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Joseph C. Alexander grave robbery trial photograph

 Collection — Folder: SP103
Identifier: SP103

Scope and Contents

This collection includes a black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people leaving the old Marion County Courthouse in Indianapolis, Indiana during the trial of Dr. Joseph C. Alexander for grave robbery, circa 1902-1903.


  • circa 1902-1903

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Joseph C. Alexander was born on August 5, 1859 to Joseph (1829–1859) and (Anne) Elizabeth (McCarty) Alexander (1834–1866) in Hamilton County, Indiana. He graduated from the Indiana Medical College in 1895. He married Julia B. Groenwoldt (-1966) on October 21, 1896 in Marion County, Indiana. Alexander went on to teach at the Central College for Physicians and Surgeons in Indianapolis, becoming their demonstrator of anatomy. He was tried for grave robbing and hiding the stolen bodies of 3 people, which were found at the college, between 1902 and 1903 but was never convicted because of a mistrial and indefinite postponement of another trial. Alexander, according to a sketch in the Indianapolis Sun during the trial, was a middle-aged, slightly corpulent man with dark hair, a mustache, and fair skin. He went on practicing medicine and a few years before his death he worked as a physican for the Citizens Gas Company. Alexander died on December 3, 1925 at his home in Indianapolis and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.


"Alleged Grave-Robber Faces the Court on Serious Charges." Indianapolis Sun, November 30, 1902, 1. "Joseph C. Alexander." 1860 United States Federal Census. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." 1880 United States Federal Census. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." 1900 United States Federal Census. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." 1910 United States Federal Census. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." 1920 United States Federal Census. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." Indiana, U.S., Select Marriages Index, 1748-1993. Accessed November 3, 2021. "Joseph C. Alexander." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 3, 2021.

"How Group Insurance Works." Indianapolis Star, December 7, 1925, 7. Accessed November 3, 2021. ProQuest.

"Short Illness Fatal to Doctor." Indianapolis Star, December 4, 1925, 18. Accessed November 3, 2021. ProQuest.

Historical Note

Dr. Joseph C. Alexander was the demonstrator of anatomy and in charge up procuring cadavers for study at the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons, often called Central Medical College, in Indianapolis, Indiana. In September 1902, he was accused of hiring men to rob graves around the city to procure cadavers for dissection at the college. He denied the charges, but was incriminatingly in possession of stolen bodies of the recently deceased and buried. The 8 African-American grave robbers, led by Rufus Cantrell, confessed to stealing corpses from several cemeteries, including Crown Hill, a German Catholic (St. Joseph’s) graveyard, cemeteries at Traders Point and Central State Hospital, and the old Anderson graveyard in Irvington. George Haymaker, a janitor at the college, and a medical intern, Dr. J. C. Wilson, were also implicated in the crimes. Alexander and 4 other white doctors were indicted for crimes which included disturbing graves, aiding in consealment of bodies, and failure to keep record of bodies uses for dissecting purposes.

According to one newspaper, the college stood by Alexander and paid for his defense. He was charged with the stealing and hiding of the bodies of Rose Neidlinger, Glendora Gates, and Stella Middleton. The trial attracted a lot of public attention and was widely attended by spectators. The trial resulted in a hung jury since the jurors couldn't agree. The second trial was postponed two months later when the grave robbers awaiting trial all suddenly refused to testify against him. Rufus Cantrell and several accomplices ultimately received 10 years at the Jeffersonville penitentiary---though Cantrell was soon transferred to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City--while the prestigious white doctor went free.


"Alleged Grave-Robber Faces the Court on Serious Charges." Indianapolis Sun, November 30, 1902, 1.

"Confessions of Gouls." Indianapolis Journal, September 30, 1902, 1, 7.

"Dr. J. C. Alexander: Second Trial Against Him Has Been Indefinitely Postponed." Jackson County Banner (Brownstown, IN), April 15, 1903, 2.

"Dr. John [sic] C. Alexander Charged with Complicity in Grave Robberies." Indianapolis Sun, September 28, 1902, 1.

"Extra: Alexander Jury Can't Agree." Indianapolis Sun, February 14, 1903, 1.

"Grand Jury Returns Twenty-Five Graverobbing Indictments." Indianapolis News,October 24, 1902, 1.

"Persons Against Whom Grave-Robbing Charges Have Been Made." Indianapolis News, October 12, 1902, 8.

"Wants Change of Judge." Indianapolis News, November 21, 1902, 1.


0.01 Cubic Feet (1 folder)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of one item.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2021/11/03 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2021/11/03 by Brittany Kropf.
Joseph C. Alexander grave robbery trial photograph
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.