The human head and torso were inside the red biohazard tub in what was supposed to be a routine shipment of medical waste from New Mexico to a Kansas company.
That gruesome discovery last week turned out to be just the start.
Over the next few days, six more heads and torsos apparently dismembered with a chain saw or another cutting device turned up in containers also sent by the Albuquerque company Bio Care Southwest.
Bio Care owner Paul Montano was arrested Thursday following an investigation into the company that was supposed to have donated the organs in the bodies to science and had the remains cremated.
One man whose father's remains showed up in the shipment in Kansas said the family received ashes of what they thought was their 83-year-old dad after he died of a stroke.
Now they are in shock at the thought that the ashes they scattered in a heartfelt remembrance last year may not have been their father — or at least not all of his remains.
"To not give you everything and to have the head shipped some place else, it's really disturbing," said Chuck Hines, of Bosque Farms, N.M.
The owner of Bio Care Southwest denied dismembering any bodies. Montano told police his father picks up and delivers bodies to Bio Care. The investigation is ongoing; his alleged motive was not immediately known.
Bio Care receives donated bodies and harvests organs and other parts that it sells for medical research. The researchers return the organs to Bio Care once their experiments are complete, then Bio Care sends the remains for cremation and gives the ashes to the families, investigators said.
Bio Care's Web site says its mission is to advance medicine through donated non-transplantable human tissue, allowing scientists to study a donor's organs to better understand disease.
"At Bio Care, you will always be treated with dignity, respect and honesty," its home page says.
The company has a contract with Stericycle, based in Kansas City, Kan., to dispose of any leftover medical waste.
Stericycle told investigators it receives medical waste, soft tissue and organs and occasional limbs — but never heads and torsos. Homicide detectives in Kansas City began investigating the grim body part discoveries, and they were eventually traced back to New Mexico.
Court documents identified three of the bodies as Jacquelyn Snyder, Charles Hines and Harold Dillard.
Snyder, 42, died Nov. 1 in Albuquerque of a methadone overdose, and Hines died last September of a stroke, according to officials and family members. Dillard was from Albuquerque, but the cause of his death was not immediately known.
The younger Hines turned to Bio Care to harvest his father's organs for science after learning it would take up to a year to get the body back if he donated it to a university. The process was much quicker with Bio Care.
Bio Care sent back a sealed box with what Hines was told were all his father's cremated remains. He memorialized his father at a simple gathering of friends last October at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, an event the elder Hines helped organize decades ago. Hines scattered a few ashes at the site and took ashes to Tucson, Ariz., where his father grew up.
He said he felt "scammed" and was going to contact an attorney.
Robert Noblin, owner of Riverside Funeral Home in Belen, N.M., where Hines learned about Bio Care, said his company had worked with Bio Care. "Unfortunately, I think many funeral homes and families alike have been misled," Noblin said.
He said he is "deeply concerned" about the families and loved ones "whose remains have been desecrated or improperly dealt with by Bio Care Southwest."
"We are troubled, industrywide, when anyone does not follow procedures designed to protect the sanctity of a body or remains of any individual."
Riverside would receive sealed, labeled containers from Bio Care Southwest that were supposed to contain cremated remains, which the funeral home would then give to its clients.
Montano also is an on-call employee for the state Office of the Medical Investigator. He's on a rotating list of medical examiners to be called out in Valencia County when bodies fall under the state's jurisdiction, said spokeswoman Amy Boule.
Montano was booked into the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center late Wednesday on three counts of fraud. A judge on Thursday lowered his bond from $100,000 bond to $50,000, citing Montano's ties to the community.
Montano's attorney, Rudy Chavez, did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.
Montano said Tuesday his company wasn't involved in the body parts found in Kansas. He did not return several messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday, and the main telephone number that had been listed on Bio Care's Web site had been disconnected Thursday.
The case brought back memories of another gruesome body parts scandal in recent years.
A New Jersey funeral home operator made millions of dollars by plundering hundreds of bodies sent to funeral homes on the East Coast and selling their often-diseased parts and tissues to medical companies. Among the bodies carved up without permission were that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke.
Fisher contributed to this report from Kansas City, Mo.
© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.