18 human heads found at O’Hare on last leg of final journey
By Stefano Esposito Staff Reporter January 14, 2013 10:52PM
Updated: January 15, 2013 8:13PM
The 18 human heads that arrived at O’Hare International Airport just before Christmas — and remained there until this week — now appear to be on the last leg of their final journey.
The medical specimens had been in limbo since just before Christmas, when they arrived on a flight from Rome and were held up because of improper paperwork, said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman with the Cook County medical examiner’s office, whose office took custody of the heads this week.
Late Tuesday morning, a Schiller Park crematorium came to claim them, Paleologos said. But the specimens won’t be released until federal authorities confirm the paperwork, she said.
“The medical examiner’s office will photograph and X-ray each of the heads,” she said.
The heads were shipped from the United States to Rome for medical research, and they were then shipped back again to be cremated, Paleologos said. She said she didn’t know the name of the cremation service or where the heads began their journey in the United States.
Although initially there appeared to be a greater issue with the crematorium, it turned out to be only a paperwork snafu, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The heads were shipped from Rome as cargo on a Lufthansa Airlines flight, arriving at O’Hare about one week before Christmas.
“They were properly preserved and tagged as human specimens,” said Tony Brucci, chief investigator for the medical examiner’s office.
Brucci said U.S. Customs officials at O’Hare initially held up the shipment when they found the paperwork to be “a little confusing.” Then the containers were X-rayed, and that’s when officials discovered what was inside, Brucci said.
Brian Bell, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said earlier Tuesday that the specimens appeared to be legitimate medical samples.
“There’s no issue with the transportation of body parts for medical purposes,” Bell said. “There’s nothing against the law that says you cannot ship them, provided you have the right documentation.”
While Bell said he had never fielded questions about a large package of human body parts, but such shipments are not without precedent, he noted.
“Everybody here is ‘Oh my gosh, you got a box of heads’ and everybody thinks that it’s unheard of,” Bell said. “It is a potentially legitimate medical shipment. We’ve seen it at various ports in the nation.”