Postmortem, Ep. 1: The crime

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The former morgue manager of Harvard Medical School in Boston has been accused of stealing and selling body parts. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The former morgue manager of Harvard Medical School in Boston has been accused of stealing and selling body parts. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Hundreds of people have donated their bodies to Harvard Medical School, hoping to advance science and train the next generation of doctors. But in the basement of the nation's most prestigious medical institution, something went terribly wrong in recent years.

In the five-part series Postmortem: The Stolen Bodies of Harvard, WBUR reporter Ally Jarmanning takes us deep into the macabre story of what happened, and how the elite university became a stop on a nationwide network of human remains trading.

In Episode 1, police find buckets of body parts in a basement in Pennsylvania.

We hear from the district attorney there and learn more about how this case connects to Harvard and Cedric Lodge, the morgue manager accused of stealing and selling donor body parts.

An old classmate of Lodge's reflects on the man at the center of the scandal. And doctors who know Harvard well ponder how this could have happened — here, of all places.

If you have questions, comments or tips about this story, you can reach us at


Ally Jarmanning: A heads up, this episode could get graphic, at times. We're talking about dead bodies here. Take care while listening. 

Ally Jarmanning: It's June 2023. Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt gets an urgent message.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: On a Tuesday, we were told next day is a meeting about something or other, but importantly, show up.

Ally Jarmanning: So that next day, Dr. Hildebrandt logs on as directed.

When she does, she sees all of her colleagues in the Harvard anatomy program on her Zoom screen — the professors who help students learn about the human body, and the staff who keep the anatomical gift program running.

The dean of medical education is there, too. And he has some very, very bad news.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: This morning, the morgue technician, former morgue technician Cedric Lodge, had been taken into custody by the FBI. An hour later, the news was given to the press.

News reel: Breaking news that we've been following all day. A huge story here. Human body parts taken by a manager at the Harvard Medical School morgue and then sold to customers online.

News reel: Investigators say Cedric Lodge ran the multi-state scheme over four years while he worked at Harvard Medical School's morgue.

News reel: We have team coverage tonight from suspects to the victims.

Ally Jarmanning: The story traveled far beyond the world of academia. CNN, The New York Times, The BBC. This was international news. It got lots of traction online, too, with TikToks and YouTube videos and Reddit threads obsessing over how gross, and weird, and crazy this story is.

TikTok video 1: We need to talk about what's happening at the Harvard Medical School morgue.

TikTok video 2: What sort of crazy-ass, Victorian-era shit is this?

TikTok (in Spanish): A network of corpses trafficking in Harvard has been discovered. The person responsible for this is the director of the morgue, Cedric Lodge, and allegedly has been selling parts of corpses with his wife since 2018.

Ally Jarmanning: Dr. Hildebrandt ... she understands why people are obsessed with the story.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: I mean, whenever stories about stolen tissues, especially donor tissues, get into the press, they are, scandalous and interesting because it's, you know, it's kind of titillating to read about stolen bodies. And Harvard, of course, always is, uh, has this adjective of excellent, right? And it's not very excellent if somebody actually, is accused of stealing donor tissues.

Ally Jarmanning: For Dr. Hildebrandt, though, this wasn't just some macabre headline. It's her life's work, encouraging students and institutions to treat donor bodies with respect and dignity. She cried at the news.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: Here I am, preaching to the whole world that we need to, to treat our donors correctly. And then this happens behind my back, on my watch. Also, you know, betrayal from a person who you trusted.

Ally Jarmanning: She trusted Cedric Lodge, the morgue manager now under arrest. She'd sometimes see him in the early mornings, taking care of the labs, preparing them for the students. She knew thefts like this happened sometimes in morgues and mortuaries. But not here, not at Harvard. Not by someone like Cedric, who did his job quietly, and — it seemed — without issue. For decades.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: Not in my wildest dreams. Nightmares, I should say.

