For years now, a creepy video has been circulating in the Internet. Titled “Grave Robbing for Morons”, it shows a young man handling what looks like a real human skull, seemingly dug up from the earth just hours before. The identities of the people involved in making the video have never been discovered. Click here to watch it in its entirety.
Jesse Pollack is an American author, filmmaker and podcaster who has done some digging of his own (thankfully not into graves): he has looked into the background of the strange video, and has unearthed some interesting details.
Below is my interview with him. Thank you, Jesse, for taking the time to talk to ForenSeek!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am a journalist, author, filmmaker, and podcaster. I began my career in 2001 by writing for WEIRD NJ magazine, a bi=yearly publication that showcases stories about the paranormal, true crime, and other oddities in my home state of New Jersey.
My first book, DEATH ON THE DEVIL’S TEETH was released in 2015, and tells the true-life story of Jeannette DePalma, a 16-year-old New Jersey teenager who vanished while hitchhiking in 1972 and was later found dead in the woods, supposedly surrounded by occult objects. My second book, 2018’s THE ACID KING, chronicles the life and crimes of Ricky Kasso, a teenage grave robber and Satanist who murdered one of his friends over $50 worth of angel dust during the summer of 1984. I am currently working on my third book, ROOM 100, which will explore the deaths of Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious, and will be released by Backbeat Books sometime in the next two years.
When I am not writing, I co-host two podcasts, TRUE CRIME MOVIE CLUB and PODCAST 1289. On TRUE CRIME MOVIE CLUB, we review awful serial killer movies while discussing the real-life murders that inspired them, and on PODCAST 1289, we ridicule the most bizarre and hilarious paranormal/conspiracy/true crime stories we can find. Both are comedy shows and can be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Spreaker. I co-host both shows with my best friend, Dan Jones, who is a very talented researcher, comedian, and filmmaker. Together, we co-directed the documentary adaptation of THE ACID KING, which will be hitting DVD and streaming platforms later this year.
How did you first come across the “Grave Robbing for Morons” video?
I am always on the lookout for strange stories to write and podcast about, and a few years back I stumbled across this video. I think it was either from a post made by Ranker or the since-deleted Scare Theater video on YouTube. Either way, when I found it, I was struck by how creepy, hypnotic, and honestly funny the tape is. At the time, I was finishing up my book about Ricky Kasso, and I saw a lot of parallels to the story that later became important to my research into the origins of the tape.
In your words, what is happening in the video?
The video, which runs for nearly half an hour, shows a young man clad in jeans and a leather jacket with his long black hair tied back in a ponytail, clutching a very dirty and very realistic-looking human skull. The young man – most likely a teenager – is explaining the various methods he uses and endorses while robbing human bones from cemeteries.
There are several factors that make this video particularly creepy. For one, it is shot on videotape – most likely by a VHS-C camcorder – which gives it this eerie, degraded, almost snuff film quality. It’s clearly a bootleg copied from another copy, causing analog generational loss.
The kid in the video has hands that are caked in what looks like dirt or dried blood. He’s sitting in a messy room in the middle of the night, staring right into your eyes as he talks about stealing body parts from crypts. As if that isn’t creepy enough, his monologue is peppered by his very strange stutter, which causes his eyes to glaze over.
However, this tape is not without its funny moments. At one point, he tells you to wear a jacket because it’s “cold in July.” He also tells the viewer to be prepared to knock out or even kill anyone who stumbles upon you in the act, because you can’t “leave any witnesses” – despite him showing his face in this instructional video.
How did you go about researching the video’s origin?
The same way as everyone else, I suppose. I read a bunch of websites that had written articles on the tape. Watched the analysis videos on YouTube. Scrolled through the myriad Reddit posts.
It soon became apparent that most people interested in the case seemed to agree on a few basic facts – the video was real, it was shot sometime post-1987, and that the skull in his hands is most likely authentic. There are some people who believe the skull is fake, for whatever reason, but the fact is this – no prop shop, especially in the late 1980s, was making fake skulls with that level of detail. The skull is matted with and stained by rotted flesh. It has a dental appliance screwed into it to facilitate top dentures, indicating it belonged to an elderly person. The skull also likely belonged to a woman. The ocular cavities are large with a small browline – both indicative of a female skull. One part of the skull that is never talked about is the fact that it features an elongated styloid process bone, also known as “Eagle Syndrome” – condition that can occur in human beings after they experience a throat injury. Absolutely no one was faking skulls with that level of detail back then – and I’d argue that no one is doing that even now.
