Mark and Gail McClure had just finished moving into their new home here at 3 a.m. Sunday when their cat, Puffy, began howling in the back yard.
McClure, 24, went outside to investigate and found the cat standing on a picnic table surrounded by 20 cardboard boxes, apparently left by the previous owners.
Inside the boxes, one of which was leaking, were bulging plastic bags that reeked of a chemical smell.
“I picked up a bag and it had a squishy feeling,” said McClure, an auto technician. “I held it up to the light. A label on the bag said it was a human heart. I dropped it.”
Police officers called to the home found 25 such bags, all of them labeled with people’s names and dates ranging from 1986 to 1988, and containing formaldehyde-preserved human body parts--including chunks of tissue.
Also found on the picnic table were small pieces of dried flesh on a chopping board, a surgical knife and a rusty pair of scissors. Strewn across the lawn and nearby rose garden were clumps of hair.
An investigation on Monday determined that the bags belonged to the home’s former owners, Riverside County deputy coroners Brad and Alendra Birdsall, who cut up body parts at the home for a contract pathology lab in Colton, authorities said.
The Birdsalls could not be reached for comment.
Dan Cupido, senior investigator for the coroner’s office, said he was unaware that the Birdsalls had conducted such work at the home.
“I probably would have objected to it,” he said.
Nonetheless, Riverside Police Sgt. Mike Wilson said that, although “it may seem strange to some people, we can find no violation of law.”
In a prepared statement, Riverside County Coroner Ray Carrillo said the Birdsalls had been sectioning tissue samples to be autopsied at Reference Laboratories of Colton.
“No coroner’s cases previously examined are expected to be changed or causes of death affected by this tissue find,” Carrillo said.
The coroner added that his office would investigate further to determine whether “procedural changes will be made with the contract lab to ensure proper handling of coroner’s specimens.”
Meanwhile, county health investigators who inspected the home Monday afternoon told the McClures that even if the hair in the yard is found to be human, it does not fall under hazardous waste regulations. So the new owners will have to clean up the yard themselves.
“I’d mow the lawn to pick up the hair,” hazardous materials specialist Michael Shetler said. “But I’ve seen people use it (human hair) as fertilizer.”
“I’m angry and sick over this,” responded McClure, who added that he has sought the advice of an attorney. “We want to move as soon as possible.”
The McClures, who moved to the house from Moreno Valley, said they had no idea that the Birdsalls were conducting autopsy work at the home when they toured the property a month ago.
On Saturday, however, they found a handwritten note on a paper towel on the kitchen counter indicating that the Birdsalls planned to return to “pick up the rest of our belongings.”
The note also said, “Call us if there are any problems.”
“They thought we would call them before we called the cops,” McClure said. “They were wrong.”
“When I die, I want to be cremated,” Gail McClure added. “I don’t want my body parts floating around somebody’s back yard.”