Ally Jarmanning: Dr. Hildebrandt spent the rest of that Wednesday talking to her closest friends in the small world of anatomy ethics. And she started writing emails. She felt this need to be transparent about what had happened, for people to hear the news from her directly. And her peers wrote back.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: And they were all sympathetic. I also heard a little something, thank God it happened to you and not to me.

Ally Jarmanning: Of course, they didn't say that outright, but that was the undertone.

Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt: It's something that everybody's afraid of could happen in their own house. Because anatomy is the team sport, right? You trust your team. In this case, we relied on a person who, after 20 years of service, turned criminal, apparently — allegedly, I should say.

Ally Jarmanning: I’m Ally Jarmanning, and this is the story of what happened at Harvard Medical School. How bodies donated to train the next generation of elite doctors ended up dismembered and shipped across the country.

Paul Micah Johnson: There's much better tracing for a head of lettuce than there is for a human head.

Ally Jarmanning: I’ll share stories from the families of those donors, who are now trying to cope with this new awful knowledge.

Lara Szent-Gyorgyi: All I can think of is how embarrassed and furious she would be.

Ally Jarmanning: And I’m going to visit with some of the people who buy human remains and find out why they do it.

Mike Drake: So my first skull is right there on the top shelf. I've had others over the years but that's my first and my favorite.

Ally Jarmanning: And along the way, I’m going to keep asking the questions that have haunted me throughout this reporting: How should we treat the dead? And who gets to decide?

Welcome to Last Seen, the podcast about people, places and things that have gone missing.

This season: Postmortem, the stolen bodies of Harvard.

Episode 1: The crime.

Harvard Medical School sits in the heart of Boston's medical district, sandwiched between world renowned hospitals and some of the city's best museums.

The campus is a bit of an oasis in the middle of all the bustle.

Walk up the stone steps off Longwood Ave. and a lush green quad greets you. Up here, you're sheltered from the noise of the city by the tall, white, marble walls that envelope the yard. Just the buildings feel a bit intimidating. It feels like something grand and important is happening inside.

On the top floor of the medical education building is the anatomy lab. That's where the donor bodies, zipped up into bags, await students' scalpels.

And four floors below, in the basement, is the morgue. That was Cedric's domain.

Cedric grew up less than two miles from here, in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.

Cornell Cannon: I literally could see his apartment from where my apartment was.

Ally Jarmanning: Cornell Cannon got to know Cedric because they both were in METCO, a voluntary school integration program. It sends city kids to the suburbs to attend better schools. So instead of going to Boston Public Schools, Cornell and Cedric were bused 20 miles north to the well-to-do town of Lynnfield.

Cornell Cannon: 6:20 in the morning at the corner of Centre Street and Bickford Street. The bus would pick us up at 6:20

Ally Jarmanning: Nobody really was that chatty at that hour of the morning, but Cedric was even quieter than the rest.

Cornell Cannon: He wasn't an outgoing, friendly person, you know, he'll clearly talk if talked to, and, you know, join in a crowd or conversation and everything, but not much ...

Ally Jarmanning: Cornell told me Cedric was kind of a nerd. Into "Star Wars," comic books. He didn't play sports like Cornell — who was voted most athletic at Lynnfield High. Cedric didn't even bother submitting a photo to the yearbook or any description under his name.

Cornell Cannon: He would be in the nerds because we had brainiacs, nerds, jocks and burnouts. So, within all of those, he would fit into the nerd.

Ally Jarmanning: After their graduation in 1985, Cornell and Cedric didn't see each other much. Until their 30th reunion at the Kowloon, that Route 1 institution in Saugus, Mass.

Cornell was surprised Cedric showed up. He was glad to see him.

Cornell Cannon: We did the typical, "Hey, so what are you doing today? What's going on with you?" He's like, "Well, I actually work at Harvard Medical School."

I'm like, Harvard? He's like, no, no, no, not like that. I work at, you know, um, and he said something referring to like basically a mortician, basically.

