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The Bizarre Mystery of the Vanishing Marble Corpse

A weird little area of the paranormal that I have covered at times is that of decidedly anomalous corpses. From mysterious creatures, to incorruptible remains that never seem to decompose, to ones that have risen back from the dead, the realm of death holds just as many strange phenomena as that of the living. One very mysterious corpse from the hidden corners of history is that of a Texas rail man that perplexingly turned to stone just before vanishing off the face of the earth.

In 1901 the town of Beaumont, Texas, was surging, caught up in the middle of a major oil rush that had drawn in people from all over, pouring in to try their hand at making a fortune off of the massive oil fields being uncovered what seemed like every day. Many of these droves of hungry oil hunters came in by train, and the workers of the Gulf, Beaumont, and Kansas City Railroads were swamped with work trying to keep everything running smoothly. One of these railway workers was 46-year-old G. W. Davis, a train repairman who was by all accounts pretty had-working, yet normal and nondescript by most descriptions, but he would go on to become one of the strangest unsolved mysteries the region has ever seen.

Oil workers in Beaumont, Texas at the turn of the century

In January of that year, Davis fell down with an illness called Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment that results in a whole slew of complications, such as swelling, high blood pressure, heart problems, inflammation of serous membranes, hemorrhages, apoplexy, convulsions, comas, blindness, and eventual death. At the time the disease was largely considered to be quite incurable, and by February Davis was seriously ill, passing away on February 7 despite constant medical attention, which left his family in quite a predicament as they had no money to afford a proper burial plot. Luckily for them, the Magnolia Cemetery generously offered to temporarily house the corpse until they were able to afford a grave of their own. This is where things would take a sharp turn into the realm of the bizarre.

A few weeks after Davis’ body was moved to the temporary plot, the family was able to conjure up enough cash to pay for a proper burial, and went about making arrangements to have the corpse moved. A close family friend by the name of J. R. Carroll went out with an assistant to the remote temporary site and began the work of moving the remains, but they ran into trouble when it was found that the bottom of the grave had inexplicably filled with what looked like “discolored water,” necessitating bringing in a pump to get the unpleasant liquid out. When that dirty work was done, they tried hoisting the coffin out, but found that it would not budge, and that it was far heavier than it had any right to be. Thinking that the coffin had also filled with the mysterious water, they opened a hatch on the top with a glass panel through which they could view the corpse’s face, and they were baffled by what they saw. There within the coffin it seemed that Davis’ corpse had somehow petrified into some sort of solid white stone, and an article from the Galveston Daily News from July 7, 1901, titled The Body Petrified, described it thus:

All hair had fallen away from the head and face. And to the extent that the glass cover permitted vision, it appeared that the clothing had also, exposing an upper torso that appeared to have been chiseled from marble with the expertise of a sculptor. The eyes were still in place, and even the hands, which were still folded in the usual manner, were “joined together solidly.

Despite the loss of hair, there was no other noticeable sign of decomposition, as if the body had been spontaneously and rather mysteriously turned to solid stone, capturing the body in a perpetual state of youthful vigor, frozen as it had been. With the help of more men, Carroll was able to get the immensely heavy casket lifted and moved, but realizing that something very bizarre had happened he warned the workers not to mention anything of the inexplicable petrification to Davis’ mourning family. Sadly, rumor got out anyway, and Davis’ widow first heard of the strange phenomenon when she received a handsome offer from someone who wanted to buy the mysterious stone corpse, which was followed by more offers of increasingly alluring sums of money, but all of which were turned down.

Because of these lucrative offers to buy the unusual corpse, the family of the deceased began to fear that it might become the target of grave robbers, and decided to have it brought up and moved once again to a secret location. Carroll and several other family members and friends went out to the grave site for the macabre work of digging up the body to move it, a full three months after it had been interred, and things were immediately suspicious when it turned out that the earth atop the grave seemed looser than it should have been. Carroll suspected that they were too late, and he was right, with son C.J. Davis explaining to the Beaumont Journal and Galveston News:

We finally opened the grave to find that the corpse was gone. The lid of the coffin had been removed and replaced, and the boards, which had been placed across the top of the coffin to protect it from the weight of the earth, were also gone. The coffin was taken out, and the bits of clothing and other things in it were removed. But not a sign of the body could be found, and until this minute we know nothing about its whereabouts, nor have we the slightest clue as to who could have stolen it. Of course, we have not made an extensive search. And there is no question but that the grave robbers laid their plans well and far too deep for us to fathom without the help of expert detectives and systematic and costly search that the family cannot afford.

There were found to be no clues as to who could have taken the body, and there was nothing to connect those who had offered prices on the corpse with any crime. The very people who had originally moved Davis’ corpse, including Carroll himself, were also considered as potential suspects, as they had financial incentive to go against the wished of Davis’s wife to not sell, but again there was no evidence to hold them accountable for any crime whatsoever, and Carroll was considered an upstanding, respected citizen and a trusted, lifelong Davis family friend. It was also thought that the bizarre corpse could have ended up in some macabre sideshow somewhere, but an investigation into several carnivals, freak shows, and circuses showed that it was nowhere to be found. In the end no one had a clue, and we still don’t.

At the time the odd case was covered by several newspapers and was fairly big news in the region, but it quickly faded in the face of the ever escalating oil rush gripping the area and the excitement of getting rich off of the fields that came with it, and the strange case of the missing marble corpse was forgotten. If it weren’t for researcher Chad Lewis meticulously poring over old archived articles for his book Hidden Headlines of Texas, with a foreword by our very own Nick Redfernit may have remained that way, and the book pushed the case back out of the shadows of history.

However, it is because the case faded into the mists of time for so long that it remains very murky as to just what exactly happened. There were few follow-ups to the original articles that appeared at the time, and certainly no clear resolution. It is unclear if the mysterious corpse was ever found, or if any of this ever happened at all outside of the imagination of some reporters trying to spice up a slow news day, as was unfortunately rampant at the time. We are left with a curious enigma that poses many questions with no firm answers. Just what happened to the corpse of G.W. Davis? What would cause it to turn to stone, if it indeed really did do so as reported. If it is true, then who took it and why? Indeed, where did it go? The missing marble corpse is a surreal case that, considering the lack of any additional information, will most probably never be solved.