Monday, February 27, 2006

Bad to the Bone: Body Snatchers

The owner of a biomedical supply house and three others were charged with selling body parts for use in transplants in a scheme a district attorney called "something out of a cheap horror movie."

The indictment was the first set of charges to come out of a widening scandal involving scores of funeral homes and hundreds of bodies, including that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004.

The investigation has raised fears that some of the body parts could spread disease to transplant recipients.

Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the NY City's Department of Investigation, said "It was shockingly callous in its disregard for the sanctity of human remains."

Prosecutors said the defendants took organs from people who had not given consent or were too old or too sick to donate and forged consent forms and altered the death certificates to indicate the victims had been younger and healthier.

X-rays and photos of recently exhumed cadavers show that where leg bones should have been, someone had inserted white plastic pipes -- the kind used for home plumbing projects, available at any hardware store. The pipes were crudely reconnected to hip and ankle bones with screws before the legs were sewn back up. (Watch how X-rays provided clues -- 1:18)

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