Home In English The Creepy Coffins of Barbados

The Creepy Coffins of Barbados


At the beginning of the 19th century, Barbadians were kept in suspense for twelve years by a mysterious and gruesome case. Ghostly events were unfolding in the family tomb of Thomas Case, a wealthy sugar cane planter, which even caught the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But neither the brilliant crime novelist nor anyone else could find a reassuring explanation, and to this day, there remains a mysterious mystery as to who or what regularly moved the Case family’s heavy lead coffins in the crypt.

In 1807, Barbadian planter and slave owner Thomas Case purchased a burial plot for his family in Christ Church Cemetery in the southwest of the island. The imposing structure was made of carved stone and surrounded by a concrete wall over 60 cm thick, with an entrance sealed by a heavy marble slab. The Case family had everything they needed to rest in dignified conditions, but fate had other plans.

The crypt did not remain empty for long, as in 1807 a female relative of the family, Thomasina Goddard, passed away, and her wooden coffin was placed in the tomb. A year later, tragedy struck again as Thomas Case’s two-year-old daughter, Mary Anne, died, and her tiny lead coffin was carefully placed next to Mrs. Goddard’s remains and lay undisturbed for nearly four years. In 1812, Case’s other daughter, twelve-year-old Dorcas, also died. It was rumored that she had taken her own life, having been regularly abused by her cruel and tyrannical father. The desperate girl starved herself to death to escape the torment. Her remains were also placed in a heavy lead coffin, which was laid on the ground beside Mrs. Goddard, and her sister’s coffin was placed on top of it. The crypt was then carefully sealed with a heavy marble slab.

Less than a month later, Thomas Case also passed away, and some thought he had committed suicide. The head of the family’s body was also placed in a substantial lead coffin, and as he was a large man, eight burly slaves carried him to his final resting place, which was, of course, the family vault.”

“When the crypt was opened, the mourners stood back in shock as they discovered that the previously arranged coffins were now found on top of each other. Mary Anne’s coffin, for instance, was propped against the wall and upside down. To make matters even more frightening, there was no sign of forced entry, and the crypt was found exactly as it had been left less than a month before. The room was thoroughly searched, but no secret door or periodic water leakage was found. The remains were finally arranged in their original position, and Thomas’ coffin was placed on the ground next to his daughters. Then, the marble slab was replaced and secured with concrete.

The curious incident was almost forgotten, but in 1816, another funeral took place, and once again the congregation was struck by the fact that the coffins had moved out of place. Thomas Case’s heavy coffin was propped against the wall, but there was no sign of anyone having been in the crypt. Almost routinely, the coffins were rearranged, and the tomb was carefully sealed. However, the incident was repeated later that year when Samuel Brewster’s remains were laid to rest. By then, a large crowd had gathered to witness the gruesome events.

The whole island was horrified by the bizarre story, and as is usual in such cases, there were whispers of restless ghosts and supernatural phenomena. No wonder the story reached the island’s governor, Lord Combermere, who was present at the next funeral in 1819 – along with countless curious onlookers – to see the moving coffins for himself. This time, the remains of Thomasina Clarke were placed in the vault, and when the marble slab was moved, the coffins were again found on top of each other. Again, the building was thoroughly examined, but no signs of forced entry were found.”

The governor decided to get to the bottom of the mystery and offered to help the increasingly desperate family. After the crypt had been tidied up for the umpteenth time, and Miss Clarke’s coffin had been placed, the floor was sprinkled with sand, the marble slab was covered, and even Lord Combermere’s seal was secretly placed on the entrance. Security was beefed up, and a few guards were assigned by the governor to the special task. Whoever or whatever had rearranged the coffins could not get into the tomb undetected from that point on.

On 18 April 1820, the measures seemed to have had the desired effect, and the vandal was caught. Noises were heard from the tomb, and it was opened in the presence of the governor. The seals were intact, as was the plaster of the entrance, but the coffins were still in a chaotic state. The sand scattered on the ground was also intact. This was too much for the family, and they decided to bury their dead elsewhere, so all the coffins were moved to Christ Church Cemetery. The former burial ground has been empty ever since.

To this day, there is no convincing explanation for the mystery. Many believe that the spirit of the unfortunate Dorcas could not rest in peace. This theory is supported by the fact that the coffins began to move after her death. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was of the same opinion, although he added that Thomas Chase did not die a natural death either, so two troubled spirits were at work in the tomb.

The more rational interpreters of the case believe that Chase’s slaves, who had been drained to the bone, took their revenge on their master and his family in this way. However, this view is contradicted by the fact that after repeated searches, no signs of forced entry were found, and the slaves were so frightened after the first incident that they had to be forced to approach the crypt. A much more modern and scientific explanation is that the reason lies in the lead coffins. These hermetically sealed ‘vessels’ prevent the gases produced by the decomposition of the bodies from escaping and are what move the coffins. As new coffins were placed in the tomb at regular intervals, there was always one that could move the others. So far, none of the explanations put forward have proved convincing, and the moving coffins in Barbados have been a source of interest to mystery researchers for two hundred years.

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