Fetuses, rotting heads found inside rundown Detroit warehouse

The FBI raided a rundown warehouse in Detrolt where fetuses and infected body parts were stored in December 2013. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Tune in to the Muckraker Report on 910AM the Superstation from 11-noon Wednesday to hear more about this bizarre story. 

The grisly details in the criminal case against a Grosse Pointe Park cadaver dealer, accused of cutting up infected bodies with chainsaws, shipping blood-filled coolers of fresh heads to medical researchers and lying to families about what he did with their loved one’s remains, just took another gruesome and bizarre turn.

Federal agents who raided Arthur Rathburn’s warehouse in Detroit in December 2013 found four preserved fetuses, which appear to be in their second trimester, immersed in a liquid that included human brain tissue, according to confidential photos recently reviewed by Reuters.

Rathburn is accused of defrauding medical researchers and educators by sending them infected body parts, without the families’ consent, from a rundown warehouse that a U.S. district judge said “appears to be the hub of the illegal activity” and is connected to a larger criminal investigation involving other body dealers.

Rathburn, whose body broker business is called International Biological Inc., has pleaded not guilty and is facing a trial in January in a criminal case that, until now, made no mention of fetuses.

Investigators have not indicated whether they know how Rathburn acquired the fetuses or what he planned to do with them.

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Rathburn’s attorneys declined to comment.

“This needs to be reviewed,” U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who recently chaired a special U.S. House committee on the use of fetal tissue, told Reuters

Four photos from inside the warehouse show a crime scene investigator in a hazmat suit and rubber gloves using forceps to lift a fetus from a dark-colored fluid in a metal drawer. In other photos, a fetus lies alongside a red evidence marker.

The case against Rathburn offers a glimpse inside the largely unregulated, multimillion-dollar industry of buying and selling body parts in America.

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In Michigan, like many states, no government agency is responsible for inspecting body broker facilities, which rely heavily on poor people, who donate their bodies in exchange for a free cremation. Rathburn is accused of cremating the torso and keeping the rest of the body – the head, arms, legs, hands, elbows and other parts – for later use or sale.

The sale of fetal tissue for profit is illegal in the U.S.

Others evidence collected during the raid shows rotting, un-embalmed heads soaked in mouthwash and water, human remains washed down the drain and body parts in the garbage.

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Some of the bodies that were sent to medical researchers had tested positive for HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

A human body can fetch tens of thousands of dollars, while brains and arms go for more than $500 each.

Trouble is, body brokers are less regulated than barbers.

Some members of Congress are calling for more regulation and oversight, but the issue hasn’t gained a lot of traction on Capitol Hill.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.