A woman is demanding the return of her mother’s remains after learning that her father’s body was stolen as part of an alleged gruesome theft ring at the Harvard Medical School morgue.
According to The Boston Globe, Paula Peltonovich’s father, Nicholas Pichowicz, died in 2019 and had his body donated to Harvard Medical School. His wife, Joan Pichowicz, died in March, and her remains were also donated to the school.
Harvard Medical School accepts such donations through its Anatomical Gift Program. The bodies are used for education and research purposes — a common practice in medical schools across the country. After the bodies are used, Harvard cremates the remains and either returns them to the families or sends them to a cemetery.
“This is what they chose to do years ago,” Peltonovich told the Globe on Thursday. “They gave back to science.”
But Peltonovich now believes her father’s body encountered a more grisly fate.
Between 2018 and 2022, Harvard’s former morgue manager Cedric Lodge and his wife, Denise, allegedly stole and cut up donor cadavers from the medical school and sold parts of them ― including brains, heads and skin — to buyers in Massachusetts and other states.
The body parts were allegedly bought by Katrina Maclean, Joshua Taylor and Mathew Lampi. Maclean allegedly purchased body parts from Lodge — including two dissected faces — to resell to buyers or in her Massachusetts shop, which largely sells macabre dolls and other oddities. Maclean also allegedly sent skin to suspect Jeremy Pauley to have it tanned to create leather. It is illegal to buy or sell human organs in the United States.
On Wednesday, Cedric and Denise Lodge, along with Taylor, Lampi, Maclean and Pauley, were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to the alleged trafficking scheme.
After learning about the alleged theft ring on Wednesday, Peltonovich reached out to Harvard and was told that her father’s remains were among those stolen. The status of her mother’s body is unclear. But Peltonovich said she and her family want it back, if the institution still has it, so she can bury her mother.
“It’s just unthinkable. There’s no words,” she told the Globe. “We were just disgusted. Sick, like we were going to throw up.”
According to a Department of Justice press release, Lampi and Pauley allegedly sold and bought body parts from each other over a long period of time, exchanging over $100,000 in online payments. The federal indictment also alleged that Taylor sent 39 PayPal payments to Lodge for body parts between 2018 and 2021, totaling $37,355.56. The payments allegedly included a $1,000 transaction that read “head number 7,” and another with the note “braiiiiiins,” Vice reported.
“The defendants violated the trust of the deceased and their families all in the name of greed,” FBI agent Jacqueline Maguire said in the press release on Wednesday. “While today’s charges cannot undo the unfathomable pain this heinous crime has caused, the FBI will continue to work tirelessly to see that justice is served.”
Harvard released a statement following the indictment with the subject line “An abhorrent betrayal.”
“We are appalled to learn that something so disturbing could happen on our campus — a community dedicated to healing and serving others,” the statement read. “The reported incidents are a betrayal of HMS and, most importantly, each of the individuals who altruistically chose to will their bodies to HMS through the Anatomical Gift Program to advance medical education and research.”
The school sent out letters on Wednesday to the next of kin of the donors who were found to have been affected, and vowed to examine its records and work with the U.S. Attorney’s office to continue identifying the victims.