There's a real shocker of a story going around about organ thefts. And I mean human kidneys, not Wurlitzers, so brace yourself.

The story tells of a group of young men who went to New York City for a weekend of fun. One of them was attracted to a woman he met in a bar, and he told his buddies he was going to spend the night at her place and would get in touch with them later.They didn't hear from him until late the next day when he phoned to say, "I think I'm in such-and-such a hotel in room number so-and-so, but something's wrong with me and you'd better come and get me."

When the friends arrived at the hotel room, they found their friend in bed and the sheets splattered with blood. He was very weak.

When they helped him out of bed, they discovered a fresh surgical closure on his back and still more blood, so they rushed him to a hospital.

There, doctors discovered that the man had had one of his kidneys removed, and they concluded that he had been drugged so his kidney could be taken for sale on the black market for human organs.

That's the version of the story I got from Felicia Strobhert of Stone Mountain, Ga., who heard it from an Ohio friend who got it from a relative in Virginia. A few days later I received "The Kidney Heist" story again, this time from Dan Verner of Manassas, Va.

As Verner heard it, four Washington, D.C., business partners - three women and a man - went into New York City on business nearly every Thursday and Friday. Sometimes they would stay over to see a show and not return home until Sunday morning.

One such weekend the man remained at a bar Friday night while the women went off on their own. They became worried when they did not hear from him, but Sunday morning he called their hotel.

"Please," he begged, "you've got to come and help me," and he gave them an address. They raced there in a cab and found their colleague lying against a building wearing the same clothes he had on Friday when they last saw him.

He was soaked with sweat and seemed dazed, so they took him to a hospital where it was discovered that he was doped up on morphine, had 110 stitches across his abdomen and was missing a kidney.

The surgery, according to a doctor, had been "done by an expert."

I'm sure that these two recent letters telling "The Kidney Heist" will be followed by many more, because organ theft rumors have been rampant internationally for the past four years.

Claims that babies were being kidnapped and murdered for their vital organs arose in Honduras and Guatemala in 1987, then spread to South America in 1988 and eventually focused on Mexico, where some newspaper articles still insist the stories are true.

In all accounts, it's suggested that wealthy people in the United States are paying huge amounts for organs taken from murdered Third World children. These totally false stories ignore the complexity of organ transplant operations and the vulnerability of the transplanted organs, which would preclude any such quick removal and long-distance smuggling of body parts.

David Schrieberg, Mexico bureau chief for the Sacramento Bee, debunked the baby-parts story in the Dec. 24, 1990, issue of the New Republic magazine. He quoted from descriptions of the supposed crimes in Mexican newspapers, and reported hearing accounts about a traveler who was caught with a leaky suitcase "full of children's eyes and kidneys, wrapped in plastic and chilled with melting ice."

Mexico City's English-language newspaper, The News, published an account of a kidney theft that sounds like the story behind the new American legend. The article described how an 8-year-old child was found "wandering around the streets in a daze and with a healing surgical scar on her body. . . . A kidney had been surgically removed."

But it never happened in Mexico, and I'm confident that the adult kidney-heist stories now being told in this country are false as well.- "Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is now available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.