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Consuming criminal corpses: Fascination with the dead criminal body

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Publication details

DatePublished - 2010
Issue number3
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)250-265
Original languageEnglish


The body of the criminal has long held a macabre fascination. Since the earliest times up until the 19th century the public execution of criminals in Britain and America drew large crowds to witness the punishment being carried out and led to the corpse gaining almost mythic qualities. However even post-public executions the fascination with the spectacle of death through the criminal corpse has continued gaining a status similar to that of a tourist sightseeing location. This paper engages with the macabre consumption of death and the criminal corpse by exploring the gruesome tourism and pursuit of souvenirs relating to specific dead criminals particularly in early 20th century Britain and America. Using case studies dating between 1800-1930s including Scottish body snatchers, Burke and Hare, Red Barn murderer, William Corder, American bank robber, John Dillinger, and murderer Gary Gilmore, the rise of fascination with the spectacle of the criminal corpse will be examined. By drawing on Seltzer’s (1998) notion of wound culture, whereby society is fascinated and thrilled violence and death it will be argued that criminal bodies can attain celebrity status and that consequently the consuming of criminal corpses is a grisly aspect of contemporary consumer culture.

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