News center
Dependable supplier with a focus on quality assurance

Harvard body parts scandal: Why James Nott was only charged over gun

Jul 19, 2023

An investigation with ties to one of the world's most prestigious universities that began over a tip about human remains in a small town in Pennsylvania has led investigators just south of Louisville, where a Bullitt County man is now facing federal charges.

Bullitt County resident James Nott was arrested and charged with firearms offenses Tuesday after a search of his apartment that also turned up dozens of human bones, according to federal court documents and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The remains are believed to be among those at the center of a larger controversy involving stolen body parts from a mortuary in Arkansas as well as the Harvard Medical School morgue.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the FBI became aware of Nott's alleged activity through online messages he'd sent using the alias William Burke (an 1820s serial killer in Scotland who sold bodies to a lecturer at a local university) to Jeremy Pauley, a Pennsylvania man who was in possession of human remains during a search at his residence. The pair had discussed prices Pauley would be willing to pay for human remains over Facebook, federal officials say.

Pauley was among six people charged in Pennsylvania on June 10 with conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen goods. On July 11, meanwhile, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at Nott's home in Kentucky. When asked by an FBI agent if anyone else was in the home, the complaint states, Nott said "Only my dead friends."

During an ensuing search, FBI officials found approximately 40 human skulls, spinal cords, femurs and hip bones. The skulls were spread through the home as decorations, the complaint states, with one located on Nott's mattress. A Harvard Medical School bag was also inside the residence, documents say.

Two guns, including an AK-47, along with two inert grenades, body armor and ammunition were also found at the residence, according to the complaint, which led Nott to be charged with illegal possession of a firearm, as he'd previously pleaded guilty to multiple felonies in 2011. He's set to be arraigned Aug. 4.

The case is jarring, but the charges may be unexpected – Nott was only charged over alleged gun possession despite having dozens of bones in his residence. Meanwhile, others named in the case are facing charges of conspiracy and transporting stolen goods.

Outside the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, there are no federal laws that prohibit owning human bones, Wake Forest law professor Tanya Marsh told, although some states bar the sale or transfer of remains that have been unlawfully acquired and others have their own regulations on the books. For instance, Nott's Facebook posts promoting bones for sale that were included in the criminal complaint noted they would not be shipped to Tennessee, Louisiana or Georgia – those three states have particular restrictions on shipping and ownership.

Nott's communications with Pauley were a key piece in a larger investigation into the sale of stolen human remains around the U.S. and overseas.

Pauley, according to Nott's indictment, had been in contact with a number of other people who had stolen and transported human bones and organs. He'd purchased remains scheduled to be cremated from a mortuary employee who had stolen them in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he provided information to investigators on a "network of individuals" accused of being "involved in the sale and transportation of fraudulently obtained human remains," including Cedric Lodge, the morgue manager with Harvard Medical School's Anatomical Gift Program whose case has made national headlines.

Lodge's indictment, filed in federal court in Pennsylvania, alleges he and wife Denise Lodge stole and sold remains from Harvard's morgue to a number of individuals, including Katarina MacLean of Massachusetts and Joshua Taylor of Pennsylvania, who both are accused of subsequently selling remains to Pauley. All five individuals are now facing federal charges.

Harvard has said Lodge acted without the school's knowledge or approval before he was fired in May, describing the scheme as an "abhorrent betrayal" in a statement last month.

Reach Lucas Aulbach at [email protected].