The Scary Truth About America's Morgues

Mistakes have sent innocents to jail, let guilty go free, ProPublica finds
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 1, 2011 11:59 AM CST
Updated Feb 5, 2011 1:30 PM CST
Most morgues aren't like what you see in 'CSI.'   (Shutter Stock)

(Newser) – Misplaced bones and bodies, overlooked bullet holes, corpses cremated before an investigation was complete: Most real morgues bear little resemblance to the shiny, high-tech world of CSI’s labs, a new investigation reveals. ProPublica, Frontline, and NPR took a yearlong look at the country’s coroner and medical examiner offices and uncovered disturbing stories and statistics. Thanks to a shortage of forensic pathologists, more than 1 in 5 doctors who work in the busiest morgues are not board certified in the discipline—and even doctors who flunk the board exams, sometimes multiple times, can find jobs. And in nearly 1,600 counties, the elected or appointed coroners may have no further qualification than a high-school diploma.

The report takes a look at three offices with particularly bad track records: New Orleans, where Dr. Paul McGarry’s conclusions—which often favored law enforcement—were frequently challenged by doctors who performed second autopsies; Massachusetts, where two women—one alive, one dead—were mixed up, and where a septic system collapse once caused doctors to collect blood and bodily fluids in buckets then pump the fluids back into corpses; and Oklahoma, where overworked doctors handle many more autopsies than is recommended—in one case, more than double the recommendation—each year, and where autopsies typically aren't performed on possible suicides, murder-suicides, or unexplained deaths of people over age 40. Click for the complete report.

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