It's no surprise that news agencies across the country have picked up the story about a box filled with human heads that was stolen in Denver last week. But beyond the missing box's whereabouts, there remains another important unanswered question: Why take a box of heads, anyway?
The likely answer: Each head is worth at least $500, and probably a lot more than that.
The news of the stolen heads was broken by Fox31. The Denver Police Department told the station that a blue-and-white box containing the heads was snatched from a truck parked near East 23rd Avenue in the Central Park neighborhood. The box measured approximately 20 inches by 15 inches by 18 inches and was marked with the words "Science Care," the name of a company whose specialties include donating bodies to science.
Westword explored the value of heads and other body parts in an August 2018 story headlined "Human Body Parts Price List and Other Reasons for New Colorado Law." The piece was prompted by the passage of the Human Remains Disposition Sale Businesses Act, which forbids a person from owning more than 10 percent indirect interest in a funeral home or crematory while simultaneously owning interest in what's termed a "non-transplant tissue bank," also known as a body broker. The act also requires such tissue banks to register with state regulators and keep records that are available to interested parties.
The law was directly inspired by an investigation of Megan Hess of Sunset Mesa funeral home, located in Montrose. Hess, who was indicted in 2020, allegedly ran a body brokerage out of the facility — at least until February 2018, when the FBI conducted a raid. Discoveries noted by attorney Michael Burg of the Denver-based Burg Simpson law firm, which subsequently filed a lawsuit against Hess on behalf of clients who learned that body parts of their loved ones had been sold without their knowledge, include revelations about supposedly cremated human remains returned to donors.
"It was actually powdered cement," he said. "There were no remains. In fact, one woman decided to dig up the remains of her husband, and there was nothing in the casket."
As part of their research into the suit, Burg and his team uncovered a price list from Arizona's Biological Resource Center, Inc., whose owner, Steve Gore, pleaded guilty to taking part in a criminal enterprise back in 2015. According to Burg, BRC disputed the suggestion that it illegally sold human body parts for profit, maintaining that the dollar amounts on the list were merely service fees — but the prices still offer an idea of how valuable human body parts can be. For instance, a "cephalus," or head, with a brain was marked at $500, a cephalus with a spine was set at $850, and an intact torso with a cephalus and shoulder brought $3,500.
See a screen capture from the list below.
Given that the list dates to around 2015, prices for human body parts may have gone up considerably in the intervening years. A September 2021 item from the Data Driven Investor website estimated that a skull with teeth was selling at the time for $1,200.
Of course, the people who stole the box of heads in Denver would have to find the right buyers to realize this kind of windfall — but that's definitely within the realm of possibility.
If you have any information about the theft, contact Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867).