You have to be a very special person to work in a morgue or a funeral home. Well, special, or a little bit weird! This kind of job, where the clients are usually dead, has a wide range of professional opportunities, from morgue technicians, pathologists and morticians, for example.
Pathologists have to study and train for several years before they are fully trained – including a four-year medical degree and a four-year residency. But this is a sacrifice that is pretty rewarding, since they can earn up to $200,000 once they are at the top of their field.
Morgue technicians on the other hand, don’t earn quite as much as their pathologist colleagues – despite being responsible for the worst part when it comes to taking care of the dead. They can earn about $50,000, once they have completed their two-year qualification in mortuary science.
Morticians, the people who help prepare corpses for burial or cremation, need to take a longer four-year degree in mortuary science, and there are almost 35,000 of these employees in this industry, across the US!
The beauty of this job ends in how much they are paid, mostly because they encounter very bizarre cases. No matter how badly a body has been mutilated, they still have to fix it, and make it presentable to the family. Well, if you thought that this was the only creepy thing these professionals have encountered, read through this list, and have a more in-depth view of the risks they are exposed to.
15. Mortician Killed Wife And Secretly Buried Her When Burying Another Body
In August 1999, mortician Mark Villella and his wife had a huge row, which led to her leaving the marital home – according to her husband. The truth was much more sinister. Villella had actually stabbed his wife while she slept, and come up with what he thought was a fool proof way to get rid of the body. Knowing he was burying an 89-year-old woman the next morning he decided to just double up the bodies in the coffin, burying his late wife along with his client. Police became suspicious and Villella eventually confessed when the authorities threatened to exhume the grave.
14. Corpse Was Balding
There is an urban legend that our fingernails and hair continue to grow after death – although research has shown that this is nothing but an old wives’ tale. However, one mortician had very much the opposite problem when he had one elderly lady in his funeral home. Her hair and nails kept falling out as they were trying to prepare her for an open casket funeral. While the fingernails weren’t a problem, the last thing they wanted was for the loving family to turn up and find granny bald, so the staff spent hours replacing strands of hair until she had a full covering.
13. Corpses Waking Up
Cases of people “waking up” in a mortuary are more common than you might think. In November 2014, a 91-year-old Polish woman awoke after spending 11 hours in cold storage in the local mortuary, while earlier the same year, a young Kenyan man had miraculously come back to life after 15 hours in the morgue. This usually happens when the individuals have been wrongly declared dead in the first place, rather than any modern day miracle, but it can still be alarming for the morgue workers on duty who have to investigate the unusual noises coming from their freezers.
12. A Corpse Was Punched
It isn’t just the corpse that can give morgue workers and morticians a surprise, either. Sometimes family and friends attending funerals or viewings can behave a little erratically too. In 2009, Timothy Cleary of Orlando, Florida, was arrested after entering his local church during a funeral service and punching the corpse. In 2017, gang members managed to gain entry to the funeral home where a rival was being prepared for burial, and filmed themselves slapping the deceased – even live streaming the attack on Facebook! It seems that even death isn’t enough for some people to forget the grudges they hold against their enemies.
11. Corpse Was Beheaded
In 1986, an 83-year-old man from Mount Vernon in New York, died of natural causes, and was waiting in the local funeral home for his burial a few days later. Anthony Parisi, who had run a grocery store in the area, and was a quiet family man, then became the victim of the kind of grisly crime you usually see in mob movies. Someone broke into the funeral home, beheaded the late Mr Parisi, and made off with the head. Police still don’t know who was responsible for the desecration, and the Parisi family had to bury their beloved grandfather incomplete, as his head was never recovered.
10. Eyes And Mouth Won’t Shut
After we die, our eyes’ and mouth’s natural resting position is wide open, which more than a bit disconcerting for guests, if you are planning on an open casket. Funeral directors use a range of tools and techniques to keep the eyes and mouths shut for the funeral, including glue and needle guns. The most effective way of keeping eyes closed, however, is a relatively recent invention – spiked contact lenses, which rest on the surface of the eyeball and hold the eyelid in place. There are even ball-shaped contact lenses, like half a ping pong ball, for those who have donated their eyes to others.
