The two horses quickly pulled the sleigh down the road to Minneapolis in the early morning hours, while the frozen cargo, wrapped in a blanket, bounced and thumped against the wood walls.
The two drivers of the team engaged in heated debate and fought over the reins. One wanted to halt the horses, while the other demanded that they push onward, the Minneapolis Tribune later reported.
Close behind, the law was in hot pursuit. “‘Stop!” or I’ll blow the whole top of your **** head off - do you hear!’” came a cry from the pursuing parties, who then ordered the suspects to halt in the name of the Carver County Sheriff.
With the pursuers gaining, the two men hit a snow bank. They ditched their rented wagon and cargo and headed for the woods. Chaska constable Mathias Logelin followed the suspects for three miles through the woods and snow, but they had too much of a head start, reported the Weekly Valley Herald, owned by Sheriff F.E. DuToit.
However, officials had recovered the stolen corpse of Eugene Mottaz.
Later that day, Mottaz was re-interred in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Chaska, where his remains still rest today. Burkhart Bros. was reimbursed $12.25 for “one shroud, screws, cleaning and trimming the coffin,” following Mottaz’ recovery.
During Victorian era, medical schools were in dire need of bodies for their aspiring doctors. “In 1885, grave robbers and body-snatchers were still actively pursuing their professions, generally close to some medical facility,” stated Raymond Smith, Jr., in his article “Of cadavers, chases and colleges.” The article, published in a 1985 edition of “Minnesota History,” highlights the Chaska grave robbing incident.
Mottaz’ corpse had been headed for the Minnesota College Hospital, which later merged with the University of Minnesota Medical School. The school knew it was going to receive a corpse, but not that it was stolen, Dean F.A. Dunsmoor told the press, following the scandal.
However, Dunsmoor did tell the Pioneer Press that Minnesota unfortunately lacked laws like those in other states that mandate informing colleges “when they have material which may properly go into the dissecting room.” He decried the fact that medical schools can use unclaimed bodies, but not after they had already been buried.
All medical students needed to dissect bodies, Dunsmoor told the newspaper, and the college went through 24 a year.
Dr. Peter Shillock, 24, began his Chaska practice in 1882 with an office located in the Herald Block, a building at the southwest corner of Pine Street and Second Street in downtown Chaska. (The Herald still operates out of the building.) Since he rented space in the same building, Shillock would have been a close acquaintance with sheriff/newspaper editor F.E. DuToit.
A German-born citizen, Shillock advertised himself in the Herald as a “Deutscher Artz,” or German doctor, with office hours 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. A few years after opening his practice, Shillock likely became the only Chaska doctor ever to be convicted of body snatching.
Eugene Mottaz, 23, was a Swiss immigrant, who had only been in the country for a few years, but “had gained a large circle of friends,” reported the Herald. He had been painting the new Norwood school house when he returned to Chaska feeling unwell.
He died of rheumatism of the heart at the home of his brother, Charles Mottaz. Mottaz had been attended by two physicians, including Shillock, reported the Pioneer Press. The night of the funeral, grave robbers set to work at Mottaz’ grave, digging up his body and placing it in a brickyard for safekeeping.
The diggers most likely included Dr. Shillock and Charles May, Jr., a local veterinarian, about 30 years old. May worked from his father’s residence just outside of Chaska. The newspaper reported that he would attend to all sick horses or cattle and “guarantees satisfaction in every case.”
Shortly after Mottaz died, Dunsmoor received a telegram from Chaska asking if the school needed a corpse. He was assured it was obtained legally, the Tribune reported. So two medical students from the school, including Paul Shillock (Peter Shillock’s brother) and Frank Salebar, headed to Chaska to pick up the corpse.
Salebar later told the Minneapolis Journal that Paul Shillock only came with to show him the way to Chaska. He spent the day with his brother, but apparently left on the train before the pursuit and, despite suspicions, never faced any charges in the case.
But another family connection led to the unraveling of the body-snatching scheme. Charles younger brother, Henry, about 20 years old, apparently caught wind of his older brother’s nefarious doings. The Tribune reported that a young man confronted his brother and told him he had seen what he had done “and also told him if he did not undo what he had done, he would give him away.”
Henry informed the sheriff, who kept a close eye on the suspects, including the mysterious wagon being kept at a local livery stable. DuToit and Logelin were, “working under disadvantages, but after about three hours of ‘watching and waiting,’ they were rewarded.” Dr. Shillock reportedly helped the men remove the corpse from its hiding place and headed home, while the drivers headed to Minneapolis.
But on its way out of town, according to the Herald account, Logelin and Henry May took off after the team, driven by Salebar and Henry’s brother Charles. The two initially escaped, with Salebar finally making it back to Minneapolis, where he was hospitalized with extreme frostbite.
The event caused a big stir in Chaska. The Herald reported that, “To say that the affair created a sensation would but faintly depict the state of affairs in Chaska on Thursday, and in fact all week, as all kinds of rumors were in circulation regarding the robbery of other graves - all being mere surmises.”
The Pioneer Press reported, “A good many people, whose friends have been buried recently, will examine their graves as soon as the ground thaws to see if they still hold their sacred contents.” The case caused a sensation in the Twin Cities, with screaming newspaper headlines in Minneapolis and St. Paul: “The Work of Ghouls”; “An Exciting Chase”; “Collard the Cadaver: The neighboring Villages of Chaska and Minneapolis Have a ‘Body-Snatching’ Sensation.”
DuToit ultimately rounded up the suspects, including Dr. Shillock, who was released on bail.
In March, the three accused parties went to trial. Salebar was charged with “Indictment of knowingly aiding in violation of sepulture (burial).”
Meanwhile, Shillock and Charles May were jointly charged with “Indictment of Violation of Sepulture.”
Henry May served as a witness for the state. After initially pleading not guilty, the pair pleaded “guilty of accessory to the charges,” and threw themselves at the mercy of the court. The plea was accepted and a $200 fine issued.
Following the sensational case, the Herald merely reported that Dr. Shillock plead ‘guilty,’ and the Judge imposed a $200, fine.”
A year later, Shillock left town. Three years after the body-snatching incident, he died of a stroke on a street corner in Hastings, where he had recently begun practicing medicine.