Ally Jarmanning: The title on the business card Cedric handed Cornell said "morgue manager." And despite Cedric's protests, Cornell was still impressed. I mean it's Harvard!

Cornell Cannon: You worked your way up and, you know, I'm saying that to him, like, hey, here we were, like, little snotty nose boys in the hood.

You know, I hope this doesn't sound morbid or anything like that, but, you know, I've always been interested in what happens when an autopsy is performed and he's like, well, you know, and I forget his exact words, but he's like,  you know, it's not that interesting, but the way I took that was because he lives with it and deals with it daily for his work. Just kind of like, yeah, you know, that's the work I do.

Ally Jarmanning: Cedric spent more than half his life at Harvard, almost 30 years. His job was in the anatomical gift program – a fancy way to refer to the department that handled body donation.

He had two bosses – they're the ones who enrolled people, spoke to donors and their families and coordinated delivery of the bodies after death.

Cedric's job was more behind the scenes. Grunt work. Keeping the lab clean and neat. Moving the bodies from the basement morgue to the anatomy lab on the top floor. Placing the bodies on the stainless steel tables, where they’d sometimes stay for the entire semester. Then, preparing the bodies for cremation.

For decades, it seems like Cedric did the job with little issue. Students barely noticed him. He was like a ghost. Doing his job, but rarely seen.

Medical students today learn about the human body the same way doctors did when Harvard Medical School was founded almost 250 years ago: on dead people.

Before they go to care for living patients, medical students need to know everything about how the human body works. To do that, they need to get a look inside.

Mary Barton walked into Harvard's anatomy lab for the first time in 1987. She was one of about 100 students, each looking down on a zipped-up bag that contained the person they would get to know intimately over the next few months.

Dr. Mary Barton: There's the smell of formaldehyde, which is kind of strong, and so, you know, that's another worry, is like, am I gonna gag? You know, we wore masks, and gowns, and gloves.

Ally Jarmanning: Many schools refer to donors as medical students' "first patients."

Dr. Mary Barton: It felt to me like a bit of a threshold to cross, because here we were students, we were just like, you know, 22-year-old kids, and we were being invited into a profession. And this was kind of the first step in training for that profession.

Ally Jarmanning: The woman who donated her body to Harvard taught Dr. Barton lessons she couldn’t learn from a textbook. How the human body worked, but also what it means to be a doctor. How to give care and respect to another person, even a dead one. Throughout her career, Dr. Barton carried an appreciation for that unnamed woman who she’ll never really know.

After the break, we get into Harvard.

Ally Jarmanning: There may be no better brand than Harvard. It holds this special place in our culture.

Scene from "Legally Blonde": You got into Harvard Law? What, like it's hard?

Ally Jarmanning: Shorthand for elite, upper crust, high class.

Scene from "With Honors": I'm a bum. But bear in mind, I'm a Harvard bum.

Ally Jarmanning: The utmost rigor, and the highest echelon.

Scene from "Good Will Hunting": This is a Harvard bar, huh? I thought they'd be like equations and shit on the wall.

Ally Jarmanning: For some, it's seen as a reputation well earned. Their alumni sit on the Supreme Court, in the Oval Office, in Fortune 100 boardrooms. Their incoming freshmen classes are filled with the smartest graduates from high schools across the world. Same goes for the medical school. These are students who spend the summer playing piano at Carnegie Hall and launching startups. And this is just what these kids do for fun.

Harvard has a piggy bank of more than $50 billion to play with. Billion, with a B. The biggest endowment of any university in the world. Bigger than the GDP of some small countries.

Harvard is also a business. Yes, there’s hundreds of faculty doing important research and writing, but someone also has to empty the trash and answer the phones and move the bodies so the super smart med students can learn anatomy.

Unique to Harvard, I’m told, is an extreme culture of independence.

