Swiss police scoured the countryside yesterday in a massive search for the stolen coffin Chaplain, and the international police agency (INTERPOL) alerted neighborings countries to join the macabre hunt.
There ware no definite leads, according to police authorities, as to who robbed the immensely popular film star's solid oak casket from its grave in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland during the early morning hours Thursday.
Nor was there an indication what motivation was behind the bizarre act.
Neither the Chaplin family nor authorities has received any communication from the thieves, although there was speculation here that at some point, ransom will be demanded from Chaplin's multimillion dollar estate.
As the mystery continued, police received calls from residents of Corsier-sur-Vevy who, in retrospect, recalled suspicious noises or movements from the night before. One man claimed he had heard something like the sound of a pick axe, but the sound of the casket being removed would have been blurred by the noise of traffic.
All that the police were fairly certain of at this point was that the theft must have involved at least three or four men since the oak casket with Chaplin's body in it weighed around 520 pounds.
Tracks on the cemetery's lawn indicate that the coffin was dragged for some distance before being placed in a truck or a van.
Swiss police seemed "too amazed to be embarrased" by the spectacular robbery, according to and observer here. Ever since Chaplin was buried in a small village cemetery surrounded by cypress trees, no security precautions were taken and the cemetery was not locked at night.
His opened grave site was not found until around two o'clock Thursday afternoon, when it was discovered by a villager who tends the cemetery. Police have issued an open warrant for the arrest of persons unknown on the charge of "disturbing the peace of the dead."
According to reliable sources, police think that the grave robbers waited until a relatively warm spell of weather thawed the ground. Their work was also made easier because the tombstone, which was to be laid over the gravesight, had not yet been prepared.
Although many here speculated that ransom was the motive, one theory making rhe rounds was that the thieves were such fanatic fans of the adorable, pathetic tramp portrayed by Chaplin that they felt compelled to possess their idol's body.
Another theory was that extreme neo-nazis have captured the body in retaliation for Chaplin's critical satire of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s movie, "The Great Dictator."
The Swiss people took the news with a sense of emotional outrage and shock.
Chaplin's widow and several of their children remained at home yesterday. Mrs. Chaplin was visibly shaken, according to a source close to the family