Photos of Cook Co. morgue show rotting bodies

January 19, 2012 4:46:14 PM PST
The ABC7 I-Team has obtained dozens of photos showing the extent of a problem that has Cook County morgue workers, experts and some county officials outraged. They say there is disrespect and desecration of the dead inside the Cook County morgue.

This Intelligence Report comes just one day after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle suggested the medical examiner may be part of the problem.

More than a week ago, ABC7 and the I-Team were contacted by employees inside the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. They were angry about the way human remains were being treated by county morgue management. Now they are concerned about potential health hazards to workers as bodies have piled up in the West Side facility. Some of the photos are very disturbing.

Ernest Chiodo is both a doctor and a lawyer, and a Chicago forensic expert who testifies in court cases. He is outraged at the sight of photos said to be taken recently by a morgue employee and provided to the I-Team.

The pictures show shelves overloaded with bodies and the remains of others wrapped in plastic and stacked on top of wooden boxes or even on the floors.

In many pictures, too gruesome to show, the dead are uncovered and rotting.

"You have bodily fluids from what looks like decaying bodies on the floor on the exterior of these wooden boxes," said Dr. Chiodo. "Any type of blood-born pathogen can be spread in this manner. You have it on the floor, People can get that on their shoes and track it into other areas. It's just not a safe circumstance from a public health standpoint. I can see why somebody's concerned."

Among the concerned is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose predecessor Todd Stroger appointed the medical examiner, Dr. Nancy Jones, and her top deputy.

"There have been recurring issues there, that is quite true," said Preckwinkle.

But President Preckwinkle says despite the issues, she has limited options. "They do not serve at the pleasure of the president, they have a term of office," she said.

Dr. Jones did not respond to the I-Team's requests for comment about the photos but Thursday night a spokesperson for Cook County said that some of the backlogged bodies have been moved. The spokesperson said that nearly 80 unclaimed bodies and fetuses were buried on Wednesday.

Some of the photos show red plastic bags that morgue workers say contain fetuses, piled high on shelves, and some corpses that appear to be surrounded by garbage.

"The other concern that I have is that now you have these body fluids in that area you have to be concerned about vermin coming in and spreading that also. Rats,, you may not be in that building but if you have the flies that are landing on that body fluid and then flying to other locations," said Dr. Chiodo.

County morgue employees who contacted the I-Team say they are lacking proper face masks and other protective equipment. There are numerous reasons why hundreds of bodies have backed up there. State aid has been cut for indigent burials and some bodies simply go unclaimed.