Chicago, IL

Three Severed Heads Left at Chicago Employee's Desk After Accusations of Mishandling of Donated Bodies

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Employee alleges severed heads left on desk as reprisal for making complaints to supervisors about poor conditions of donor bodies

A horrifying scene unfolded at the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois (AGA) when three severed heads from donor bodies were discovered at an employee's desk. The unsettling incident occurred after the employee, Dale Wheatley, raised concerns about alleged misconduct and poor conditions of donated bodies to his supervisors.

Wheatley, who works as a delivery person for the AGA, arrived at his workplace two weeks ago to find sage burning and three severed heads placed on a plastic container near his desk. He described the scene as reminiscent of a horror movie and promptly filed a police report. He is also planning to file complaints with local and state authorities.

According to Wheatley, the heads were placed at his desk by AGA after he reported concerns about mishandling and unsatisfactory conditions of the donated bodies. He alleged the act was retaliation for the complaints. William O'Connor, the AGA's Executive Vice President, denied any maltreatment allegations and claimed that handling body parts falls within Wheatley's job description. O'Connor further defended the organization, which has been in operation for over a century.

However, Wheatley wasn't the only one to raise concerns about the state of the donated bodies. The day before the severed heads were found at Wheatley's desk, Casey Tilden, the anatomy lab manager at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, sent an email expressing dissatisfaction with the condition of the donated bodies they had received. Tilden mentioned that the bodies were either covered in flies or distorted in a way that rendered them unusable. In the email to AGA Tilden stated, “There are a handful of donors that were recently delivered with feet and hands that show signs of decomposition.”

Other Universities in Illinois have also complained about the condition of the bodies they were sent according to Wheatley. "They’re sending donors back because of mold and rot, bugs. It’s deplorable," Wheatley said. "There's been instances where I've pulled donors from our storing room out of the racks, and rats have chewed through the bottom of the bag, through the feet."

In another instance, the manager of a local university lab expressed concerns to Wheatley about the poor condition of cadavers. Wheatley informed the lab manager that the bodies were not being adequately embalmed and encouraged her to report these concerns to William O'Connor, the Executive Vice President of AGA. In an email to both O'Connor and Wheatley, the lab manager detailed several issues, including flies crawling on the bodies, mold and rot in the limbs, and instances of students falling ill after exposure to the bodies during their studies.

Wheatley stated that he expressed his concerns regarding the procedures involved in handling and storing the bodies and a day later the severed heads showed up on his desk. He said he wants to alert the loved ones of donors who have contributed their bodies to medical science through the AGA.

According to Wheatley's attorney, an investigation of the AGA by the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and the Illinois Department of Public Health has been requested to evaluate the conditions and procedures involved in all aspects of cadaver care at the facility.

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