5 questions, answers about Thai body parts case
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Police in Thailand are seeking two Americans with ties to Las Vegas accused of attempting to ship packages containing a preserved baby’s head and other human body parts to the United States. Bangkok police say the objects were stolen. Answers to five questions in the case:
WHO IS SOUGHT?
Ryan McPherson, 31, of Las Vegas, and Daniel Tanner, 33, of Henderson, Nevada, are sought on arrest warrants issued Tuesday in Thailand on theft, stolen property and false shipping declaration charges.
Authorities in Cambodia have been asked to help locate the men, who left Thailand after being questioned in Bangkok and released during the weekend. The FBI is also investigating.
The theft charge carries a possible penalty of five years or a fine of up to 10,000 baht ($300). The false declaration charge carries a penalty of six months in jail and a fine of 500,000 baht, or about $15,200.
McPherson and Tanner haven’t been charged in the U.S. However, the U.S. and the Kingdom of Thailand have an extradition treaty allowing for the return of prisoners sought for crimes with penalty of at least one year in prison.
IS SHIPPING BODY PARTS ILLEGAL?
Human remains are routinely imported from abroad for burial or cremation, said Jaime Ruiz, a regional official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Los Angeles.
There also is a process for importing body parts for medical or scientific research, and even for display in shows like “Bodies ... The Exhibition.” The show, featuring dissected human cadavers, tours U.S. cities and has had a home at a Las Vegas Strip resort since 2006.
Ruiz said health authorities monitor shipments due to concerns about the spread of disease.
While shipping body parts to the U.S may not be prohibited, George Pezold, an attorney and executive director of the Transportation and Logistics Council in Huntington, New York, said it is illegal to misidentify contents of a shipment.
“The nature of anything imported must be truthfully identified,” Pezold said. “If there is fraudulent declaration of the contents, it is a violation of federal law.”
Ruiz said customs can seize mislabeled items and the sender can face fines and other penalties.
HOW WERE THE SHIPMENTS SPOTTED?
Bangkok police say parcel delivery company DHL detected five human body parts — the infant’s head, a baby’s foot sliced into three sections, an adult’s heart with a stab wound and two slices of tattooed skin — in three packages. The objects were preserved separately in acrylic boxes with formaldehyde.
They were labeled as toys.
McPherson and Tanner told police that they bought the body parts at a Bangkok night market. Police later learned they were stolen from Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, where an administrator said surveillance video showed the two men visited last Thursday.
Customs official Ruiz said every package bound for the U.S. from overseas is X-rayed.
“Don’t ever think you’re going to send a package and it’s going to disappear into the millions of items in the stream,” he said.
WHERE WERE THE PACKAGES BEING SENT? FOR WHAT PURPOSE?
Authorities in the U.S. say the packages were addressed to a Las Vegas business associated with McPherson, to McPherson’s home in Las Vegas, and to a friend’s house.
The men told police they thought the items were bizarre and wanted to surprise people back home.
Ruiz noted that smuggled human organs and body parts are sometimes used in rituals among some groups in the U.S.
In some Thai cults, preserved fetuses or spiritual tattoos are believed to give owners good fortune or protection from evil.
Authorities don’t know if McPherson and Tanner wanted to keep, sell or give the items away.
WHO ARE McPHERSON AND TANNER?
McPherson is affiliated with a company called Shoot To Kill Media, a Las Vegas video consulting firm. Company president Danny Lairamore said he’s aware of the reports from Thailand but isn’t commenting about them.
McPherson, originally from San Diego, and Tanner first gained notoriety in 2002 as producers of a series of “Bumfights” videos showing homeless people beating each other and performing dangerous stunts for food, alcohol and small amounts of money.
In La Mesa, California, police Capt. Dan Willis investigated the “Bumfights” case before McPherson, Tanner and two other men were arrested on felony battery charges.
The four co-defendants pleaded guilty before trial in 2003 in San Diego to misdemeanor arranging a fight without a permit. They were fined $500 each and ordered to perform community service at a homeless shelter. McPherson was later sentenced to 180 days in jail for failing to complete his community service.
“Back then, 12 years ago, a lot of what they were doing was to get attention, sell the videos and promote themselves,” Willis recalled this week.