The arrest last month of a 21-year-old suspect uncovered, police say, a macabre scheme to steal the brains of dead mental patients and sell them online. The suspect was peddling some 60 brains. And yes, amazingly there were customers.
David Charles allegedly stole more than 60 jars of brain and other human tissues in October from a warehouse space at the Indiana Medical History Museum, the Marion County prosecutor’s office said in court papers Thursday.
He is accused of breaking into the museum and taking jars of brains and tissue from autopsies performed on patients in the 1890s. Court documents said some jars were sold on the auction site eBay by a middleman, despite a company policy against listing “humans, the human body, or any human body parts or products.”
Authorities allege that Charles was scheming to sell some of them, according to court documents. The alleged scheme began to unravel when the executive director of the museum, Mary Ellen Hennessey Nottage, received a call last month from a man in California who said he had purchased “six jars of brain matter” for $600 on eBay, according to court documents.
The man suspected the jars were stolen when he compared them to others on the museum website.
Nottage notified the police.
Charles was arrested December 16 after authorities organized an undercover sting. He was charged with felony theft and other charges.
He is to appear at an Indianapolis court this month in connection with the alleged theft of dozens of jars of preserved human brain tissue valued at about $4,800.
In the universe of bizarre items that Internet users sell on eBay, human organs are forbidden. To buy or sell them is a felony under federal law, and trading in illegal goods is a violation of eBay’s rules.
The list of prohibited items includes Native American grave-related items such as skulls and skeletons intended for medical research, Tibetan prayer skulls, organs, bones, blood, waste products, body fluids and sperm.
Nottage said the California man who allegedly purchased the brains collected oddities.
“Apparently that’s a trend that’s building — the macabre, the oddities,” Nottage said. “The television reality show ‘Oddities’ illustrates that very well. I think it’s indicative of people’s collecting interests. It’s definitely bizarre. It’s infuriating that they do not have respect for the human remains.”