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Mississippi Considers Law Against Police Keeping Dead Bodies for "Personal Collections"

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When a murder case goes cold, what happens to the victim's body? In an eyebrow-raising report from the Mississippi Free Press, a Pascagoula Police lieutenant discovered the horrifying answer.

For decades, human remains that were sent to an out-of-state crime lab weren't being returned to Mississippi. Instead, many were held for educational purposes — and even more dubiously, for the "personal collections" of cops, coroners, and medical examiners that handled them. According to lieutenant Darren Versiga, whose investigation that began in 2012 uncovered the practice, none of this was illegal — though new legislation may soon change that.

"There was nobody mandating a rule. There was no law put in place to stop this," Versiga told the MFP.

"I thought, this is a bigger problem than anybody's realized," he added. "We need a law that prevents this from ever happening again."

On the Trail

Versiga said the "pandora's box" was opened after he started investigating the death of 24-year-old Melinda LaPree, whose body was found in a Pascagoula cemetery in 1982.

Suspecting a connection to the serial killer Samuel Little — who would confess to the murder years later — Versiga called the Oklahoma crime lab where LaPree's remains had been sent. At the time, Mississippi didn't have its own state medical examiner.

That was when an employee at the crime lab disclosed that there were several sets of human remains from Mississippi that never got sent back. "I thought, why would they have them for all these years?" Versiga told the MFP.

The corpses ended up in limbo because they couldn't be positively identified. Not all of the incidents, according to Versiga, were intentional. In other cases, though, he said that officials outright refused to return the remains or admitted that they had given them away.

Crackdown

In part spurred on by Versiga's work, a new law introduced into the Mississippi senate would require law enforcement officials to enter information about a missing or unidentified person into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS), according to the MFP. It would also require officials to conduct DNA testing on unidentified human remains.

Versiga believes that the bill could have prevented the botched burial of Dexter Wade, a 37-year-old Jackson resident who was killed last year by an off-duty cop that struck him with his cruiser.

Wade had been reported missing by his mother prior to his death. But officials at the Jackson Police Department failed to notify the family that Wade had been killed, despite an independent investigation later finding that he had a state ID card on his body. With no one to claim the remains, he was buried in a pauper's grave without the family's knowledge.

"That should've never happened in this day and age," Versiga told MFP.

As it stands, the bill has been passed in the state Senate, but requires a vote in the House.

More on crime: Inmate's Body Returned to Family Missing All Organs, Including Brain