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CHICAGO/NEW YORK, June 17 (Reuters) - Officials in Arkansas are investigating a shipment of 40 to 60 human heads found by Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) employees at a cargo facility last week in Little Rock, the Pulaski County coroner said on Thursday.
The shipment of three separate containers was discovered last Wednesday at the facility after employees saw the package was "not labeled properly," Southwest spokeswoman Ashley Rogers said.
Employees opened the box last Wednesday evening, found the heads and contacted local police, who turned the heads over to the local coroner.
"They were basically in plastic containers with lids that are not air sealed," Coroner Garland Camper said. "They were duct taped with minimal information to disclose what was inside."
The heads were being shipped to a Medtronic Inc (MDT.N) facility in Fort Worth, Texas. They were for educational training for neurosurgeons studying ear, nose and throat procedures, said Medtronic spokesman Brian Henry.
Camper said there were between 40 and 60 heads packed in three containers. Henry said the company had ordered four heads and 40 skull parts, or the portion of the head with the ear.
"In this particular instance, they were going to be used for educational training, which is routinely and commonly done," Henry said.
It is not uncommon for heads used for research and educational training to be shipped commercially, he said. Medtronic, the world's largest independent medical device company, employed Arkansas-based JLS Consulting to supply and ship the head and head parts.
"It's a common practice," Henry said. "This is a very uncommon result."
Calls and an e-mail to JLS Consulting were not immediately returned.
The 24-hour Southwest cargo facility is one of 70 operated by the low-cost airline and typically handles shipments of items like flowers and sea food, Rogers said.
Camper, the Pulaski Country coroner, said his office took possession of the heads after being contacted by officials in Little Rock.
"Since then we have learned that the paperwork that we have asked for does not quite meet the same description of the specimens that we have," he said. "So we've got some discrepancies there."
Camper said he wanted to confirm that the heads were not being shipped as part of a black market for human body parts.
"We definitely want to make sure this is not a part of something like that," he said.
Camper said that he has never encountered a case like this in his career as a coroner.
(Reporting by Kyle Peterson in Chicago and Deepa Seetharaman in New York. Additional reporting by Debra Sherman in Chicago. Editing by Robert MacMillan)
I just gotta wonder where the rest of the bodies are...
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A shipment of up to 60 human heads and parts of heads, wrapped with duct tape and stuffed in plastic containers, has been seized at an Arkansas airport while cops determine whether the ghoulish cargo is involved in an illicit body parts trade.
Investigators said the heads appeared to be "medical specimens," opening the door to whether authorities in Little Rock, Ark., had inadvertently stumbled upon an "underground market" for human body parts.
Pulaski County Coroner Garland Camper said 40 to 60 whole and partial heads were discovered June 9 by a Southwest Airlines employee who alerted the Transportation Security Administration and local police.
The coroner now has possession of the heads.
The heads, he said, were not refrigerated or placed on ice. Instead they were "packed in regular plastic containers, and wrapped with water-absorbent material and duct tape."