NEW YORK — A ghoulish ring of body part thieves stole the bones of Alistair Cooke, the late host of the PBS series “Masterpiece Theater,” and sold them for more than $7,000 to two tissue processing companies for eventual use in transplant procedures, it was reported Thursday.
The New York Daily News, quoting sources familiar with the case, said the body snatchers struck shortly after the broadcaster, journalist and actor died on March 30, 2004, of lung cancer that spread to his bones.
Without permission from family members, the thieves surgically carved out the 95-year-old’s diseased bones just before his remains were cremated, the newspaper said.
It identified the alleged ringleader of the body parts gang as Michael Mastromarino, who ran Biomedical Tissue Services Ltd., which sold body parts, including bone, skin and cardiac valves, to tissue processing companies.
Cooke’s bones were sold to Regeneration Technologies, Inc. of Alachua, Fla., and Tutogen Medical Inc. of Paterson, N.J., the Daily News reported. It said Cooke’s bones could have been used for dental implants or numerous orthopedic procedures, including dowels for damaged spines.
Cooke's friends and family were said to be outraged by the theft.
"I hope those guys burn in hell for what they did," the Daily News quoted longtime Cooke family attorney David Grossberg as saying.
The use of cancerous bone for transplant procedures would be a violation of Food and Drug Administration regulations and the use of body parts from the aged also is against transplant protocol, the newspaper said.
It quoted sources as saying that Mastromarino allegedly changed Cooke’s cause of death to a heart attack and changed his age from 95 to 85 in paperwork given to the two processing companies.
It said Mastromarino and former partner Joseph Nicelli, an embalmer, are being investigated by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
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