Nothing makes the media sit up and take notice like a single sentence containing the words “corpse” and “cult.”
Thieves in New Jersey have stolen the corpse of a woman who died in 1996, leading to widespread (and so far unfounded) speculation that cult activity may be behind it.
Greenwood Cemetery employees arrived at work Friday morning to find that the Spinelli family mausoleum had been vandalized, according to the Press of Atlantic City. One casket had been robbed of its occupant, a 98-year-old woman, Pauline Spinelli, who passed away in 1996. The remains of five other people entombed in the Spinelli mausoleum appeared untouched.
“At this point, we’re keeping our minds and investigative leads open to any possibility,” Pleasantville Police Capt. Rocky Melendez told the newspaper. “We have spoken with some of the family. Nothing seems to indicate that there would be a problem.”
Melendez additionally told a local NBC affiliate that it does not appear that the thieves were looking for jewelry.
The incident might have remained a local news story, except that the Press added, “Police have not ruled out the possibility that a cult might be involved.”
And so we have the recipe for a story that grabs the media’s collective attention.
The headline on the Press story was relatively straightforward: “Police investigating theft of body from Pleasantville cemetery”
But here’s how the headlines morphed as the story began to gain speed on Tuesday, ricocheting as it did around the Internet:
--"Body stolen from Pleasantville, N.J. cemetery could be cult activity” -- New Jersey Newsroom
--"Cult ritual suspected in theft of body from N.J. mausoleum” -- USA Today
And our single favorite:
--"Cult may have stolen body of grandmother, police say” -- ABC News. (This story even quotes a cult expert saying such acts tend to be linked to individuals, not groups.)
But we’re not pointing fingers; we sat up and took notice too.
Neither Capt. Melendez nor a police department representative had returned a phone call by the time this story was posted.