Excerpt from Body Brokers by Annie Cheney, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Body Brokers

Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains

By Annie Cheney

Body Brokers
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2006,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2007,
    240 pages.

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Print Excerpt


Numerous diener thefts have been discovered over the years, from Maine to Los Angeles. Nearly all of these cases were uncovered purely by chance. Often the families of the dead noticed something odd on an autopsy report. Only later did they learn that parts of their family member's body had disappeared owing to an intricate deception.

If an autopsy isn't ordered, someone at the hospital calls the funeral home of the family's choice. A driver comes to pick the body up and take it to the funeral home. There, the body is refrigerated until the time comes for what's known in the funeral trade as "final disposition." If the body is to be cremated, it may be sent to another funeral home equipped with a crematorium or to a crematorium at a nearby cemetery. Here, once again, a stranger, who often has little training or supervision, assumes control of the body. If the crematorium operator is so inclined or is familiar with the market, he may be tempted to remove a body part before sliding the cadaver into an oven. Once a body is cremated, there's no way to know if anything is missing.

If the body is to be embalmed, the procedure takes place at a funeral home. But there too, a corpse may not be safe. The funeral home may have an agreement with a tissue bank. Each body may produce a tidy kickback, a thousand dollars, perhaps. Or, more disturbing, the funeral director may own his own tissue bank, earning thousands of dollars selling the parts of each corpse entrusted to his care. He might not bother to ask permission.

Relatives rarely have the opportunity–or the inclination–to accompany their deceased loved ones into the realm of hospital morgues and funeral homes. They sit by their bedsides while they are alive, clutching at any sign of life. But once death comes, they are quick to release them into a world, which, for many, is a kind of wilderness. And there, as in the wild, vultures are drawn to the dead.


Chapter 2

An Ideal Situation

In 2001, Michael Brown had a thriving cremation business in Lake Elsinore, California, a pleasant suburban town seventy miles southeast of Los Angeles. He had five admiring employees, a beautiful wife, and two sons. Brown, who was in his early forties, was a loving and supportive father. On most weekends, he could be found racing dirt bikes with his older son and attending the boys' ice hockey games. Brown took both boys camping in the Nevada wilderness. He Jet Skied with them on the town lake, played golf with them, and taught them how to fly radio airplanes. Brown beamed when he spoke of his children. "Those kids are my heart and soul," he said.

Brown wasn't a devout Christian, although he displayed in his spare office a Bible engraved with his name. Sometimes he even quoted Matthew 7:3 – "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

The California state crematorium inspector, Dan Redmond, saw this same humble philosophy in Brown's work and was impressed by it. "You can honestly tell when these guys are just in the business to make an extra buck, and Mike was not like that," Redmond said. Redmond noticed that when Brown talked to grieving families, he listened, counseled, and was careful to avoid any sales talk or to push a fancy coffin. If a family couldn't afford a funeral, Brown offered to cut his rates or provide a service free of charge.

Excerpted from Body Brokers by Annie Cheney Copyright © 2006 by Annie Cheney. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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