden plate, which exposed the corpses head and torso through a glass cover.
To his great astonishment, Carroll discovered that Davis body had petrified and had become as white, solid, and heavy as marble. Faced with the extreme weight of the coffin, Carroll had to engaged additional help and some hoisting equipment to complete the reburial.
Carroll cautioned several workers to remain silent lest the family learn about the unusual occurrence, but his great fear was that body snatchers might rob the grave.
Within a few days, Davis widow received a telephone offer through an out-of-town attorney to purchase her husbands petrified body. Despite her initial refusal, the intermediarys offer reached $4,000 before Mrs. Davis informed him that her husbands body was not for sale at any price.
In July, 1901, family members decided to remove the body once more and rebury it at a secret location. Carroll noticed immediately that earth in the grave was quite loose, and when the diggers reached the coffin, Carrolls worst fears were confirmed. Both Beaumont Journal and Galveston News (July 6, 7) observed that:
"...We finally opened the grave to find that the corpse was gone... The coffin was taken out and bits of clothing removed from it... And there is no question but that the grave robbers laid their plans well and far too deep for us to fathom..."
When Beaumont detectives questioned the intermediary, the attorney disclaimed any factual knowledge of the would-be purchasers identity. And no similar incident has ever occurred in the 150-year history of Magnolia Cemetery.
The truthfulness of those who witnessed the bizarre event seemed beyond question. Carroll was a religious and veracious citizen, a respected member of the E. A. McNeely Insurance firm, and the widows son, C. J. Davis, was a trusted machinist, employed by Beaumont Iron Works.
Did Davis petrified body become a ghoulish sideshow in some traveling circus or carnival? Family members visited several carnivals without finding the body. And a careful check of newspaper pages for years afterward revealed no solution or indictment for grave robbery.
And as the oil geysers on Spindletop Hill continued to spout, the case of Beaumonts missing marble corpse was quickly forgotten.
W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author. His website is http://block.dynip.com/wtblockjr/ This database is very large (350 articles) and is intended as an area history source for students.