Beijing - Thieves in China stole urns filled with ashes from a cemetery in a bid to extort ransoms from relatives of the deceased, state media said Monday.
The ghoulish scheme was revealed after a woman surnamed Liu was told her late husband's tomb had been ransacked and found his ashes missing, the Xinhua news agency said.
A telephone number had been scrawled on the headstone, and a person answering the number told Liu that the urn's return would cost 20,000 yuan (S$4,400).
Liu paid up, but the tomb raiders then demanded more money, the report added.
At least one other tomb at the cemetery in Xinyang, in the central province of Henan, was despoiled.
Staff said the raid "bore the hallmarks of an experienced, well-organised mission".
Respect for ancestors is a central part of Chinese culture and as the government promotes cremation, many people keep ashes of relatives after their funerals instead of scattering them.
Police are investigating the attempt to turn ash into cash, the report added, and suspect a group that may be active "around the country".