Did a Man Preserve His Dead Wife in a Coffee Table?

Unpacking the Urban Legend

In this hoax circulating since 2000, we are asked to believe that Mr. Jeff Green of Arizona preserved the body of his dead wife Lucy in a specially-built glass coffee table, which is now on display in his living room.

Dead Wife Hoax Debunked

Leaving aside the issue of why anyone would want to do such a thing in the first place, keeping the remains of one's dead spouse in a glass coffee table in one's living room is beyond the bounds of reality for a variety or reasons:

  1. It's probably illegal. State and local laws generally require the burial or cremation of human remains within a specified time period after death occurs. Home burial is an option in many states — including Arizona, where the "Jeff Green" of our email tale allegedly resides — though subject to local zoning and sanitation laws. In any case, "burial" means burial, either under the ground or in a mausoleum.
  2. The body would decompose. Even if the remains were embalmed, and even if, as the email claims, they were placed in a special glass casing somehow designed to prevent decomposition, it will occur. If you're thinking all the air could be pumped out, creating a vacuum inside the case to prevent bacterial growth, think again. This would simply retard decomposition, not eliminate it (for comparison, vacuum-packed meats only have a shelf life of three years, and that's with refrigeration). Embalming, too, is only a temporary measure, meant to slow the decomposition process for the short period of time between death and entombment. Short of cryogenic preservation or plastination — both very rare and expensive procedures — nothing can be done to stop a dead body from eventually decomposing.
  3. Nobody wants to hang out with a guy who keeps a corpse in his living room!

Origin of the Preserved Dead Wife Hoax

This fabricated story originally appeared in the American tabloid newspaper Weekly World News first on Dec. 1, 1992, and then again in a May 1993 "Collectors' Edition." It was printed along with articles claiming the Loch Ness monster was captured and Bill Clinton met with a space alien in the White House.

Sample Email About the Preserved Dead Wife

Here's an email contributed by Carolyn S.on Jan. 9, 2001:

Subject: What you would do for love... this is gross.
Just when you think you have seen it all, there's always one more nut that didn't make it in the basket.
Jeff Green is a 32 year old American in Arizona whose wife passed away. Due to the great pain he suffered after her death, he did something totally out of character for a normal and sane person. He said, "I could no longer take the pain that my wife's death has caused me so I brought her back home." This is where Jeff's story takes a twisted turn. His wife, Lucy, was born with a heart condition that ended her life at the young age of 29.
Lucy's last words to Jeff were, " We will meet again in heaven." These words served as no consolation to Jeff's despair. At the funeral, in an act of desperation, Jeff decided that he would not let Lucy leave him. "I called the cemetery caretaker and explained my feelings."
"I spoke with the authorities and got special permission to take my wife home with me. They thought it strange, but I was allowed to take her with me. I'd rather have her at home than seven feet underground. Lucy had a great sense of humor and I'm sure she would appreciate being my coffee table." Jeff ordered a special glass casing that eliminates the decomposition of a dead body. "It cost me about $6,000.00, but it was worth it." Some of his friends and relatives, filled with fear, stop visiting Jeff. His true friends respected his decision and continue visiting him. Some even comment that it is a nice piece of furniture.

Tabloid tales:
Proofreader Dies at Desk, Unnoticed by Coworkers for 5 Days
The Gun-Totin' Rambo Granny of Melbourne
Megan Fox Is Actually a Man!
Snake Swallows Man!

Sources and further reading:

The Processes of Death and Decomposition
BBC, May 19, 2004

Artificial Preservation of Human Remains
BBC, December 9, 2004

History of Embalming
Barton Family Funeral Service