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Crematory claims human heads discovered at O’Hare

Updated: February 17, 2013 6:41AM

The 18 human heads that arrived at O’Hare International Airport just before Christmas — and remained there until this week — now appear to be on the last leg of their final journey.

The medical specimens had been in limbo since just before Christmas, when they arrived on a flight from Rome and were held up due to improper paperwork, said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman with the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, whose office took custody of the heads this week.

Late Tuesday morning, a Schiller Park crematory came to claim them, Paleologos said.

“Now the cremation service has showed up with the proper paperwork,” Paleologos said. “The medical examiner’s office will photograph and X-ray each of the heads.”

But the specimens won’t be released until federal authorities confirm the paperwork, Paleologos said.

The heads were originally shipped from the U.S. to Rome for medical research, and they then were shipped back again to be cremated, Paleologos said.

Although initially there appeared to be a greater issue with the crematorium, it turned out to only be a paperwork snafu, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The heads were shipped from Rome as cargo on a Lufthansa Airlines flight, arriving at O’Hare about one week before Christmas.

“They were properly preserved and tagged as human specimens,” said Tony Brucci, chief investigator for the medical examiner’s office.

Brucci said U.S. Customs officials at O’Hare initially held up the shipment, when they found the paperwork to be “a little confusing.” Then the containers were X-rayed, and that’s when officials discovered what was inside, Brucci said.

Brian Bell, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said earlier Tuesday that the specimens appear to be legitimate medical samples.

“There’s no issue with the transportation of body parts for medical purposes,” Bell said. “There’s nothing against the law that says you cannot ship them, provided you have the right documentation.”

While Bell said he has never before fielded questions about a large package of human body parts, such shipments are not without precedent, he noted.

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