Who Mutilated Dominic Marion?

On the trail of a bizarre hospital crime, New Times finds a cryogenically frozen head, a witch hunt for a wiccan and a stumped detective. And still nobody knows . . .

Larry Pohorily thought mortician Mark Eisenhour was playing some sort of sick joke. What Eisenhour told him on the phone couldn't be true. Pohorily drove to the funeral home, wanting to see the corpse for himself.

Eisenhour met Pohorily at the door, then led him back into the embalming room. On a stainless steel table lay the ashen body of a 300-pound man. The white name band on his left wrist identified him as Dominic Marion.

Just as Eisenhour had said, the man's genitals were gone. Four precise cuts had removed the penis and scrotum. There were no hesitation cuts, and the hospital sheets that had accompanied the supposed heart attack victim were soaked with blood.

A police photograph shows the Columbia Medical Center bedding that accompanied the body of Dominic Marion to Heritage Funeral Chapel.
A police photograph shows the Columbia Medical Center bedding that accompanied the body of Dominic Marion to Heritage Funeral Chapel.
A police photograph shows the Columbia Medical Center bedding that accompanied the body of Dominic Marion to Heritage Funeral Chapel.
A police photograph shows the Columbia Medical Center bedding that accompanied the body of Dominic Marion to Heritage Funeral Chapel.

The blood was a problem. The partial embalming job by Eisenhour was another.

As manager of the Anatomic Gift Foundation, Pohorily had experience removing human genitalia for scientific research. Only a small portion of blood leaks from a body after a postmortem emasculation. The significant amount of bright red, oxygenated blood on the sheets meant the mutilation occurred suspiciously close to the man's death.

Eisenhour's embalming further complicated matters. The mortician had chemically sutured the wound so liquid wouldn't spill out when he pumped preserving fluid into Marion's body. Suturing alters potential forensic evidence.

Pohorily asked Eisenhour what he had been thinking.

Eisenhour replied that he thought the cuts might have been an emergency procedure.

"An emergency?" Pohorily asked. "What sort of emergency might that be?"

Eisenhour noted that the mortuary's transport driver, an ex-cop, thought it might have been an extreme case of testicular cancer. Or maybe the organ donor tech who harvested Marion's eyes had also taken the genitals by mistake.

Pohorily didn't think so.

He had spent 30 years in the death-care industry and had never seen -- never even heard of -- anything like this before. It was definitely a violent act. It could be murder.

Pohorily called the Phoenix Police Department's homicide detail and received yet another surprise.

"Get this," Pohorily said. "The police said: 'Hey, there's nothing wrong with that. I don't know if there's any law about cutting somebody's parts off.' They said there's nothing in the books about if something happens to the dead. And I said: 'Uh, I think there is.'"

Pohorily called the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office and explained the problem. A pathologist told him to call the police back and tell them that, yes, cutting off a man's genitals is a crime.

Pohorily did. The homicide unit assigned a detective. And the search for who mutilated Dominic Marion had begun.

30 Hours Earlier: Halloween, 1996

Dominic Marion dozed in his hospital bed, minutes away from the end of his life.Although his surgery was nine days ago, Marion's knees were still double barrels of immobilizing inconvenience and pain. Constant Passive Motion machines kept his joints moving so they wouldn't stiffen up, but they also made it difficult to sleep. Around midnight, his nurse had switched off the CPM machines, giving his knees a rest and allowing him to drift off.

The doctors had called Marion's surgery a "bilateral total knee arthroplasty for osteoarthritis." For the 58-year-old chemical distributor, it was the latest entry on a surgical résumé that included three heart bypasses, balloon angioplasty and a hip replacement. This operation was particularly important to Marion. His daughter's wedding was planned for the next year, and he had told his wife, "I'm going to be able to walk down that aisle without a cane."

As he lay in bed, the pain rose to the surface, then sank back down, at nearly the same intervals as the visits from his attending nurse. The nurse monitored his vitals and checked his Foley catheter, a urinary waste tube that runs through the penis. When his pain welled up, the nurse would administer Vicodin, easing him into a narcotic-assisted sleep, the faint traffic from Thomas Road sighing outside. Next to him was another patient bed, which was empty. Marion thought he lucked out by getting a double room all to himself.

As he drifted, Marion could not possibly know that he was about to achieve a bizarre, posthumous fame; that he was entering "Window One" in a timeline of criminal opportunity in which he was the victim; that police photos of his soon-to-be deceased body would be so horrific, a jury assembled years later would wince and turn away upon their presentation.

After his death, Marion's wife and children would never celebrate Halloween again.

At a quarter to 5 a.m., Marion would be discovered dead in Room 124 in the rehab unit of the now-defunct Columbia Medical Center Phoenix -- then owned by HCA Healthcare, the nation's largest hospital chain.

His surgically precise mutilation would be discovered the next day at the Heritage Funeral Chapel.

From interviews, depositions, police interviews and court filings, New Times has reconstructed the known narrative of events from that morning, as well as the subsequent police and legal investigation and eventual wrongful-death lawsuit brought against the hospital by Marion's family.

To this day, it is not known conclusively whether the mutilation occurred while Marion was still alive or after he died.

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