Paul Levy: The slogan in Harvard is, "Each tub on its own bottom."

Ally Jarmanning (on tape): Each tub on its own bottom?

Paul Levy: Yes. That's, that's kind of a motto within Harvard.

Ally Jarmanning: Paul Levy spent three years as executive dean for administration — basically the chief operating officer of Harvard Medical School. The motto is actually "every tub on its own bottom." And it came from a 17th-century Christian allegory co-opted by a Harvard president 200 years later. Which … of course it did.

Paul Levy: It basically suggests that each school, whether the medical school or the business school, or each department within a school, or each lab, or each office, is expected to be self-reliant.

While there is, clearly a central administration and there are clearly centralized standards of conduct, the degree to which there is oversight and compliance is probably variable.

Ally Jarmanning: I was glad to get Paul Levy on tape, by the way. I reached out to a lot of students and staff, both current and former. Only a handful of people agreed to talk to me. And even fewer would talk on the record.

There's this fear of going against Harvard publicly. You do not speak out of turn. Because, as one person told me, as a physician especially, if you don't already have some kind of connection to Harvard — through your research or a faculty appointment — you want that connection. Why risk your career by talking to a reporter?

Maybe you're thinking — well, isn't it like this at any fancy institution? No, I'm told. Not even its peers, like Yale or Penn. There is something just different about Harvard. Maybe it's because Harvard is literally 140 years older than the United States. Or the fact that its alumni are in positions of power all over the world. Whatever it is, Harvard makes its own rules. For better or worse.

And Cedric, in the basement morgue, beneath some of the most elite medical classrooms in the world — he starts making his own rules, too.

In 2018, he started bringing work home.

I should say now, nearly everything I am going to describe from here on out comes from court records and with a giant "alleged" in front of it. Only four people pled guilty to any of the crimes I'm going to detail. Cedric's pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in August.

So it's 2018, just a couple of years after that reunion where Cedric brushed off his old classmate's interest in autopsies.

Cedric starts stealing from work. Stealing donors. Or parts of donors. He is carving up the bodies of people in the morgue, and taking parts of them home.

Flesh. Skulls. Brains. Bones. Human remains.

This goes on for at least four years. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of body parts. Hundreds of donor bodies that came to the morgue during this time.

There are so many questions I have. What made him want to start doing this?

Did he do it for the money, or because he was into this odd world? Or both?

How long did he think about doing this, before he sliced into that first donor and took part of them home?

When did he do this? Did he stay late, or come in early, before anyone was around? Did he worry that someone would walk in and see him hunched over a dead body peeling out organs?

Or was he left alone so often that he really didn't have to worry about getting caught?

It's especially hard for me to understand how nobody at Harvard knew that this was happening. It was right under their nose. For years.

The man drove to work in an orange Subaru with a license plate that read "GRIM-R" — as in, Grim Reaper. He was stealing body parts, and nobody knew.

The people in charge at Harvard aren't talking. Not to me, not to anyone publicly. They pulled together an outside panel to review the anatomical gift program — but the report didn't focus on what went wrong with Cedric. Instead, it just reviewed the current program and made suggestions for improvement. Like, checking for "unusual incidents" such as someone using their key card after hours. And doing a better job at inventory and "reconciliation" of donors. And doing a more thorough job confirming that the body is complete before it goes off for cremation. That these recommendations were even made, suggests that none of these checks were in place when Cedric was there.

So Cedric is bringing home body parts. He's the supplier. His wife, Denise, seems to have taken it from there, handling logistics. She’s the one who communicates with the buyers and goes to the post office. She takes the payments through her PayPal account.

In September 2018, an antiques dealer starts sending money to Denise. A lot of money.

A thousand dollars with the memo: "head number 7."

Two hundred dollars with the memo, "braiiiiiins." That's with six lowercase i's.

All in, he will PayPal her 39 times, for a total of more than $37,000.

This wasn't just an online business, though. Cedric allegedly invited people into the morgue to essentially shop for parts.

He'd let them browse the donor bodies and choose which they were most interested in. This piece of skin, that skullcap, that arm. Then one of them would slice into the body, take what they wanted and leave.

In October 2020, the peak of the COVID pandemic, Harvard would have been deserted. Classes were still remote. There were no anatomy labs happening. Cedric invited a buyer onto campus. They met at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday. She took home two dissected faces, at the price of $600.

The shopping trips seemed to have raised no red flags for anyone at Harvard.

That is, until June 2022. Some 400 miles away in central Pennsylvania, there's a break in the case.

A woman went into her basement to where her husband kept his work. She found a couple of five-gallon buckets there. She looked inside. I talked with Cumberland County District Attorney Seán McCormack about what she discovered

Ally Jarmanning (on tape): What was found, what was it like down there?

Seán McCormack: Um, uh, uh (sighs). You know, it's hard to describe.

There were, there were body parts, many of them separated by, by body parts, eyeballs and, and different other body parts. So, um, just in, in different types of buckets and stuff like that.

Ally Jarmanning: Human body parts. Investigators cataloged two brains, a heart, a kidney, a spleen, a skull with hair, two livers, six pieces of skin and fat, a trachea, two lungs, and the jawbone of a child – with teeth.

Seán McCormack: I've been a prosecutor for 34 years and the vast majority of that time I was a child abuse prosecutor so I have seen a lot of things over the years. But that being said, it is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen

The man's arrest in August 2022 got some attention — mostly from local news.

News reel: New at 5. Police arrested a man from Pennsylvania's mid-state for allegedly buying body parts through Facebook.

News reel: Police later conducted a search warrant collecting three to five buckets, determined by investigators to include human brains, a heart kidney, and more.

Ally Jarmanning: But what we didn’t know then … that call that woman made to the police about what was in her basement pulled the first thread that unraveled a much bigger and more shocking story. It wasn’t just one weird guy and his buckets of body parts. His arrest exposed a nationwide network of human remains trading that would upend the lives of hundreds of families and ensnare the world’s most prestigious medical school.

Amber Haggstrom: This part is what kills me. I was, um, walking out my door, and it was my oldest son's last day of second grade.

Ally Jarmanning: It's June 14, 2023. Amber Haggstrom is outside her house in Epping, New Hampshire, waiting for her oldest son to come home from school. Her two younger boys are next her. One of them is holding a little graduation sign for his big brother. A Carvel ice cream cake is inside thawing on the counter.

Amber Haggstrom: And so I'm going out to the driveway, and that's our bus stop. And then, so, um, all of a sudden I'm getting this package. And I'm like, oh, what is this? And then it's labeled Harvard on top.

Ally Jarmanning: Amber's mom had donated her body to Harvard three years earlier.

Amber Haggstrom: I was like, oh wow, I'm getting a nice thank you letter for my mom's donation for, you know, to the medical school. I'm like, oh this is nice, you know, something. And then I opened it up and I read the first couple lines, and I almost dropped to the ground.

Ally Jarmanning: In language that is precise and dry, the letter told Amber that Cedric Lodge had been arrested for the unlawful interstate transport of stolen human remains. He was charged with doing so from 2018 to 2022. The same time Amber’s mom’s body was at Harvard.

Amber Haggstrom: When I read that, I thought I was going to throw up. I literally took this paper and like threw it. And I was shaking at that point so bad I couldn't even read. I'm like, oh my God, oh my God, what am I going to do. I was on the verge of fainting. I was like, my worst fears are coming true.

Ally Jarmanning: Next time on Postmortem, the victims.


Headshot of Ally Jarmanning

Ally Jarmanning Senior Reporter
Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.


Headshot of Paul Vaitkus

Paul Vaitkus Production Manager, Podcasts
Paul Vaitkus is the production manager for WBUR's podcast department and is responsible for all things audio.



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