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18 human heads shipped to O'Hare claimed by cremation service

January 15, 2013|By Andrew Khouri
  • O'Hare International Airport Terminal 1 is famous for its underground tunnel of lights and music. But a shipment of embalmed heads got more notice this week.
O'Hare International Airport Terminal 1 is famous for its underground… (Richard Derk / Los Angeles…)

It was just before Christmas when customs officials at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport discovered 18 pieces of cargo that had arrived from Rome. Labeled as human specimens, each piece came individually wrapped and were contained in three large coolers.

The 18 pieces were embalmed heads — skin intact — but had an unknown destination thanks to incomplete paperwork, Mary Paleologos, spokeswoman for the Cook County medical examiner's office, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.

“Oh my God! You are kidding me,” she recalled thinking when first told of the human heads.

When word got out about the heads, a Chicago-area cremation service — paperwork in hand — came to the medical examiner’s office Tuesday to reclaim the preserved specimens, Paleologos said.

She said the cremation service told authorities the heads had been sent to an Italian facility for medical research by a different entity and shipped back to Chicago for disposal. Federal authorities must confirm the paperwork before releasing the heads to the cremation service, she said.

The shipment, held up by U.S. Customs, was sent to the medical examiner's office as authorities investigated.

“The destination was unclear. So there is something up with that,” Paleologos said, adding that the heads will be X-rayed and photographed prior to their release, she said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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