The Chase Vault

The Chase Vault is a burial vault in the cemetery of the Christ Church Parish Church in Oistins, Christ Church, Barbados. It is best known for a series of unexplained incidents in the early 19th century involving the coffins within the vault. Each time when the vault was opened to bury a family member, all coffins but one had changed position. When this had happened several times without explanation over a number of years, the vault was eventually abandoned.

The Chase Vault was first built in 1724 for The Honorable James Elliot. The vault was majestic, made of carved stone, coral, and concrete walls over two feet thick.  At the entrance was an enormous blue slab of marble sealing the tomb in peace.

The first occupant of the vault was James Elliot’s wife, Elizabeth, who died on May 14th, 1792.  A few years later, the vault was purchased by the Walrond Family and was opened to receive the body of Mrs. Thomasina Goddard in 1807 however, upon removing the marble slab from the front of the door, the pallbearers were puzzled to observe that Mrs. Elliot and her coffin had completely disappeared.

The vault eventually ended up in the possession of the Chase Family, a wealthy family and an important clan in Barbados. Thomas Chase the head of the family was not very much liked. The first member of the Chase Family to be buried there was baby Mary Anne Marie Chase who died at the age of two on February 22, 1808.  Her small lead coffin was placed in the vault and the marble slab was put into place where it would remain for four years.

In 1812 Mary Anne’s older sister, Dorcas, died under what some would say was strange circumstances.  It was rumored that the girl had been abused by her father, Colonel Thomas Chase, who had a reputation for being cruel and sadistic to his family and slaves.  Some say that Dorcas was unable to live with the abuse any longer and starved herself to death.  Her coffin was added to the vault.

Only a month later, Colonel Thomas Chase committed suicide and when the pallbearers opened the vault a grisly sight met them all. Both of his girls caskets and been thrown all over the place but Mrs. Goddard’s casket was just as always. The first thought that the men had was that the tomb had been ransacked by grave robbers, but there were no valuables in the tomb to steal and the heavy marble slab used to seal the place up had not been moved.

In September of 1816, the vault was again opened to except another infant. Again the girls caskets had been tossed all around but now Thomas’s casket had been disturbed to. But still, Thomasina Goddard’s casket remained perfectly on place. Once again Thomas and his daughter’s caskets were reordered and put back in place. Inside the tomb, both of the little girl’s coffins had been seemingly thrown about and were lying in a haphazard fashion on the vault’s floor with one coffin left upside down.

Four years later, the vault was once again opened to admit the body of eleven year-old Charles Brewster Ames.  Again, the coffins inside the tomb had been flung about… even the 240 pound lead coffin of the colonel.  By now, the story had begun to spread around the island and 52 days later when Samuel Brewster was due to be buried, the vault was inspected from the outside for anything out of the ordinary.  The found that the vault was airtight and watertight and that nothing could get in or out however, upon opening the tomb, once again they discovered that the coffins had been apparently violently disturbed.

This time, however, one coffin was not out of place… the wooden coffin of Thomasina Goddard.  However, it had sustained heavy damage from another coffin smashing into it that Mrs. Goddard’s skeleton was sticking out of it.

By this time, the news of the moving coffins had reached the ears of Barbados’ governor, Lord Combermere who decided that the puzzle of the Chase Vault must be solved.

Lord Combermere ordered that the vault be inspected and made impenetrable from the outside.  He then ordered that sand by sprinkled on the floor so that footprints would betray any human or animal intruders.  Finally, the governor’s seal was placed into the fresh cement of the vault seal as an added precaution. 

Eight months after the Governor had the vault fully examined and resealed it was opened again to accept another body, at which point the same sight was to be seen Thomas and his family members had been tossed all around and Mrs. Goddard was right where left. One coffin was actually leaning up against the door making getting into the vault difficult.  Mary Anna’s lead coffin had been thrown so violently that a piece actually chipped off. The sand sprinkled on the floor showed not one footprint. Detailed drawings of the scene were made.

By this time, the Chase family could take no more and had the coffins removed from the infamous vault.  They were all eventually buried in plots in the cemetery.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator and writer of Sherlock Holmes,  proposed along with others that the disturbances were caused by the spirits of two inhabitants of the vault, Dorcas and Thomas, who had committed suicide and, therefore, were cursed and restless.  The fact that the coffins had started moving only after Dorcas Chase was buried seemed to support that hypothesis.

There were other explanations, of course, such as human tampering, earthquakes, flooding and explosions but they were all ruled out.  Explosions, flooding and earthquakes would have disturbed other vaults in the cemetery and human tampering was dismissed due to the fact that the vault seal had not been broken, the marble slab was so heavy it would have taken eight men to move it, and the coffin blocking the door would have made escape for human tricksters impossible.

The Chase Vault is not the only example of coffins moving around.   “The Curious Vault at Stanton in Suffolk” in which coffins were displaced several times under mysterious circumstances is one example.

Today the Chase Vault still exists, but it is empty and has been for almost two hundred years.  No one has tempted fate by allowing a family member to be buried there.