Intolerance: Body-Snatchers From America

Body-snatchers stole bones from the corpse of the BBC broadcasting legend Mr.Alistair Cooke and sold them to a medical firm in a macabre trade worth millions of pounds. Detectives in New York have unearthed evidence that the 'Letter from America' veteran, who died of bone cancer last year aged 95, was among possibly hundreds of victims of an illegal harvesting ring that stole parts from corpses in mortuaries in the city. The thieves replaced the stolen bones with PVC plumbing pipes and broom handles to prevent grieving relatives from noticing.
'I'm furious, I'm enraged, I'm outraged,' Mr.Cooke's stepdaughter, Holly Rumbold, told BBC Radio 4's 'The World at One', denouncing the plot as 'corrupt and evil'.
The family's lawyer, Mr.David Grossberg, was equally disgusted, reportedly saying:
'I hope those guys burn in hell for what they did.'
Suspicions of a body-parts trade involving New York undertakers first surfaced when the new owners of a funeral home in Brooklyn discovered irregularities in business records compiled by the previous proprietor. The New York district attorney's office, working with the police department's major case squad, launched an ongoing investigation, which centres on Mr.Joseph Nicelli, 49, an undertaker, and Mr.Michael Mastromarino, 43, a once-successful dentist. Mr.Mastromarino's career fell apart in 2000 after he developed a drug addiction and, according to malpractice lawsuits filed against him, passed out while working on patients because of the extent to which he was under the influence of the painkiller Demerol. His company, 'Biomedical Tissue Services', of New Jersey, traded human body parts -- including arm and leg bones as well as skin and heart valves -- to medical firms for use in reconstructive surgery. However, it is alleged that the company failed to seek permission from relatives of the deceased and routinely forged documentation. Mr.Mastromarino paid undertakers 1_000.00_USD (575.00_USD) for every corpse they referred to him, it is claimed. In the case of Mr.Cooke, mortuary records indicated that a relative had given authority for body parts to be extracted prior to his cremation and used for transplant purposes.
However, when detectives called his family and asked to speak to the person whose signature appeared on the permission form, they found that no such person existed.
The body had also been dissected without their knowledge. Some of his bones were sold for 7_000.00_USD (just over 4_000.00_GBP) to legitimate medical technology firms in Florida and New Jersey. These turn human and animal tissue into products to help repair damaged human spines and dental implants. The paperwork supplied to the companies by Mr.Mastromarino indicated Mr.Cooke's cause of death as a heart attack. It failed to include the information that the journalist had suffered from lung cancer that had spread to his bones. Also, his age was given as 85 -- ten years short of the truth. The use of cancerous bone for transplant operations is banned by the US American 'Food & Drug Administration', and the use of body parts from geriatric donors contravenes transplant protocol.
'I'm most shocked by the violation of the medical ethics that my stepfather's ancient and cancerous bones should have been passed off as healthy tissue to innocent patients in their quest for better health,' said Ms.Rumbold yesterday.
Mr.Cooke's bulletins on life in the United States of America were broadcast for more than six decades. His most famous series, 'Letter from America', lasted for 58 years. He died at his apartment on Manhattan's exclusive Fifth Avenue on 2004-03-30. His body was taken away by undertakers and an urn of ashes returned to his family, who scattered them in Central Park in accordance with a request set out in his will. The family said they could no longer be sure that the ashes they scattered were even his. Police have exhumed three bodies as part of their investigation and reportedly plan to dig up dozens more. Mr.Cooke's daughter, Susan Kittredge, told 'The New York Daily News' she was 'shocked and saddened'. She added:
'That people in need of healing should have received his body parts, considering his age and the fact that he was ill, is as appalling to the family as it is that his remains were violated.'
Body-snatching has come a long way since Burke and Hare roamed the misty streets of 19th-century Edinburgh seeking victims to murder so that they could sell the corpses to medical students for a few shillings. Today's biomedical companies and those in the healthcare and transplant businesses pay handsomely for bones to recycle for use in orthopaedic and dental procedures, and other body parts that can help burns victims or those needing reconstructive or cosmetic surgery. High demand, however, means the source is not always checked as thoroughly as legally required. The United States is one of the world's leading markets for human bones, mostly from China. Students of anatomy shopping online can buy an entire arm, including the hand, for 170.00_GBP, a kneecap for 5.70_GBP or a rib for 4.60_GBP. 'Victim of 'modern Burke and Hare', Jacqui Goddard, The Scotsman, 2005-12-23, Fr


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