On 2 March 1978, the coffin, with Charlie Chaplin still inside, was dug up and hidden away by a pair of Eastern European political refugees. A few weeks after the theft they unveiled their plan. The dead Charlie Chaplin was their hostage, and they had ransom demands.
They called Charlie Chaplin’s widow and family, demanding 600,000 Swiss Francs for the safe return of his body, otherwise he would remain forever hidden. They then sent the family a photograph of the coffin being buried in a corn patch as proof that they had the coffin.
Oona, Chaplin’s widow, refused to even consider the ransom, and only continued conversations with the thieves in cooperation with the police. Mainly the talking was done by her lawyer who spent most of the time negotiating with the criminals, eventually succeeding in getting the ransom down from 600,000 Swidd Francs 250,000(approximately $300,000).
By this time the police had set two traps for the grave robbers and had been unsuccessful, but using the phone lines they managed to track the approximate location of the call and stationed 100 policemen to keep an eye on 200 public telephones. The trap was too difficult to elude for the until recently employed Polish mechanic. His accomplice and he were caught, the location of the coffin given and the coffin was recovered.
The men were sentenced to 7 and a half years in prison for a combination of extortion and ‘disturbing the peace of the dead‘. Charlie Chaplin’s family were of course happy to get him back, they then reburied him a bit deeper, beneath concrete 2m thick. Probably wise.