Where do you think the video was put together? I’ve read some comments that the guy speaks with a New York accent.
I am 99% certain that this video was recorded on Long Island, more specifically in Queens. Not only does the kid speak in a heavy New York accent, he says he’s going to rob Harry Houdini’s grave next. Houdini is buried in Queens. Considering the fact that this kid is probably no older than 20 years old and is trying to make money by robbing graves, he most likely did not own a car and had to strike close to home. Machpelah Cemetery, where Houdini is buried, is very accessible via public transportation, as the New York City Subway J train and the B13 bus all have direct routes there.
Another piece of Long Island lore that might factor into this case is the story of Ricky Kasso. Kasso is most famous for murdering his friend Gary Lauwers in a supposed “Satanic ritual” in 1984, but a couple months before that, he had also dabbled in grave robbing. Kasso was one of two kids in Northport, Long Island who had been arrested for disturbing graves in 1983 and 1984. Kasso wanted a skull from a Colonial-era graveyard for a ritual he was going to conduct at the Amityville Horror house, but he had been inspired by his friend Randy Guethler, who had been arrested for stealing a skull and a hand from a mausoleum. While Guethler was being questioned by police, he told them he had heard that he could get $500 – $600 for a skull at a magick shop in New York City.
Fast forward a few years to 1987, and the book “Say You Love Satan” by David St. Clair is released. While that book is an almost entirely-fictionalized telling of the Kasso story, it does detail the grave robbing, and on one page mentions “a store in Greenwich Village that pays five hundred bucks for a skull.” The kid in the “Grave Robbing for Morons” video says this phrase almost word for word. This book was immensely popular, especially with teenage metal heads and punk rockers in the late 1980s, and fits in with the “Grave Robbing For Morons” timeline. We know for a fact that the video was made sometime after 1987 because a VHS copy of 1987’s EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN is visible in the room. So here’s this misfit kid, most likely living on Long Island, who probably read this book about Kasso – an almost Boogeyman-like figure in that area – and likely got inspired. I can’t prove this, of course, but there are too many parallels to ignore.
Do you know how the video surfaced initially? In the VHS swapping scene?
I’m not sure when and how it initially surfaced, but I do know that the first time it appeared online was likely 2009. The video surfaced as part of a bootleg DVD collection called “Ensuring Your Place in Hell”. According to my research, the first time that video ever appeared online was August 20, 2009 when a store called bloodyraredvds listed the “Ensuring Your Place in Hell” DVD on iOffer.com. It mostly flew under the radar for five years after that, somehow avoiding any detectable internet mentions. However, on August 9, 2014, a YouTuber named Simon Predj uploaded the “Grave Robbing For Morons” segment to YouTube, where it remains today.
It finally began to gain internet notoriety a couple years later when it was covered on a few horror-based websites in 2016. Now, of course the possibility remains that this video was circulating on the internet even earlier than 2009 under a different name, but I haven’t been able to verify that.
Once I was able to trace the first online mention of “Ensuring Your Place in Hell”/”Grave Robbing For Morons” to the bloodyraredvds store, I reached out to its owner and operator, James Gilks. Gilks is known in the true crime community for being the author and publisher behind Serial Killer Magazine. I asked Gilks how he first came across “Grave Robbing For Morons” and he told me, “I got it from a private collector years ago but I can no longer remember who it was. It was a DVD. I met the collector at a horror convention and we traded some merchandise. It was in Chicago. I cant recall which one right now though.” This opens up another mystery – sometime between the recording of the original videotape in the late 1980s or early 1990s and Gilks buying his copy in the early 2000s, it was digitized, burned onto a DVD-R, and made its way across the country to Chicago.
Do you think the guys who made the video “struck again” somewhere? Or was this a one-off thing for them?
If these guys struck again, they either were not caught or it was kept out of the press due to them being underage. There is some speculation that they did attempt to dig up Houdini’s body, as his grave was “vandalized” in 1993, but magician Tom Interval of the Houdini Museum insists that “Houdini’s remains… remain.”
