Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Carmel on the Case: Body Parts Mystery
For two South Florida siblings, the death of their brother is a real mystery. They know how he died, they just don't how another person's remains were stuffed inside his body. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- Errol Johnson passed away in 2002 - but his family has not been able to come to terms with what happened after he died. His death certficate reads the cause of death is "pending investigation." Just recently his sister Valerie and brother Gerald learned what exactly was being investigated.
Dr. Gerald Johnson: "She said well, there were bones and tissue inside your brother."
The two were so confused, at first they thought their brother was being accused of the unspeakable.
Dr. Gerald Johnson: "I asked her specifically what are you saying. Is it cannibalistic? What are you talking about."
But they would learn somebody placed a stranger's bones and tissue inside a bag inside Errol's chest cavity.
Dr. Gerald Johnson: "Basically they were using my brother for a trash can."
The only reason the remains were found is Errol's family wanted to have his body cremated. But before a body can be burned, the medical examiner's office must approve of its destruction. And in Errol's case, there were questions about the cause of death. The file shows the medical examiner later determined Errol died of natural causes - a brain aneurysm. But the bag of organs inside his body remain a mystery. Nobody knows - how it got there and who it belonged to.
Larry Cameron: "Several years and some expense, yes."
Larry Cameron says DNA tests were run but they were mostly inconclusive. But they did determine - some of the bagged material came from a four-year-old little boy.
Larry Cameron: "We determined that what came with the body came from another location. Was not the result of anything that happened here."
Records also offer the possibility that..."more than one individual's organs were commingled in the bag."
Valerie Johnson: "It was just disheartening - cause how could this happen? And to me that's like tainting my brother's body."
Errol's body was eventually cremated - even though the investigation remained open.
Today, his brother keeps the box of his ashes at his office. He even held onto it during our interview.
Dr. Gerald Johnson: "I don't want this to happen to him again. I just couldn't let him go. I just couldn't let him go - not yet."
Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero: "The family can't let go of the suspicion that the desecration took place at a local funeral home where Errol Johnson was embalmed. But investigators were never able to prove that. So tonight - three years later - the mystery remains."
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE