33 plaintiffs say Biological Resource Center lied to families and treated the deceased with a lack of dignity or respect.

A head sewn onto a mismatched body, a bucket of limbs and a cooler filled with penises are among items found by FBI agents during a raid on a Phoenix body-donation business.

The now-shuttered, for-profit Biological Resource Center specialized in accepting the bodies of people after they had died, and in exchange offering their families free pickup of the bodies plus the cremated remains of the body parts the company did not sell.

Arizona is a regulatory-free zone for the body-parts industry. At least four body donation companies are operating in Arizona, in addition to a non-profit cryonics company that freezes people after they die with the intent of one day bringing them back to life.

An FBI special agent, during a January 2014 raid of the Biological Resource Center, stumbled on what he described as “various unsettling scenes.” The agent’s grisly eyewitness account of the raid was recently revealed in a civil lawsuit against the business and its owner, Stephen Gore. The case is set for trial Oct. 21 in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Thirty-three plaintiffs have sued the Biological Resource Center, saying the remains of their family members were obtained through “false statements,” that body parts were being sold for profit to various middlemen, and that they were not stored, treated or disposed of with dignity or respect. 

Reacting to the Biological Resource Center case, Arizona passed a law in 2017 that says body donation companies are not allowed without a state license. However, the law has not yet been implemented or enforced.

All four body donation companies known to be operating in Arizona are accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks, which the Biological Resource Center was not.

The Phoenix company was raided after a nationwide criminal investigation. 

Efforts to reach Gore, who is listed in court filings as representing himself in the civil action, were unsuccessful.

‘Frankenstein’ head observed

In his declaration contained in the civil lawsuit’s court file, former Phoenix FBI special agent Mark Cwynar said he “personally observed various unsettling scenes” while inside Biological Resource Center.

Many of the body parts he saw were piled on top of one another with no apparent identification to indicate what bodies they came from or to whom they belonged, he said.

In addition to a “cooler filled with male genitalia,” Cwynar testified that he also saw a “large torso with the head removed and replaced with a smaller head sewn together in a ‘Frankenstein’ manner.”

Cwynar said he saw:

  • Large male torsos with limbs and genitalia removed.
  • Buckets and coolers with various body parts, including a bucket of heads, arms and legs.
  • Body parts piled on top of each other throughout the facility, with no apparent identification.
  • Steel freezers with frozen body parts inside with no apparent identification.

Court documents included a report from two experts for the plaintiffs that referred to a 2013 request to use at least two Biological Resource Center bodies for the purpose of “plastination for education.” The experts said plastination, which is a way of preserving entire human bodies, should require separate consent because the preservation is more permanent and the bodies are often publicly displayed.

In October 2015, Gore tearfully pleaded guilty to conducting an illegal enterprise after accusations that he had provided vendors with contaminated human issue and used body parts in ways that the donors had not permitted. 

In a letter to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville before his December 2015 sentencing, Gore wrote that he felt overwhelmed, but that he was working in an industry with “no formal regulations” to reference for guidance.


In 2016, HB 2307, which requires regulation of the body donation industry, was signed into law. The bill was revised in 2017 but never implemented.
Arizona Republic

SEE ALSO: Despite state law, body donation industry still unregulated

“I could have been more open about the process of donation on the brochure we put in public view,” Gore wrote. “When deciding which donors could be eligible to donate, I should have hired a medical director rather than relying on medical knowledge from books or the internet.”

Research by plaintiffs’ lawyers says Gore’s highest level of education was high school, and that he did not have any licenses or certifications applicable to body donation program operations.

MORE: 5 things you need to know before donating your body to science

Torso with head: $2,400

The Biological Resource Center was a for-profit body donation company that accepted donations of bodies after people died. The company gave donors and their families free transportation services to pick up the body, plus free cremation.

One of the problems is that some families thought that a body “donation” meant their loved ones’ bodies were being given to a charity to help with disease research. Some mistakenly thought the Biological Resource Center would be donating their loved ones’ organs, not knowing that organ donation and body donation are not the same thing.

Not all were aware the Biological Resource Center often dismembered and sold various body parts.

A 2013 price list that is part of the court file indicates sale prices for body parts:

  • Whole body with no shoulders or head: $2,900.
  • Torso with head: $2,400.
  • Whole spine: $950.
  • Whole leg: $1,100.
  • Whole foot: $450.
  • Knee: $375.
  • Pelvis: $400.

Reach health reporter at [email protected] or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes.

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