When FBI agents searched a Mount Washington, Kentucky, apartment Tuesday and found 40 human skulls, spinal cords, femurs and hip bones inside, they asked occupant James Nott if anyone else was home.
“Only my dead friends,” he responded.
Agents found one skull wrapped in a head scarf and another sitting on a mattress where Nott slept. Others were strewn around Apartment No. 3 as if they were decorations.
The grisly discoveries were disclosed in a criminal complaint that put Nott in the middle of a multistate and international trade in body parts stolen from the morgue at Harvard Medical School and a mortuary in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The complaint and an FBI affidavit to search Nott’s home in Mount Washington – which is roughly 25 miles southeast of Louisville – says Nott received body parts from abroad and sold them in the United States.
In Facebook posts describing the parts and their price, Nott used the pseudonym “William Burke,” which the affidavit says in a footnote was used by a serial killer active in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1827-28 with his partner, William Hare.
Together the pair sold the bodies of their victims to Dr. Robert Knox an influential lecturer in anatomy at the University of Edinburgh.
The U.S. scheme was discovered when police in East Pennsboro Township, Pennsylvania, got a tip the human remains could be found at the residence of Jeremy Pauley, in nearby Enola.
Police executed a search warrant and found items that included human organs and skin.
Pauley’s wife, Sarah, provided law enforcement with screen shots that showed he was communicating with a woman who worked at a mortuary in Little Rock, Arkansas.
She allegedly stole remains that were due to be cremated and sold them to Pauley over Facebook. They included human hearts, brains lungs and two fetal specimens. Payment was by PayPal.
Pauley told the FBI about a network of people involved in the sale and transportation of fraudulently obtained body parts.
According to the complaint and a story in the New York Times, one member of the network was Cedric Lodge, morgue manager for Harvard Medical School’s Anatomical Gift Program. Lodge was steading parts from cadavers and selling them on the internet, according to the complaint.
According to the affidavit, Pauley communicated over Facebook with Nott, who identified himself by the pseudonym, about the sale and shipment of human remains. Nott sent him photos and videos, it says.
“How much for the couple you sent, plus the spines,” Pauley asked.
Nott quoted him a price and Pauley replied, “Works for me.”
Pauley, Lodge and four others were charged in federal court in Pennsylvania with interstate transportation of stolen property and conspiracy.
During the search of Nott’s home in Mount Washington, the FBI said it found an AK-47, a loaded .38 special and ammunition.
In 2011, Nott pleaded guilty to possession of a destructive device and a firearm. He was charged Tuesday with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
He waived a detention hearing and is being held without bail in the Oldham County Jail, pending further court decisions. He was assigned counsel from the federal public defender’s office and his arraignment was set for Aug. 4.
Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 396-5853 or[email protected].