Big Corpses Are Cut In Order To Fit Into Coffins
As people get bigger and bigger, coffins also have to get bigger. However, some people are simply too big – either in width or in height – to fit into even the largest available coffins. In these cases, the mortuary staff often take any steps necessary to ensure that the funeral can go ahead safely, and that can include breaking the bones or even, in one case, cutting off the lower legs, of men and women who are too tall for their longest coffin. Needless to say, these actions are not permitted and funeral homes who are caught can lose their licence.
9. Corpse Gave A Visible Shudder
As you’d expect from people working alongside the dead, often in dark and dingy basements, mortuary workers have more than their fair share of spooky stories to tell. One medical examiner – a man whose scientific brain was less likely than most to believe supernatural happenings, was working late one night on autopsies, when one of the corpses gave a very visible shudder as he sat doing some paperwork on the table. It was most likely just a bit of excess gas escaping the body, but it must have given the poor staff member a bit of a shock. We suppose it comes with the territory.
8. Cremator Lied About Cremated Bodies, Giving Families Urns Filled With Dust
Tommy Marsh was the owner of the Tri-State Crematory in northwest Georgia, when in 2002, a gas man checking the property reported to police that he had seen evidence of bodies lying around the property. While most crematoria have a few bodies on site, waiting for their turn in the oven, it turned out that Marsh had taken delivery – and payment – for over 300 bodies, none of which he had actually burned as instructed. He had instead buried them around the property, and given the families urns full of dust, rather than the ashes of their loved ones.
7. A Corpse Sat Up Straight
Several morgue workers have found themselves terrified at the sight of one of their cadavers suddenly sitting bolt upright on the slab, as if they have come back to life. Sometimes they stay in that seated position, sometimes even more eerily, they return to their original prone position. As with the shivering stiffs, this discerning habit is caused by gases building up in the body, where, large enough pockets of gas can cause dead bodies to make quite significant movements when they are expelled – although knowing the science behind it doesn’t make the sight of a dead body sitting upright in the morgue any less scary.
6. Twins, One Dead, One Alive, Dressed In The Same Outfit
There have been a few unusual incidents involving funerals and identical twins, including the case of a young boy who died and whose parents decided it would be perfectly normal to dress both the live twin and the dead twin in the same outfit on the day of the funeral. In another case, not involving twins but unrelated doppelgangers, a Brazilian man surprised his family by turning up at his own funeral, after a man who looked just like him was the victim of a murder. He only found out about the misidentification when a friend told him that his family believed he was dead!
5. Corpse Groaned In Pain
Another creepy outcome of gas building up in corpses is that they can actually make noises which sound like groans of pain. This is about the creepiest noise a dead body can make in a dark and lonely mortuary in the middle of the night! As rigor mortis begins to take effect, all the muscles in the body start to stiffen, including the vocal cords and the muscles associated with breathing. This can result in the body making weird moaning sounds, or even sounding like they have started breathing again. Even experienced staff can be fooled by this phenomenon, asking doctors to check again that a patient they have declared dead really has passed away.
4. Corpse Was Stolen, Never To Be Found
In 2015, 25-year-old Julie Mott died of complications from cystic fibrosis which had affected her all her life. Her heartbroken family and friends in San Antonio were just coming to terms with losing Julie, when the local police came by with even more alarming news. Someone had managed to break into the funeral home where Julie was being prepared for cremation, and had stolen her body. Police have never found Julie’s remains, and have never charged anyone with desecrating her remains – though her ex-boyfriend remains a person of interest to local authorities after he was charged with trespassing the grounds of the funeral home.
3. Funeral Workers Took A Body Away At A Funeral
A cautionary tale from Ghana now, and a warning to make sure that you always pay the funeral home director on time, if you want your relative’s ceremony to go off without a hitch. In 2017, one family from the Ghanaian capital Accra had the funeral of their family member very rudely interrupted, when a group of men arrived at the grave site, ripped open the coffin and took the body away with them. Allegedly, the men worked for the funeral home, which had yet to be paid for their mortuary services – a bill which amounted to the equivalent of about $40.
2. A Corpse Gives Birth
Perhaps the most disturbing of all tales from the morgue is the case of a 34-year-old heroin addict from Germany, who died in 2005 when she was eight months pregnant. When she was found dead in her apartment, her foetus had actually been partially “born” and experts were able to prove that this had happened after her own death. Seems like the gases which can cause movement and moans in some dead bodies had actually helped her push the dead child out of her uterus. This is a rare phenomenon, but it does have a suitably spooky name – coffin birth.
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