Smuggling Drugs in Hearses and Corpses: 1922


hearse in front of S H Metcaf & Co Funeral Home Grand Rapids 1922
Hearse in front of S.H. Metcalf & Co. Funeral Home, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1922

[From an article entitled, Revelations by the Queen of the Underworld, Margaret Hill, Famous “Vamp,” Who Worked in Partnership with the Aristocrats of the Criminal World Trapping Millionaires, Explains How Children Are Wickedly Turned Into Drug Slaves.]

How Drugs Are Smuggled Over the Border in Hearses

“You got a better scheme?” I inquired.

“Oh, yes, Margaret, it is much more certain, and we can handle it in bigger amounts,” George replied, and then continued: “We are bringing the stuff across now in hearses. Nobody bothers a hearse, especially if it does not travel across the border at the same place too often.

“I have got some hearses which were specially built for stowing away the dope. The big, heavy black curtains are all made double, with hundreds of little compartments, which we pack full of packages of drugs. The posts, or pillars, that hold up the top of the coach are hollowed out and the holes are made just the right size to take the small cans of opium. There are eight of these hollow posts, and we can stow away a good big bunch of opium in these eight posts in each hearse.

“The floor of the hearse has a double floor. I have got the cutest little way of getting into this double floor compartment you ever saw. You would never find it in your life. We can carry quite a load of the stuff in that compartment between the two floors of the hearse.

“Of course, when we have the hearse loaded with dope we send it across openly in the middle of the day and drive right past the custom house officers boldly, so as not to attract attention or arouse suspicion. We keep on going until dark, and then drive into a little road in the woods and meet an automobile from New York. Then we unpack the curtains and posts and compartment in the double floor and the automobile takes the stuff on to New York.

smuggling drugs in the shell of a corpse 1922

“Sometimes I get an order for a shipment of dope to a distant city–maybe Washington or St. Louis. In this case we ship the stuff in the shell of a corpse”—

“The shell of a corpse,” I interrupted; “this is a new one on me.”

“Yes, that is what we call it–the shell of a corpse,” George replied. “I thought you had heard of that. Quite a lot of us are doing it that way with long distance shipments.”

”I don’t understand,” I said.

“Well, we get hold of a dead body from the morgue or some undertaking establishment, and we have the undertaker cut a hollow cavity where the lungs and internal organs are. The head and chest and arms are not disturbed, nor the lower part of the body, of course. But in under the ribs all the way down to the hips, when hollowed out, makes quite a big cavity. The corpse is very thoroughly embalmed, and we pack the cavity full of drugs. Then the corpse is dressed with clothes, which include collar, shirt, coat, etc ”

widow at train station with drug smuggling coffin 1922

The Tearful “Widow” Who Never Leaves the Coffin Alone

“Haven’t they ever got on to this trick?” I inquired.

“No, we are very careful. I have made it a rule to send along a woman with the corpse until the coffin has safely passed the border. We have got the nicest, quietest, most demure little lady who dresses up in widow’s weeds. She can pour out a flood of tears that would deceive the sharpest detective’s eyes in the world. We send this girl along with the coffin, and if it is transferred out of the baggage car to the platform anywhere she just trots out and sits down on the edge of the baggage truck or somewhere near, so that nobody comes around to look it over, and nobody bothers her because she looks to be such a pitiful little widow in such sorrow in her bereavement.”

“So that is what you mean by shipping drugs in ‘the shell of a corpse?” I remarked. “Well, there are novelties in the Underworld since I abandoned activities which are new to me.”

The San Francisco [CA] Examiner 18 June 1922: p. 98



Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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