Cadaver dealer loses appeal after getting prison for selling diseased body parts

Image 1 of 2

An appeals court has affirmed the conviction of a Detroit-area man who was accused of supplying infected cadavers and body parts for medical training.

Last May, Arthur Rathburn of Grosse Pointe was sentenced to nine years in prison for selling body parts with HIV and hepatitis A, B and C to doctors and dentists for medical research. 

His Detroit company, International Biological Inc., was raided in December 2013. The warehouse in unsanitary conditions, the FBI found body parts in coolers, paint cans and plastic containers. They found blood stains on the floor and piles of dead flies. Heads and body parts were frozen together.


The sale of human remains is unusual but mostly legal, especially when body parts are used for medical training. But Rathburn was accused of failing to disclose that the parts had tested positive for diseases. No one was infected, but the government says Rathburn's customers and airport employees were at risk. In response, Rathburn's lawyers say his business contracts stated that a lack of disease wasn't guaranteed.

During his trial, his ex-wife testified that the couple lied about the diseased parts because they didn't want to lose business. Elizabeth Rathburn, who pleaded guilty to fraud, told jurors that Arthur assured her that he could make viruses inactive through embalming.

Rathburn raised many issues on appeal. He says federal prosecutors treated him unfairly at trial by showing photos of frozen heads and unsanitary lab conditions. The court says the photos were "potentially unpleasant," but they still were relevant to the government's case.

Investigators say he regularly provided body parts to medical groups for seminars but didn't disclose that the parts came from people with HIV or hepatitis.

A woman testified during Rathburn's trial that her father donated his body to science upon his death to a similar company in Illinois. Then Tracy Smolka found out his head was discovered in Rathburn's warehouse. 

"Arthur Rathburn is a lowlife piece of crap s.o.b. who deserved to fry," said Smolka. "I am not going to get that. But I want him to suffer, I want him to know pain."

An expert who testified said that diseases stay active in deceased individuals' body parts.