Were you able to dig up any clues as to the identity of the people who made this video?
A lot of people mistakenly believe the kid to be Anthony Casamassima, a former cemetery caretaker who was arrested in 1999 for stealing stained glass from mausoleums in Brooklyn and Queens. While the location is on the money, Casamassima never stole bones and was way too old to be the kid in the video. Casamassima was born in 1959, which would have made him 28 years old at the very minimum in the “Grave Robbing for Morons” video, which could not have been recorded any earlier than 1987. The kid in that video looks half that age. Despite this, people still cling to the idea that the kid is Casamassima because he says “This was made by Anthony…” and then makes a sound due to his verbal tick/stutter/mental condition that sounds like “Ksssssss… Ah Ah Ah…”, which people insist sounds like “Cassa….” – something I do not agree with.
The dumbest theory put out so far is that the video was made by a filmmaker named Christopher Bouchie. The website for the Sword & Scale podcast started this rumor back in 2017 simply because Bouchie used to sell “Grave Robbing For Morons” on VHS with custom cover art via his online store, King of the Witches. They also accuse Bouchie of being the “Poochie/Pucci” named in the video. Firstly, Christopher Bouchie is way too young to have had anything to do with “Grave Robbing For Morons”. He was born in 1987. He would have been an infant at the youngest and a toddler at the oldest when that tape was made. Secondly, his name is pronounced “Boo-shay”, not “Boo-chee”. I personally know Bouchie, as we both travel in the same circle of indie filmmakers and horror fans, and I asked him about this rumor. He told me, “I used the YouTube/DVD-R version when I sold copies. No one owns the film, so I sold it. Everyone wants an easy answer, or to be the case cracker. Sword & Scale emailed me, and when they didn’t get the reception they wanted, they called me a hack. They were rude. No one asks questions, they demand answers. When people got weird, I stopped selling it.”
The pinnacle of people getting “weird” with Bouchie due to Sword & Scale accusing him of making the video was a deranged fan sending him photographs of a centuries-old corpse in an unearthed coffin, along with a note saying “Thanks for the inspiration!” My friend and fellow podcaster Micheal Whelan of UNRESOLVED and TRUE CRIME MOVIE CLUB called out Sword & Scale for their shenanigans during his own episode about the case, proving Bouchie had nothing to do with it. The writer of the article responded by contacting him and complaining about the mention in Micheal’s episode – and to this day, Sword & Scale still has not amended or corrected their article accusing an innocent person of being a grave robber. Some people are attracted to this case because they enjoy the sensation of being creeped out. Others just want to make a quick buck off of it.
Do you think the “mystery” of this video will ever be solved, and the
people involved identified?
It’s always possible. After all, they found the Golden State Killer after all these years. I personally think the kid in the video is dead, but we may know his name one day.
Are there any other similar “creepy VHS tapes” you find equally
Not really – I think that’s why Grave Robbing For Morons endures. It really stands alone in its genre. Sure, there have been other similar videos in the past, with FACES OF DEATH being the most obvious precursor, along with the infamous “Satan Place” cassette tape, but most of these “found footage” things end up being well-crafted fakes – like the “Bitterroot Footage” and that recreation of the Christine Chubbuck suicide tape that was floating around YouTube a few years ago.
Grave Robbing For Morons, for all intends and purposes, seems to be the real deal. No one has ever been able to debunk it, and all of the explanations regarding who this kid is/was – everything from Anthony Casamassima to Christopher Bouchie to that “Screws from Red Hook” story – all fall apart with the slightest amount of scrutiny. It’s the holy grail of found footage. It checks off all the boxes – it was shot on VHS, no one knows where it came from, no one knows who is in it, and no one knows the fate of who shot it, starred in it, or distributed it. Even the Zapruder Film doesn’t hit those marks. Once something shows up with that much mystery built into it, it’s going to endure.
Where can people keep up with your work?
You can find me on Twitter at @jpollackauthor
And finally, my regular questions:
Your top 3 movies?
JAWS, JFK, and APOLLO 13
Your top 3 books?
LOST GIRLS by Robert Kolker
COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen
A MAN ON THE MOON by Andrew Chaikin
Your top 3 albums?
REVOLVER by The Beatles
NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS by The Sex Pistols
YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT by Wilco