Body theft leaves teaching moment

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A body stolen from a funeral home is still missing, police say.

By Daniel Carde

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Samples of burial vaults and a casket covered by a pall are displayed Sept. 9 in mortuary science’s merchandise room in Nail. Students use the room to practice showing customers a funeral home’s merchandise room. Photo by Daniel Carde

Samples of burial vaults and a casket covered by a pall are displayed Sept. 9 in mortuary science’s merchandise room in Nail. Students use the room to practice showing customers a funeral home’s merchandise room. Photo by Daniel Carde

A theft of a corpse from a funeral home is so rare that methods to prevent it are not taught in mortuary science education,  Felix B. Gonzales, funeral director and mortuary science chair, said Aug. 28.

The body of Julie Mott, 25, who according to her Facebook page is a former student of this college, was stolen Aug. 15 from Mission Park Funeral Chapels North after her funeral service, local media reported.

After Mott’s funeral service, she was “taken to a visitation suite and would have moved on (Aug. 17) to be cremated at the crematory, to Mission South,” funeral home owner Dick Tips said at a press conference Aug. 21 as reported by Huffington Post.

No one from Mission Park Funeral Chapels North has returned calls.

Gonzales said the mortuary science department at this college teaches students to store a body in an area not accessible to the public, which is required by Texas law and “a good practice in general.”

“The deceased human body should not be in a position where someone could inadvertently walk in and confront it,” he said.

There hasn’t been a reason to teach preventive measures because it is a rare occurrence, Gonzales said.

“It’s not part of our curriculum,” Gonzales said. “What we have to teach is outlined by our accreditation agency, and that particular consideration does not appear anywhere.”

Jessica Koth, public relations manager for the National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis., said by phone Sept. 2 that she had never heard of the theft of a corpse from a funeral home.

“It’s not something that we have any statistics on,” Koth said.

Gonzales said, “The last true numbers of ‘body-snatching’ for lack of a better term, was in the late 1800s, early 1900s, in those cities where medical schools existed.”

People sold bodies to medical workers for medical research, Gonzales said. “Bodies were stolen to provide anatomical specimens to unscrupulous medical people.”

Gonzales attributes a decline in the theft of bodies to the rise in people donating their bodies to science and relaxed statutes for the acquisition of bodies for medical research.

“Certain churches did not allow you to cut a body open to study, but the study was needed,” he said. “Consequently, when you forbid something, there will always be someone who finds a way around it.”

Gonzales said even though the theft of Mott’s body does make for a “teaching moment.”

“We are not going to specifically address how to prevent an occurrence like that because to my knowledge we still don’t know how it happened,” he said. “Unless we know how it happened, we cannot teach prevention.”

Gonzales said many funeral homes that never thought a body-theft would occur may start taking “precautions against unauthorized contact and unauthorized access.”

“It brought awareness and it certainly illustrates that it can happen.”

Misty Floyd, a San Antonio Police Department public information officer, said in a Sept. 2 email police were still searching for Mott’s body. Floyd declined to update The Ranger on that search in an email Thursday.

Anyone with information should call SAPD’s tips line at 210-225-8477.

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