CHICAGO — A collection of human heads found at O'Hare Airport Monday were intended for medical research but got stranded at the busy hub due to poor paperwork, authorities said.
The 18 embalmed heads were initially discovered one week before Christmas when the coolers they were traveling in from Rome, Italy, were X-rayed at the airport, according to an official with the Cook County Medical Examiner's office.
The heads were properly preserved, wrapped and labeled, according to a Cook County Bureau of Administration press release. The problem was the paperwork — the specimen's final destination was unknown, authorities said.
Customs confiscated the shipment but didn't have a proper storage facility. The craniums arrived at the medical examiner's office Monday to be held until officials could determine where they were bound for.
It is unknown where the heads were stored during the four-week interim between their confiscation at O'Hare and arrival at the medical examiner's office.
They might have been at some sort of rented storage facility, said Cook County Bureau of Administration spokeswoman Mary Paleologos.
A spokeswoman from U.S. Customs and Border Control declined comment because the package was a private shipment.
On Tuesday, a cremation service showed up to claim the heads from the medical examiner's office. They said the specimens were on their way back from medical research in Rome to be disposed of at a Schiller Park facility, according to the release.
The remains will not be released until authorities confirm the cremation service's paperwork, officials said.
"Nothing will be released from the medical examiner's office for at least several weeks because the FBI is still investigating," Paleologos said.
The heads were beginning to be X-rayed and photographed at the medical examiner's office Tuesday, a spokesman said.
"There's nothing extraordinary about this," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Cherise Miles, who also confirmed the heads were for medical research.
“It looks like it’s just bad paperwork,” an official with the medical examiner's office noted.