'Heads, brains, skin, bones and other human remains' stolen and sold by Harvard morgue manager, DOJ says

The former manager of a morgue at Harvard Medical School is up against federal charges for allegedly stealing, selling and shipping human body parts, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The Department of Justice alleges that a nationwide network of individuals bought and sold human remains stolen from Harvard Medical School and an Arkansas mortuary. The feds are accusing Cedric Lodge, who managed the morgue for the Anatomical Gifts Program at Harvard Medical School, of stealing organs and other parts of cadavers donated for medical research and education before their scheduled cremations.

A federal grand jury in Pennsylvania indicted Lodge, his wife, Denise Lodge, and three others on charges of conspiracy and interstate transportation of stolen goods. Lodge allegedly “stole dissected portions of donated cadavers, including … heads, brains, skin, bones and other human remains, without the knowledge or permission of (the school) and removed those remains from the morgue in Massachusetts and transported them to his residence in New Hampshire," CNN reported, citing the federal indictment filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The remains were later sold and shipped throughout the country.

“Some crimes defy understanding,” U.S. Attorney Gerard M. Karam said in a press release. “The theft and trafficking of human remains strikes at the very essence of what makes us human. It is particularly egregious that so many of the victims here volunteered to allow their remains to be used to educate medical professionals and advance the interests of science and healing. For them and their families to be taken advantage of in the name of profit is appalling. With these charges, we are seeking to secure some measure of justice for all these victims."

Without permission from the school, Lodge conspired with his wife Denise to sell the remains to others, including Katrina Maclean and Joshua Taylor, prosecutors allege. Maclean owns Kat’s Creepy Creations, a store in Peabody, Massachusetts, where she is charged with having sold the stolen body parts, the court documents state.

Prosecutors additionally said that a sixth defendant, Jeremy Pauley, was charged separately, and a seventh person, Candace Chapman Scott, was previously indicted in Arkansas.

Lodge worked in the morgue as a part of the Anatomical Gift Program before being terminated May 6. From 2018 to early March 2023, he is believed to have stolen parts of cadavers which had been donated to the medical school and dissected before scheduled cremations. Once cremated, remains are meant to either be returned to the donor’s family or buried in a cemetery in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

The deans of the faculty of medicine and medical education at Harvard released a statement Wednesday calling the crime “an abhorrent betrayal.” Through combing through its own records and working with federal authorities, the institution has sought to identify which anatomical donors may have been impacted.

In the statement jointly written by Harvard University Dean of the Faculty of Medicine George Q. Daley and Harvard Medical School Dean for Medical Education Edward M. Hundert, the two expressed confidence that no other members of the Harvard Medical School or Harvard staff participated in the crimes.

“An important and meaningful part of how all first-year medical and dental students learn human anatomy is through the dissection and examination of donor cadavers,” the deans wrote. “As HMS students ourselves in the 1980s and early 1990s, we both learned anatomy in the same dissection laboratory used today. The enormous respect and gratitude we felt toward the donors and the deep reverence we held for the process of dissection remain present with us today. Learning anatomy transforms students from pre-meds to physician-healers; it is an experience that changes your heart and soul, forever. Those values are passed down every fall to our new students who, each year, at the conclusion of their studies, hold a poignant, private memorial service to honor the donors.”

For families and next of kin of the anatomical donors, the university has created a webpage with available resources along with a toll-free support line. Letters have been sent to the next of kin already identified.

Prosecutors have begun to piece together the network of buyers and sellers who were active from 2018 to early March 2023. Taylor, Maclean and others were at times allowed to request certain body parts from Lodge. In October 2020, Maclean allegedly purchased two dissected faces from Lodge for $600, CNN reported, citing the indictment. Maclean is accused by federal prosecutors of storing and selling the remains at her store which advertises “creations that shock the mind and shake the soul.”

Maclean allegedly sold human skin to a Pennsylvania man who tanned it to create leather, according to the indictment. She and Taylor are accused of accepting almost $50,000 in PayPal payments from 2021 to 2022 from the same Pennsylvania man.

Taylor sent more than $37,000 via 39 PayPal payments to the Lodges for body parts. On May 19, 2019, Taylor is accused of sending a $1,000 payment to Denise Lodge with the memo “head number 7.” Later, in November 2020, he sent $200 with the memo “braiiiiiins," CNN reported.

"The defendants violated the trust of the deceased and their families all in the name of greed," FBI Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire said in a press release. "While today's charges cannot undo the unfathomable pain this heinous crime has caused, the FBI will continue to work tirelessly to see that justice is served."

The maximum penalty under federal law for the offense in question is 15 years imprisonment, supervised release following imprisonment and a fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.