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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 16:35 GMT
Alistair Cooke's bones 'stolen'
Alistair Cooke
Alistair Cooke was mourned on both sides of the Atlantic
An investigation is under way in New York into allegations that the bones of the late broadcaster Alistair Cooke were stolen before his cremation.

Cooke, known for the Letter from America he broadcast for the BBC, died almost two years ago, aged 95.

According to the New York Daily News his bones were stolen by a criminal ring trading body parts.

They were later sold by a biomedical tissue company now under investigation, the paper claims.

When Cooke died of lung cancer that spread to his bones in March 2004, his body was taken to a funeral home in Manhattan.

Two days later, relatives of the iconic broadcaster received his ashes, which were then scattered in New York's Central Park.

I'm most shocked... that my stepfather's ancient and cancerous bones should have been passed off as healthy tissue to innocent patients
Stepdaughter Holly Rumbold

Now they have been told that body snatchers allegedly surgically removed his bones and sold them for more than $7,000 (4,000) to a company supplying parts for use in dental implants and various orthopaedic procedures.

The US attorney general's office in Brooklyn is investigating an elaborate ring involving funeral directors, surgeons and entrepreneurs.

This is a grim and ghoulish tale which has understandably appalled everyone who knew Cooke, says the BBC's Guto Harri in New York.

Cooke's stepdaughter, Holly Rumbold, told the BBC's World at One programme she was outraged by the claims.

"I'm most shocked by the violation of the medical ethics, that my stepfather's ancient and cancerous bones should have been passed off as healthy tissue to innocent patients," she said.

"I'm furious, I'm enraged, I'm outraged. My stepfather is not the only one that's been used for this macabre purpose and people are making billions of dollars out of it."

Cooke's daughter, Susan Kittredge, also said she was shocked and saddened.

And, as the cause of his death was at least partially bone cancer, she said she was equally appalled that patients in need of healthy transplant pieces could have received diseased bones.

The use of cancerous bone for transplant is a violation of the US Food and Drug Administration's rules, the New York Daily News says. The use of tissue from very elderly people is also against transplant guidelines.

Why thieves may have stolen the bones


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