Federal investigators discovered and made arrests in several states in a case involving a nationwide network of people who bought and sold stolen human remains from the Harvard Medical School and an Arkansas mortuary, the Associated Press reports. The scheme allegedly started in 2018. The indictment charges those involved with conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen goods. Authorities were first tipped off after the arrest of Jeremy Lee Pauley, who was charged with abuse of a corpse, receiving stolen property and other state charges in Pennsylvania in 2022.
There are no federal criminal statutes that deal with the mishandling or sale of human remains, and in most states, the sale of human remains is not illegal, said Tanya D. Marsh, a Wake Forest University law professor. Marsh said there is a widespread market for human remains “and it’s not expressly legal, but in a lot of states, it’s not expressly illegal either.” Last week, federal officials charged a Kentucky man who had communicated with Pauley on Facebook about the sale of skulls and spines. Investigators said in an affidavit that James Nott had “40 human skulls, spinal cords, femurs, and hip bones” in his Mount Washington, Ky., apartment during a search. During the search, an FBI agent asked Nott if anyone else was in the residence. He responded, “only my dead friends.” Nott was charged by federal investigators with illegally possessing a firearm.