Thieves try to steal Sigmund Freud's ashes in London (Update)

January 15, 2014 by Alice Ritchie

Thieves tried to steal the ashes of the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and his wife from a crematorium in London, severely damaging a 2,400-year-old urn that housed their remains, police said Wednesday.

Detectives urged the public to help catch the "callous" people responsible following the attempted theft of the 4th century BC Greek urn sometime around New Year's Eve.

"This was a despicable act by a callous thief," said Detective Constable Daniel Chandler of the Metropolitan Police.

"Even leaving aside the financial value of the irreplaceable urn and the historical significance to whom it related, the fact that someone set out to take an object knowing it contained the last remains of a person defies belief."

Freud died in September 1939 and his ashes were placed in the urn in Golders Green Crematorium near his home. Martha Freud's ashes were added after her death in 1951.

Freud was given the urn—which depicts Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy—by his close friend and fellow psychoanalyst Princess Marie Bonaparte.

A relation of Napoleon and the wife of the Prince of Greece and Denmark, the princess helped Freud, his wife and daughter Anna flee Vienna when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.

The Freud family arrived in London that summer, taking a house in Hampstead, a leafy suburb in the north of the city.

"Between December 31 and January 1, burglars attempted to steal an urn containing the remains of Sigmund Freud and his wife Martha," the Metropolitan police said in a statement.

The urn, which was displayed on a plinth, was "severely damaged" in the process, police said.

It had been on public view but has now been moved to a secure area while an investigation into security at the crematorium is carried out, according to the local Ham & High newspaper.

Officials at the crematorium, one of the oldest in Britain, were not immediately available for comment.

The urn was chosen to hold Freud's ashes from his collection of more than 2,000 largely Egyptian, Greek and Roman objects, which are on display at his home, now the Freud Museum.

Dawn Kemp, acting director of the museum, said the objects informed his work in developing a new way of understanding the human personality—psychoanalysis.

"He reflected on the stories of antiquity and fables and mythologies, using those as universal stories that depict human responses and conditions," Kemp told AFP.

She declined to speculate on how much the urn was worth, saying it was a family matter.

The museum was set up following the death of Freud's daughter Anna in 1982 and includes his famous psychoanalytic couch.

Police had earlier erroneously said the urn was from the 3rd century BC and was stolen from Hoop Lane Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery opposite the Golders Green Crematorium.

The crematorium opened in 1901 and contains the remains of many famous figures including Bram Stoker, the author of "Dracula", and soul singer Amy Winehouse.

Earlier this month it was also the location for the funeral of Ronnie Biggs, the most famous member of the gang who carried out the Great Train Robbery in 1963.

Explore further: Mayan glyphs detail priest's life, blood sacrifices

Related Stories

Mayan glyphs detail priest's life, blood sacrifices

December 29, 2009

Experts are studying the first Mayan hieroglyphic script dealing with the life of a high priest, his blood sacrifices and acts of penance, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said.

UK police: Cyber crooks could have stolen millions

September 14, 2013

(AP)—A daring attempt to graft a rogue piece of hardware onto a computer at a London branch of Spanish bank Santander could have drained millions from its coffers, police said Friday, an indication of the potential for ...

Australia police, central bank websites hacked

November 21, 2013

Australian police and central bank websites fell victim to cyber attacks Thursday with an Indonesian hacker claiming responsibility, reportedly demanding that Canberra apologise in an intensifying row over spying.

UK police trial vest-mounted cameras after killing

January 9, 2014

London's police force said Thursday it was rolling out vest-mounted video cameras to some of the capital's 2,300 firearms officers, hoping to help build public confidence after a contentious inquest verdict on a fatal shooting.

Recommended for you

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.