Video: Body Snatchers!

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updated 3/3/2006 1:44:39 PM ET 2006-03-03T18:44:39

Authorities in New York and New Jersey have arrested four men for running a multimillion-dollar body snatching operation that looted the bones and tissue from more than 1,000 corpses.  In some cases the body parts were replaced with PVC piping then sold to legitimate companies that supply hospitals across the country.  Hundreds of unsuspecting people have received the stolen tissue. 

Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht explained to Tucker Carlson on 'Situation’ to discuss how something so outrageous can happen in America. 

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, 'SITUATION’:  How could this happen?

DR. CYRIL WECHT, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST:  Well, I'm puzzled by the fact that funeral homes from three different states as far away as Rochester sent bodies to Brooklyn for embalming.  We're here in little old Pittsburgh.  Embalming is done.  Not every funeral home has an embalmer, but there's one located a couple of miles away.

That's one thing that puzzles me.  And I wonder how much had to have been known by these people. 

In any event, what has happened, reportedly, is the bodies were sent to this Brooklyn funeral home for embalming.  At the funeral home, the allegations go on, these individuals forged consent forms, indicating that the descendents or their family members had given authorization for removal of various bones, tendons, ligaments, heart valves, teeth and so on.  Not major organs like heart and lungs and kidneys, because that just could not work. 

These other body structures, the muscular skeletal system, can be retained and are indeed stored for months and even years to be used by neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons for disk surgery, knee surgery, dental implants and so on. 

So they would take these parts, and then they would sell them to institutions that utilized these.  So here again, I have a question about the institutions and the doctors who acquired these.  Where did they think they were getting them from?

CARLSON:  But wait a second.  I mean, even to back up just one step.  When, you know, you're in the hospital and you're ill, or you have a loved one who's ill, you're often presented with the question, will you donate your body to science, is the term, the phrase that used to be used.  And you think of your loved one's body going to save a child, right, who's been in a car accident or something along those lines. 

You don't think that your loved one's body is going to be plundered for parts and sold for a profit.  But this seems like it's par. 

WECHT:  Well, that's right.  Now I've been involved in some cases over the years, quite a few years ago, they were doing this with eyes.  A funeral director tied in with an autopsy technician in a large hospital, and they were taking out people's eyes and selling them to foreign countries.  I exhumed a couple of bodies—that is the attorneys did; I did the autopsies—and demonstrated that. 

More recently, a case which is still pending, so I can't identify it, the attorneys have found instances in which willed body organs, willed bodies have been then sold to institutions, including U.S. governmental institutions, for all kinds of tests: how much explosions—explosive force does it take to blow up a body in a vehicle, that kind of thing. 

So these things have gone on, and we don't know how many more have. 

CARLSON:  Well, it makes people, I think, much less likely to want to donate.  To donate their bodies.

WECHT:  Tucker this is very tragic. Just think how wonderful it is, if you can give a part of your body to help somebody live, to help somebody live a better life.  And now these people are being discouraged.  So all the fine work done by the legitimate organizations has been really struck a blow, not a fatal blow, but a very damaging one.  That is the tragedy.

CARLSON:  But it's not just because of illegal activity, it seems to me.  People's bodies goes to plastic surgeons to practice doing nose jobs or go, as you said, to the U.S. government, you know, to test the effect of explosives on the human body. 

Quickly, this story came to light because the body of an 82-year-old deceased woman was exhumed from the ground, and it was found that the bones in her legs were missing and replaced with PVC piping.  That's what started this whole thing.  What would you do with the bones of an 82-year-old woman? 

WECHT:  Well, that's it.  What they did, Tucker, was they forged the documents, and they changed the ages.  They also forged and changed the documents.  They eliminated things like cancer and put in heart disease.  So I guarantee you that the person who bought, who received organs, tissues, body parts from this 82-year-old woman did not know that she was 82 years old.  That's the answer. 

CARLSON:  That is just absolutely shocking. 

WECHT:  And what's frightening, too, by the way, there may be communicable diseases, like syphilis, like hepatitis and other things, which have not been properly tested for, which is what would take place under appropriate circumstances, and that may have happened.  And so the individuals who have received these tissues, they're living an additional life of horror, wondering whether or not some disease may manifest itself in the months and years ahead. 

CARLSON:  That's just unreal.  I hope the body merchants who got caught here do hard time.  I assume they will.

Watch 'The Situation with Tucker Carlson' each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

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