Trial Begins for 'Human Chop Shop' Accused of Selling Body Parts

A lawsuit against Phoenix body-parts firm Biological Resource Center begins this week.
Via Flickr
A lawsuit against Phoenix body-parts firm Biological Resource Center begins this week.
A cooler filled with male genitalia, buckets of heads, arms, and legs, and a woman's head sewn onto a man's torso are some of the sights that greeted federal agents when they raided a Phoenix-based body donation business in January 2014.

The Biological Resource Center has since been shut down. But a civil trial against the company and its owner, Stephen Gore, is underway this week, with opening statements scheduled for Monday.

In 2015, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation brought to light what was happening at the facility, family members who had donated their loved ones' bodies in the hopes of furthering medical research or assisting others sued Gore and his company in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The 33 plaintiffs allege that the center lied to them about what their loved ones bodies' would be used for. According to the lawsuit, the bodies "were literally used as crash-test dummies, which meant they were used in experiments involving exposures to destructive forces, e.g. impacts, crashes, ballistic injuries and blasts."

The company operated for a decade and took in thousands of bodies during that time. FBI agents found 10 tons of frozen human remains during the raid, including 281 heads, 337 legs, and 97 spines.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Jim Stauffer, donated the body of his mother, Doris, who had Alzheimer's, to the center after she passed in 2013. He hoped that it could help find a cure for the debilitating, incurable disease.

But three years later, reporters for Reuters investigating the trade of human cadavers and body parts called Stauffer with disturbing news: the Biological Resource Center had secretly sold Stauffer's mother's body to the U.S. military for thousands of dollars, which in turn used her body for blast-testing experiments.

"She was then supposedly strapped in a chair on some sort of apparatus, and a detonation took place underneath her. To basically kind of get an idea of what the human body goes through when a vehicle is hit by an IED," Stauffer told ABC 15.

Stauffer said he had checked a box on a form explicitly stating that he would not allow his mother's body to be used for nonmedical purposes.

Ten days after he donated his mother's body, the center sent him his mother's cremated remains. Yet records reviewed by Reuters showed that someone from the center had detached one of his mother's hands and used that for cremation. Then, the Biological Resource Center sold the rest of her body to the military.

Gore pleaded guilty to operating an illegal enterprise in 2015 and was sentenced to one year of deferred prison time and four years of probation.

Michael Burg, the Colorado lawyer representing the 33 plaintiffs, previously told Phoenix New Times the revelations in the case were emotionally devastating to family members of the deceased people, who often blamed themselves for falling for the center's scam.

"The FBI told people ... your person's body parts have been sold across the country," Burg said. "They can't stop thinking how their loved one's head is now in Florida. They were cut up like a piece of meat. It's despicable."