A civil court case is heading to trial this fall against an Arizona-based company that illegally sold body parts to the Army for blast experiments.
The court filings provide another look at the poorly regulated industry under which the body of a deceased 73-year-old woman was used as an IED blast test dummy, reportedly against the consent of her family.
The lawsuit is alleging fraud, infliction of emotional distress and mishandling of bodily remains by the company Biological Resource Center.
“These bodies were literally used as crash test dummies, which meant they were used in experiments involving exposures to destructive forces" against the wishes or without the consent of the plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit.
The owner of the company, Stephen Gore, pleaded guilty to conducting an illegal enterprise in a criminal case concerning the operation in 2015. He was sentenced to four years probation and forced to repay $120,500 to the Army Research Laboratory, according to court filings.
Since 2015, a civil case has wound its way through the court system and will begin trial early this fall in Phoenix, Arizona.
The illegal operation was detailed by a 2016 Reuters investigation which reported that more than 20 bodies or their parts donated to an Arizona broker were used in Army blast experiments. Some families explicitly objected to the use of their loved ones’ bodies in military experiments on the donation consent forms, including Jim Stauffer, who donated the body of his 73-year-old deceased mother.
“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 Phoenix television station ABC 15.
“There was actually wording on this paperwork about performing this stuff," Stauffer told ABC 15. “Performing these medical tests that may involve explosions, and we said no. We checked the ‘no’ box on all that.”
The military halted testing after it learned that the FBI had raided the Biological Resource Center in January 2014.
At the time, not many details were released regarding the raid in which FBI personnel were seen wearing hazmat suits as they brought bags of hazardous material out of the Biological Resource Center facility, according to the Associated Press.
Retired FBI Agent Mark Cwynar participated in the raid and provided testimony in the lawsuit.
Cwynar said in court records that he saw many male torsos without limbs or genitalia, a bucket of heads, a cooler filled with penises, and body parts throughout the facility that had no identification saying which bodies they came from.
“I observed a large torso with the head removed and replaced with a smaller head sewn together in a ‘Frankenstein’ manner,” Cwynar said.
A Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters at the time that the body parts were sold “under false pretenses," and that the Army was mislead to believe that the donors had consented to the bodies’ use in blast tests.
The Reuters investigation was part of a series called “The Body Trade.” The reports highlighted the lack of government oversight and regulation connected to the body donation process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.