In a truly ghastly story that is a perfect window into these sick and twisted times, a Michigan couple was arrested after an FBI investigation found that they were providing disease infected body parts to medical students. Arthur and Elizabeth Rathburn of Gross Pointe were indicted on multiple charges related to their gruesome black market body shop operation where they sold and rented out bits and pieces of cadavers, some which they dismembered using a chainsaw, a band saw and a reciprocating saw. The husband and wife team violated numerous regulations including the storing of “human heads by stacking them directly on top of each other without any protective barrier” according to the indictment.
The Detroit Free Press reports on this bizarre and morbid tale in the article “Feds: Cadaver dealer rented out infected legs, heads”:
It was 2006 when Arthur Rathburn’s name and morbid profession first surfaced in a book called “Body Brokers,” which delved into the underground world of cadaver dealers and labeled him a shady mortician who sold and rented heads, necks and legs for a handsome profit.
Ten years later, his world would close in on him.
On Friday, after years of being watched by the FBI, Rathburn of Grosse Pointe Park was indicted on numerous charges in U.S. District Court in Detroit, accused of running a nationwide scheme that involved cutting up bodies without consent and renting heads, arms and legs riddled with disease to unsuspecting medical researchers.
A dazed and homeless Rathburn sat in court on Friday, reading the 19-page indictment that accused him of heinous acts, like cutting up bodies with chainsaws, shipping blood-filled coolers of fresh heads on commercial airliners — falsely claiming the blood was Listerine — and storing more than 1,000 body parts on ice at his rundown warehouse in Detroit.
According to the indictment unsealed on Friday, the Rathburns knowingly bought infected body parts from cadaver centers in Arizona and Illinois and then rented them to customers for medical or dental training without revealing the parts were diseased.
Among the examples outlined in the indictment:
In 2011, the Rathburns rented a head and neck for $13,108 to be used in a course titled “Advances in Periodontology” at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cambridge, Mass. The head and neck came from an individual who tested positive for Hepatitis B, though the Rathburns hid that.
In July 2011, another head and neck with Hepatitis B was rented for $7,360 to be used for “Advanced Bone Grafting” training provided by the California Implant Institute in San Diego.
In October 2012, remains infected with Hepatitis B and HIV were provided for a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in Washington, D.C. The Rathburns collected $55,225 for those parts.
THE MEAT LOCKER
In February 2012, the Rathburns delivered a package of eight fresh human heads using a Delta cargo airplane to a customer. None of the heads were embalmed, even though Rathburn claimed they were. One of those heads came from someone who had sepsis and pneumonia.
“This alleged scheme to distribute diseased body parts not only defrauded customers from the monetary value of their contracts, but also exposed them and others to infection,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in announcing the indictment. “The alleged conduct risked the health of medical students, dental students and baggage handlers.”
Rathburn, a former University of Michigan morgue attendant, has long been the central figure in a years-long investigation dubbed “Body Brokers.” The FBI and border officials were on his trail for years, but it wasn’t until December 2013 that they zeroed in on him and raided his warehouse in Detroit, seizing more than a thousand body parts — heads, hands, legs, torsos — that were then stored in a deep freezer at the Wayne County Morgue.
According to the indictment, rather than use industry-standard sterilized autopsy equipment, Rathburn used chainsaws and other types of saws to cut up the bodies. He bought his body parts from cadaver centers in Arizona and Illinois, and got discounts on parts that were infected, the indictment said. He faces wire fraud, aiding and abetting, and making false statements charges. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
It sounds like something out of a B-grade slasher movie yet it’s all true. While being one sick bastard you have to hand it to Mr. Rathburn for his ingenuity in being able to tap into and successfully profit from a niche industry that few would ever dream of getting into. Is this a great country or what?