Cedric Lodge, who was fired on 6 May, allegedly stole “heads, brains, skin and bones” from cadavers that were donated to the school, federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania said on Wednesday.
He and his wife Denise sold the body parts to buyers in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and transferred them via the postal service to clients who intended to tan skin into leather in one instance, according to the indictment.
The scheme, which is part of a larger black market, is alleged to have been running for five years, from 2018 to 2022.
Mr Lodge, who was hired by Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts in 1995, allegedly allowed potential buyers into the school’s morgue to choose what parts to buy at times.
He sometimes took dissected body parts back to his home in Goffstown, New Hampshire, before transporting them.
Bodies are donated to the Harvard Medical School under the “Anatomical Gifts Program” and are to be used for education, teaching or research purposes.
After the school finishes using cadavers, they are usually cremated and the ashes are returned to the family or buried in a cemetery.
“Some crimes defy understanding,” said US attorney Gerard M Karam.
“The theft and trafficking of human remains strikes at the very essence of what makes us human.
“It is particularly egregious that so many of the victims here volunteered to allow their remains to be used to educate medical professionals and advance the interests of science and healing.”
A statement from the Harvard Medical School’s deans on Wednesday, titled “An abhorrent betrayal”, said federal authorities had accused Mr Lodge of “having engaged in activities that are morally reprehensible”.
Katrina Maclean of Salem, who owns a store called Kat’s Creepy Creations, Joshua Taylor of West Lawn, Mathew Lampi of East Bethel, Minnesota and the Lodges were charged with conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen goods.
Jeremy Pauley of Pennsylvania and Candace Chapman Scott of Arkansas were previously indicted.
Ms Scott allegedly stole parts of cadavers from Harvard where she worked and sold the human remains that were supposed to be cremated.
This included the corpses of two stillborn babies supposed to have been cremated and returned to their families, the charging document said.
In 2021, Ms Maclean shipped human skin to Mr Pauley and “engaged his services to tan the skin to create leather”, an indictment said, according to the New York Times. It was reportedly dissected faces she purchased for $600.
Ms Maclean runs a store called Kat’s Creepy Creations which advertises “creepy dolls, oddities” and “bone art” on social media accounts. The accounts reveal she specialises in up-cycling dolls into gothic and horror novelties.
Harvard Medical School deans George Daley and Edward Hundert said they were “appalled” that something so disturbing happened on the campus of a community dedicated to healing and serving others.
“The reported incidents are a betrayal of HMS and, most importantly, each of the individuals who altruistically chose to will their bodies to HMS through the Anatomical Gift Program to advance medical education and research,” the statement said.
The charging document included a grim reference to a PayPal description of a payment of $1,000 that allegedly read “head number 7”.
The four defendants in the case face a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment on charges of conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen goods.