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Gruesome discovery: Brains, hearts found in Florida storage unit

Published time: August 29, 2012 04:05
Edited time: August 29, 2012 08:05
AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

A disgruntled medical examiner stored organs like brains and hearts in Tupperware containers and soda cups at a storage facility in Florida. The shock discovery was made by a man who bought the contents of the unit and was overcome by the stench.

­The new owner, who acquired the storage unit in Pensacola through an auction, noticed a strange odor while sifting through the boxes upon boxes inside. Investigators eventually found a cup with a cracked lid on it, and a human heart inside. Formaldehyde, a chemical used to embalm corpses and organs, was leaking from it.

Numerous plastic containers and cups with internal organs such as brains and hearts were also uncovered. Many of them had cracks, with “caustic chemicals” such as formaldehyde reportedly leaking out.

How horrible it is for the families of these deceased to think that someone's loved one's organs are basically rotting away in a storage unit somewhere, it's horrible,” Jeff Martin, the director of the city’s District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office said.  

The storage facility was previously rented by Dr. Michael Berkland, who worked at the medical examiner’s office between 1997 and 2003, when he was fired for failing to file autopsy reports. Berkland also performed private autopsies, officials reported.

Officials are now trying to locate the family members of those whose organs were found, but the task may be insurmountable, as most of the material is not labeled.

While no charges have been filed against Berkland, officials were trying to determine whether the renegade doctor had broken any laws concerning the storage and disposal of human remains.

The company that owns the storage facility was unaware of what Berkland was actually using it for.

We never had any indication that anything was out of the ordinary, nor did anyone on our management team ever notice anything amiss during daily property checks,” Diane Piegza, vice president of corporate communications at Uncle Bob’s Self Storage noted. The company said Berkland told them he was using the facility to store household goods and office furniture.

It turns out that Berkland had already lost his job as a medical examiner and medical license in another state before coming to Florida. In 1996, a Missouri court revoked his license for incorrectly stating on autopsy reports that sections of several brains he cut out were to be used for medical conferences and teaching purposes.  

Berkland argued at the time that the actions against him were politically motivated and unfair because he was unable to present evidence in his defense.

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