Posthumous marriage (aka necrogamy) takes place in countries throughout the world. People in parts of China perform ghost marriages meant to “pacify the souls” of the dead. In the Western world, posthumous marriage is famously legal in France, where some women were permitted to marry soldiers who had been killed in battle during World War I.
After a dam broke in the town of Frejus in 1959, a woman asked President Charles de Gaulle to allow her to marry her fiance who had died in the accident. A law was passed permitting her to do so. Read on for stories about some of the posthumous marriages that have taken place in China, France, and beyond.
10 Cecelia Kleiman And Isaac Woginiak
Just because you can’t normally marry a dead person in the United States doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried. Cecelia Kleiman and Isaac Woginiak were first married in a Jewish ceremony on Miami Beach in January 1987. Sadly, Woginiak died of a heart attack soon afterward on March 10, 1987.
Even more unfortunately for Kleiman, the couple did not have a marriage license during their first ceremony. Woginiak would have had to supply a certified copy of his divorce from his first wife in Venezuela, which he did not have.
The ceremony’s officiant, Rabbi Meyer Abramowitz, reportedly performed the marriage anyway because they had already planned for over 100 guests and he didn’t want to call it off over a “technicality.”
After Woginiak died, Kleiman went to court and the posthumous marriage was performed by a Dade County circuit judge. (A court clerk signed the license in lieu of the groom.) But once the decedent’s sons learned of the marriage, they swiftly contested it and Miami’s 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that it was illegal.
Kleiman claimed that Woginiak’s sons merely wanted to deny her the widow’s rightful share of Woginiak’s estate, which was estimated to be worth over $100,000.
9 Julia Pak And Heung Jin Moon
Before his tragic death at age 17 in January 1984 from a car accident, Heung Jin Moon was the son of Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han, leaders of the Unification Church in South Korea. According to church teachings, only married couples were permitted to enter heaven.
As Heung Jin Moon had planned to marry prima ballerina Julia Pak before his death, his parents conducted a spiritual wedding for the couple on February 20, 1984. Now general director of Universal Ballet, Julia goes by Julia H. Moon, and she has been known to deliver messages on behalf of her husband from the spiritual world.
8 Charlotte Kaletta And Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Pfeffer
Appearing in Anne Frank’s diary under the pseudonym Albert Dussel, Friedrich “Fritz” Pfeffer was a Jewish dentist who spent two years in hiding with Frank’s family. (“Dussel” meant “idiot.” Anne didn’t get along with him.)
Before this, though, Pfeffer had met and fallen in love with Charlotte Kaletta. Due to the Nazi Nuremberg Laws of 1935, however, the two were not permitted to marry in Germany as he was Jewish and she was not. The couple then went to the Netherlands after Kristallnacht, though their marriage would have been illegal there as well.
Once the Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940, Pfeffer was forced into hiding, eventually finding his way to the annex with the Frank family. After their presence was discovered, Pfeffer was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in early September 1944 and then to Neuengamme in October. He was murdered there on December 20, 1944.
Kaletta didn’t learn of Pfeffer’s death until nearly a year after it occurred. On April 9, 1953, Kaletta was finally permitted to legally marry Pfeffer posthumously.
7 David Masenta And Mgwanini Molomo
In 2004 in the tiny village of Ceres, South Africa, David Masenta shot and killed his pregnant fiancee, Mgwanini Molomo, and then himself. However, family members wanted to remember the pair as a happy couple, so they arranged for the two to marry.
Dressed in wedding attire, the two were set to be joined in marriage before being buried. Mathole Motshekga, an expert on African culture, explained, “In African culture, there is no death. There is merely the separation of body and soul. It is also important because the families are married together.”
6 Etienne Cardiles And Xavier Jugele
Xavier Jugele was a French policeman who was killed by a terrorist on the Champs-Elysees on April 20, 2017. As posthumous marriage is legal in France, Etienne Cardiles, Jugele’s partner, was married to his love in the presence of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former French President Francois Hollande.
The couple had been in a domestic partnership before Jugele’s tragic murder. The marriage is presumed to be the first posthumous gay marriage in the world.
5 Christelle Demichel And Eric Demichel
After Eric Demichel’s death in a 2002 road accident, Christelle Demichel married him even though he was not standing there with her during the ceremony. They had met as police officers in 1997 in Paris. Soon, they moved in together and registered as common-law husband and wife.
The couple moved to Nice to start raising a family and even fixed a wedding date. When Eric died, Christelle was one month pregnant. But sadly, she lost the child in the ensuing weeks.
Having learned about necrogamy laws at law school, Christelle was able to persuade both her and Eric’s families to get on board with the marriage. The ceremony seems to have brought Christelle some measure of peace. She stated, “With the marriage, I’ve been able to rebuild something which should have taken place and also build my life for the future.”
4 Chadil ‘Deffy’ Yuenying And Sarinya ‘Anne’ Kamsook
In Surin, Thailand, Chadil “Deffy” Yuenying and Sarinya “Anne” Kamsook had been dating for 10 years before they got married—once Kamsook was already dead. Before she was unexpectedly killed in an accident, the two had planned to get married after Yuenying finished his studies.
3 Janetta Gardiner And Kenneth Vanderwerff
A rare posthumous marriage was permitted in the United States in 2014. Janetta Gardiner and Kenneth Vanderwerff dated from 2007 until 2010, when Vanderwerff died at age 78. A judge initially granted Gardiner’s request for a posthumous common-law marriage, thus making her the executor of Vanderwerff’s estate.
Cousins of Vanderwerff soon intervened, and the case went to the Utah Supreme Court. Ultimately, the marriage was reinstated.
2 Magali Jaskiewicz And Jonathan George
A car crash in eastern France in November 2008 brought an end to the earthly relationship of Magali Jaskiewicz and Jonathan George, but France’s necrogamy laws enabled them to continue on together past “till death do us part.” At 26, Jaskiewicz have lived with George for six years and raised two children with him.
The couple had gone to the town hall to arrange their marriage two days before George’s death. One year later, wearing the dress she had originally picked out for the occasion, Jaskiewicz officially married George. Mayor Christophe Caput, who performed the ceremony, noted that Jaskiewicz had “become a widow at her wedding.”
1 Ma’s Murdered Women
The tradition of ghost weddings, which are said to ensure that the unmarried dead are not alone in the afterlife, can have some horrible unintended consequences. In the Shaanxi province in 2016, a man named Ma Chonghua was arrested for promising two women with mental disabilities that he would find them grooms. Then he murdered them in an attempt to sell their corpses for use in ghost weddings.
This isn’t the first case of necrogamy gone bad. In 2015, 14 female corpses were reportedly stolen from a single village in the Shanxi province by thieves hoping to make money by selling the dead bodies for posthumous marriages.
According to one study, the price of young women’s bones and corpses rose sharply between 2008 and 2010. An individual in Liangcheng County, Inner Mongolia, admitted to police in 2015 that he, too, had murdered a woman to sell her body to a family looking for a ghost bride.
Although posthumous marriages often occur because a grieving lover is searching for a way to heal, it’s clear that these ceremonies can sometimes involve nefarious crimes.
Kathleen Halliday is usually reading nonfiction.