I-TEAM: “I go to bed at night praying I don’t wake up and think about it. And it’s the first thing I think about,” said a tearful Karen Delre, describing the horror she cannot erase from her mind.

“My nightmares consist of my father calling me, begging for my help,” this heartbroken daughter shared with Chief I-Team Investigator Michele Gillen.

Delre was devoted to her dad. She would have done anything to honor him in life and death. Never would she have imagined this cruelest twist of fate.

“He was just cruelly, with a saw and blades, he was just skinned and everything was ripped from him. Which means everything was ripped from me,” Del Re explained.

A decorated Korean War veteran, as James Thornton neared death he reminded his daughter of his one fear – knives- and he asked her to be sure …that under no circumstance should he be autopsied.

“Throughout his life would not even have a pocket knife. I mean he just didn’t like knives. He didn’t want an autopsy because he didn’t want any one cutting him.”

When he died, she followed all his wishes, so she thought. including carrying his ashes to a Florida cemetery. She had peace of mind until she got a visit from New York police a year later.

She remembers their exact words.

“Someone stole your Dad’s body parts and sold them and they made up a medical record,” she was told.

They showed her paperwork indicating that a relative named Victor Thornton confirmed over the phone that her dad was an organ donor. Which he was not.

Who is Victor Thornton?

“Its a made up name,” Delre said. In fact, the I-team investigation finds it was one of thousands of lies that served as the glue to a multi-million dollar scheme.

Stolen bones, cartilage and tissue. At the heart of this story is greed and how it robbed the dignity of the dead and put at risk the health of the living.

“You had over 8,000 individuals in the United States that received stolen body parts in their bodies. Because none of it was consented to by the family members,” said attorney Kevin Dean, who represents dozens of families that are suing the Florida based company RTI, located in Alachua.

It is a major processor of human tissue distributed around the world. It’s one of several companies that claim they unknowingly purchased and processed stolen tissue, bones and other cadaver parts harvested from hundreds of people between 2002 and 2005.

To unravel the scheme New York authorities had bodies exhumed and X-rayed like these revealed a dark secret of what took place in funeral homes in the middle of the night.

“They would go to carving up the bodies. And they would cut off or saw off the arms and then they would take PVC pipe that they brought with them and simply put the PVC pipe back in with some pins,” said Dean.

The man behind the scheme? Authorities say his name is Michael Mastromarino. a former New York oral surgeon who surrendered his dental license after becoming addicted to prescription drugs, he opened up a tissue recovery service in the northeast.

Along with a cadre of funeral home directors and embalmers, they ruthlessly harvested tissue and bones, much of it sent to RTI. They ultimately were sent to prison, along with Mastromarino, who was sentenced to up to 54 years behind bars.

According to court documents, phony death certificates were submitted to RTI including for Karen’s father.

A spokeswoman for RTI said company officials have turned down our requests for on camera interviews, citing pending litigation.

Meanwhile, a daughter said she wants to sound an alert in memory of her dad.

“He was betrayed by the system and by greed,” she said. “And I am going to make sure that I am going to try my best to make sure that no other family feels like my family does and so many other families.”

Comments (10)
  1. cubanogm says:

    When a person dies it becomes a carcass.A dead person is no different from a dead cow,or dead chicken or any other animal.That is what we are, animals that can vocalize sounds.Other animals do make sounds and understand each other just like us although in a limited form.I still cannot understand the devotion to death that humans have.It is disgusting and morbid.The memory of the person is beautiful.The adoration of the dead carcass is sick.

    1. be considerate says:

      You’re preaching to the choir with that statement as I would agree, however you completely discount the many others among us who have religious beliefs that clearly both of us don’t have. Perhaps just realize that many people have many beliefs therefore all views must be respected regardless of how ridiculous they may seem to you or me. These differences are what make the world an interesting place; can you really imagine if we all were exactly the same.

    2. Stephanie Rene says:

      i am with you on this one. cemeteries are filled with once harvest-able organs and tissues the living could have benefited from. with the organ and tissue shortages we have it should be mandatory that all usable ones be donated to an organ center to save lives. i am an organ donor and have been since i was 18.

  2. Jimmy says:

    To Be Considerate:
    Very well put…and it’s not to say that Cubanogm was wrong, but you put it much better and went further with the “argument”.
    I hope the daughter will realize that her father felt nothing and knows nothing about what happened. Though he “feared knives” he did not feel anything. It would be very helpful if she just focused on all the good things while he was ALIVE and not torture herself about what happend after he died. She can truthfully say, she has no regrets while he was living it would appear.

    1. Chris Truitt says:

      Are you kidding me? It’s not about what the father felt or didn’t feel. It’s about the desecration of his body and his memory.

  3. DOMINICAN says:


  4. Wes says:

    Dominican, well said! Stealing is stealing; plain and simple! It is an outrage for anyone to steal from one who has passed. But to actually steal their bones, skin, eyes, and organs! Sawing off their limbs and stuffing their bodies with garbage! How can anyone justify that? And if that is not enough, some of those who passed died from diseases or had conditions that would exclude them from real voluntary organ donation programs. Recipients who are in dire need of healthy transplanted organs, tissues, etc. are jeopardized. Their health and lives are put in greater danger! For what? Just so someone can make a buck! Michele Gillen, you are a true champion and we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude! To the entire WFOR team, thank you and keep up the excellent work!

    1. Dave says:

      I am a person who received some of this tissue as an alograft for a sinus augmentation, in preparation for a dental implant. Everyday I wonder if I will come down with something that’s going to kill me. I am 53 years old and have had 2 heart attacks in the past year. My health is going and I can’t do anything about it.
      The judge in this case, Judge William Martini, in all his wisdom ruled that the people who received this tissue had no right ot sue. No scientific evidence could provide any solid proof that we would come down with a disease in the future. Judge Martini refused to hear our witnesses and our lawyers didn’t have the balls to make him, or to file an appeal..
      Instead, the judge ruled that “unprocessed human tissue that sits at room temperature for 30 days is INCAPABLE of transmitting disease”..really? Please read that last sentence several times.
      Allistar Cooke had cancer. How many other people had who knows what? What did they put in me? I bet if it was Judge William Martin’s wife or daughter he would have made a different decision.
      While my heart goes out to the families for their loss, and it is horrible beyond imagination, those good folks were dead. They felt no pain. The families grieve for the inserection that has been committed. We the recipients live everyday with the uncertainty of this nightmare.
      Judge Martini’s decision must be re-examined and overturned. The tissue processors must be very heavily monitored and regulated by the feds, and harvesting must be confined to hospitals ONLY.
      God Bless You All

  5. legaleagle says:

    Isn’t the lawyer representing these families, Kevin Dean, the same one that represented and failed for the recipients? Hmmmmmm

  6. Robbie says:

    Yes, he is the same one. I have the stolen tissue in me too. I have to ge tested for HIV 1 & 2, Hep, & several other things because they did not do the proper medical background checks on the cadavers. I use to be able to donate blood, I can’t now. I was going to be an organ donor, I can’t now & it’s all because somelow lifes wanted to make money. For you that shurg this off, just remember, if you or a loved one needs blood & ther’s none available, blame it on the people that stole those boday parts & the judge that is too stupid to put a stop to it.

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