A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 27, 2010
“Knows where the bodies are buried” (to know inside information)

A person who murders people “knows where the bodies are buried.” A person in government, business, or organized crime can know organizational secrets (not always criminal secrets, but information not willingly revealed), and it’s often said that this person “knows where the bodies are buried.”

“Knows where the bodies are buried” has been cited in print since at least 1930; the Washington (government) use became popular by 1951-1952.

[This entry includes research by Bill Mullins and Garson O’Toole of the American Dialect Society listserv.]


Answers.com
Where did Knows where the bodies are buried come from?
When a criminal organization hides the evidence of their misdeeds (e.g. murder, burying bodies where they cannot be found), there are, of course, members who know where and what that evidence is. Being privy to that secret information means that they are in a position to hurt said organization if they want to; they know where the bodies are buried.

UseEnglish.com
Idiom Definitions for ‘Know where all the bodies are buried’
Someone who by virtue of holding a position of trust with an organization for a long period of time has come to know many of the secrets that others in more powerful positions would rather be kept secret knows where the bodies are buried. An implication is that the person knowing these secrets will use that knowledge to secure something of value for him- or herself.

4 November 1930, Burlington (IA) Hawk-Eye, “Maybe I’m Wrong” by John P. Medbury, pg. 6, col. 5:
A grave digger usually has a lot of influence. He knows where all the bodies are buried.

Google Books
So far, so good! An autobiography
By Elsie Janis
New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc,
1932
Pg. 338:
There, every day, we lunched, Glady Rosson, his secretary, and the “gal” who knows where all the bodies are buried, Arthur King, his financial adviser.

10 May 1938, Oakland (CA) Tribune, “U.S.L.T.A. Boycotts Bobby Riggs” ("Cohn-ing Tower” by Art Cohn), pg. 19, col. 1:
Then, the Association can not handle Riggs. he knows all its trade secrets, and, because he knows where the bodies are buried, he refuses to take orders. His contempt for the tennis mob is naturally resented by the pompous old frauds who run the racket.

22 June 1943, Charleston (WV) Gazette, “Fair Enough” by Westbrook Pegler, pg. 6, col. 7:
These stories concern the terror in the needle trades some years ago, when LaGuardia was working with Hillman as attorney, and racketeering was rife on both sides. Newspapers and magazines have nibbled at them, but the people who know where the bodies are buried, so to speak, have choked up.

14 October 1951, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Firstest With the Mostest” by Kyle Palmer, pg. C4:
It is argued from the Senator’s standpoint that he knows where the bodies are buried and has the tools and experience to dig them up.

Google News Archive
7 April 1952, Reading (PA) Eagle, “Washington Calling” by Marquis Childs, pg. 8, col. 2:
As for Morris, he has said privately that if anyone in Washington knows where the bodies are buried, it is FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Google News Archive
8 April 1952, Spokane (WA) Daily Chronicle. “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” by Drew Pearson, pg. 4, col. 2:
WASHINGTON, April 8.—James Patrick McGranery, new attorney general of the United States, has several interesting attributes. He is a honest as the day is long; he is married to one of the most beautiful and brilliant lady attorneys who ever practiced law, and he is so loyal to Harry Truman that every political whim the President has will be anticipated in advance.

Jim also knows where most of the bodies are buried in the justice department. And having this knowledge, he could probably dig them up—if he wants to. But the chances are he won’t.

12 May 1952, New York (NY) Times, “Taft and Eisenhower Face 7 Crucial Tests This Week” by W. H. Lawrence, pg. 1:
The general knows “where the bodies are buried in the Pentagon,” Governor Dewey said.

Google Books
The Doomsters
By John Ross Macdonald
London: Cassell
1958
Pg. 180:
“He’s been in office a long time, and, as you know, he’s got good political backing, at least until now. He knows where the bodies are buried. You might say he’s buried a couple of them himself.”

Google Books
American Government; readings and documents
By Peter H. Odegard
New York, NY: Harper & Row
1966
Pg. 315:
Because the career official knows the history and background of the agency, has the files, and “knows where the bodies are buried,” he is in the best position to help the new political executives avoid the pitfalls in the unfamiliar terrain, such as legislative issues that are certain to arise, the historical attitudes of the Congress, and its committees, and the senior members of those committees.

Google Books
24 February 1967, Life magazine, pg. 5, col. 2:
He knows his city, his state, the police, the politicians, the educators, the entertainers. Often he knows where the bodies are buried, and when he has to, he can make use of this knowledge.
(Life magazine stringers—ed.)

Google Books
The Center;
People and power in political Washington

By Stewart Alsop
New York, NY: Popular Library
1968
Pg. 234:
“He really knows where the bodies are buried.”

Boston (MA) Globe
Obama vows line-by-line budget review
Posted by Foon Rhee, deputy national political editor
November 25, 2008 12:13 PM
President-elect Barack Obama vowed today to get rid of federal programs that no longer make sense and run others in a more frugal way to make Washington work in tough economic times.
(...)
He introduced the man who will be largely responsible for the budget, Peter Orszag, who will be director of the Office of Management and Budget and is now director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Obama said that Orszag “knows where the bodies are buried. He knows what works, and what doesn’t,” he said.

The Union (Western Nevada County, CA)
Amy Goodman: Top health insurance whistle-blower knows where the bodies are buried
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wendell Potter is the health insurance industry’s worst nightmare. He’s a whistle-blower. Potter, the former chief spokesperson for insurance giant CIGNA, recently testified before Congress, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick — all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Wednesday, October 27, 2010 • Permalink