Conversation-starter: What kind of characters did you run into at the morgue?

What is it with medical examiner’s offices in Wisconsin?

A story over the weekend in the Wausau Daily Herald had me recalling my cub reporting days and covering the Milwaukee County coroner’s digs.

In the Wausau case, county coroner Traci J. England was arrested last week for allegedly keeping part of a spine after an autopsy so she could use it to train a dog to search for human remains.

A detective pointed out to the Wausau reporter that “there is a lot of stuff going on” at an autopsy, and the various people who are attending “wouldn’t be paying attention to what someone else is doing in there.” He added: “Who is going to be watching for someone stealing body parts? It would never enter anybody‚Äôs mind.”

Coroner Traci England

The Traci England case is an interesting one, for sure, but I have to say that she’s no Dr. Elaine Samuels.

Samuels was pretty much running the Milwaukee morgue back when I was on the beat. (The chief medical examiner was off teaching at the Medical College of Wisconsin most of the time.) I thought she was a great source — a quote-machine who knew what kind of quirky deaths had front-page potential. (I was able to compile a book from the strange cases I plucked from her files.)

-- Milwaukee Sentinel

Samuels clammed up after it was discovered she was saving men’s testicles after autopsies and taking them home for a “personal research project”; she said she was studying drug users and sperm production.

When I left the newspaper in the early 1980s, Samuels was still on the job. My recollection is that she simply promised to stop saving body parts from autopsies. (Milwaukee reporters are invited to correct me if I’m wrong.) I don’t recall any Samuels scandals after that.

Decades passed and apparently the loosey-goosey culture of the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s remained. Twenty-one years after Dr. Samuels got into trouble, investigator Patricia Martin

Another Milwaukee morgue scandal (2000)

made headlines for taking photos of a co-worker’s genitals and storing them in her office drawer, “along with three photos of feet with odd toenails,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It reported:

The conflict between [the medical examiner] and Martin and the personality clashes among the various investigators within the medical’s office surfaced throughout Tuesday’s hearing, which included the photos of male genitals, references to a reputed “book of oddities” and former medical examiner Elaine Samuels’ collection of testicles.

* Doctor takes tesicles in autopsies for research (1979)

What kind of characters did you deal with you covered the morgue? Share your stories in the comments.

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