18 Human Heads Found At O'Hare Airport

Human specimens appeared to be on final leg of their journey by Tuesday afternoon after paperwork confusion cleared, morgue spokeswoman said

By Sharon Wright
|  Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013  |  Updated 7:02 PM CDT
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Heads had been sent to Rome for medical research and were coming back to the United States for final cremation. Sharon Wright reports.

Heads had been sent to Rome for medical research and were coming back to the United States for final cremation. Sharon Wright reports.

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A shipment of 18 human heads that had been held by authorities at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and then by the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office should soon be in the care of a cremation service, a morgue spokeswoman said.

Mary Paleologos said a cremation agency showed up Tuesday with the proper paperwork to claim the human specimens. Federal authorities, however, still had to sign off on that paperwork before the heads would be released, she said.

Paleologos said the heads were frozen in sealed containers and were sent from a legitimate facility in Rome about a week before Christmas. She said the heads were properly preserved, wrapped and tagged as human specimens and there was no suggestion of foul play.

It appears the heads had been sent to Rome for medical research and were coming back to the United States for final cremation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the airport held the shipments because of "incomplete" paperwork, Paleologos said.

The heads were transferred to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office this week and kept in coolers while authorities looked into the matter. By Tuesday, it appeared that confusion had been cleared.

There are life lessons on those cadavers, explained Paul Dudek with the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois. Dudek said the organization, founded in 1918, isn't tied to the case of the 18 heads, but explained that such specimens provide valuable information to medical professionals.

"Over the years, we've received about 40,000 donations [that aided in the] training well over 70,000 physicians, dentists and allied health care professionals. So the demand is there," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security told the Chicago Sun-Times it's not unheard of to receive such shipments, and as long as proper documentation is included, it's legal.

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