An Arizona man is appalled that his mother’s body was blown up by the military after he thought he’d donated it for medical research. He’s speaking out amid an ongoing lawsuit against a private body donation facility accused of trafficking and mutilating human parts ― including sewing them together in a “Frankenstein manner.”
“I don’t see a pathway of ever getting past this,” Jim Stauffer told Phoenix station ABC 15 about what happened to his late mother, Doris Stauffer, after he gave her body to the Biological Resource Center in Phoenix.
Jim Stauffer is one of multiple plaintiffs suing the now-closed center and its former owner, Stephen Gore. Their lawsuit follows a 2014 FBI raid on the facility, which revealed that Doris Stauffer’s body had been sold to the U.S. Army for blast testing, Reuters reported in 2016.
“She was then supposedly strapped in a chair on some sort of apparatus, and a detonation took place underneath her to basically kind of get an idea of what the human body goes through when a vehicle is hit by an IED,” her son told the Phoenix station.
When he agreed to donate his mother’s body, Jim Stauffer said the paperwork asked specifically if medical tests involving explosions were OK.
“We checked the ‘no’ box on all that,” he said, adding that it was the family’s hope that her brain would be studied for Alzheimer’s research. Doris Stauffer had Alzheimer’s disease in her final years.
Attorney Michael Burg, who is representing Jim Stauffer and others in the civil lawsuit, said that investigations into similar body donation facilities across the country have uncovered similarly gruesome money-making efforts.
“These are grave robbers who don’t even have to dig up the grave. They get it by misrepresentations,” he told HuffPost.
At the Biological Resource Center, Burg said, many families were told that their loved ones’ bodies would go toward medical research to potentially help treat or even cure the ailments they’d suffered from. Cremation costs would also be covered.
Instead, body parts were diced up and sold, in some cases around the world, for profit. Some people also received boxes containing cement dust instead of their relatives’ ashes, he said.
“They have a price list. So much for a torso, a head, an arm, a knee,” Burg said. After the 2014 raid, he said authorities tracked down and informed the families about what happened in detail.
“They said we’ve found your father’s head in Florida or, say, we think their body went to the human market in South East Asia,” the lawyer said.
Though the lawsuit was filed several years ago, the Phoenix case made headlines again this week after particularly gruesome details of agents’ findings during the FBI raid were published by local news outlets. The details were part of an affidavit from an FBI agent that Burg added to the lawsuit this past spring. But they weren’t picked up by the local news until late last month, he said.
The FBI agent, identified as Mark Cwymar, described seeing buckets of human heads, arms, legs and male genitalia in a cooler. On one wall hung the body of a large man whose head had been replaced with the head of a small woman, sewn on in a “Frankenstein manner.” That macabre display was described as a “morbid joke.”
The tools the facility’s workers used included chainsaws and band saws. They were stored away in freezers that resembled meat lockers.
We believe that this is going on in not only the cases that we have, but we believe that it’s something that’s been going on in the darkness for a long time.
Attorney Michael Burg
“It looked like a junkyard chop shop where they are just ripping things apart,” Matthew Parker, a former investigator with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, told Reuters back in 2017.
In that interview, Parker recalled carrying body bags whose contents sloshed around inside and leaked onto his pants and shoes. He said he retired with post-traumatic stress disorder related to his work on the case.
Since the FBI raid, Burg said federal authorities have cracked down on several other body-donating facilities across the country, including in Detroit, Chicago and Colorado where similar lawsuits have been filed by Burg’s law firm.
“This is a national problem,” he said. “We believe that this is going on in not only the cases that we have, but we believe that it’s something that’s been going on in the darkness for a long time.”
Unlike organ donations, Burg said whole-body donations are highly unregulated.
After the Phoenix scandal, Arizona passed a law in 2017 that prohibits body donation companies from operating without a state license, Arizona Central reported. That law has not yet been implemented, however.
Gross was prosecuted and convicted for illegal control of an enterprise. He was sentenced in 2015 to one year of differed jail time, plus four years of probation, according to KTVK.
The civil trial is scheduled to begin in October.