BANGKOK — A parcel delivery company in Bangkok put three packages bound for the United States through a routine X-ray and made a startling discovery: preserved human parts, including an infant's head, a baby's foot and an adult heart.
The body parts were stolen from the medical museums of one of Bangkok's biggest hospitals, its administrators said Monday.
Police Col. Chumpol Poompuang said the sender was a 31-year-old American tourist, Ryan McPherson, who told them he had he found the items at a Bangkok night market. Police tracked down McPherson after being alerted by the shipper, DHL.
"He said he thought the body parts were bizarre and wanted to send them to his friends in the U.S.," Chumpol said, adding that the man was questioned along with an American friend for several hours and released without charges.
It apparently was not the first brush with notoriety for McPherson and his friend, identified by police as Daniel Tanner, 33. Photos of the two talking with police on Sunday closely resemble men by the same names and ages who were producers over a decade ago of a video series featuring homeless people brawling and performing dangerous stunts after being paid by the filmmakers, who were based in Las Vegas.
They claimed sales of about 300,000 copies at $20 each, though their "Bumfights" videos were banned in several communities and generally shunned by retailers after criticism that the films' subjects were being exploited.
McPherson and Tanner exited Thailand into neighboring Cambodia on Sunday, and could not be contacted for comment.
The three packages seized in Bangkok, which contained five body pieces, were labeled as toys, police said. They were being sent to Las Vegas, including one parcel that the man had addressed to himself. Police said they were contacting the FBI to get information about the would-be recipients of the items.
Clinical Professor Udom Kachintorn, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital, told reporters that the five human body parts were stolen from the hospital's museums. Two of them belonged to the department of anatomy and the other three to the department of forensic medicine.
He said the two Americans visited the museum last Thursday but that closed circuit television video did not show them taking any items away.
Police Col. Chumpol had initially said a baby's heart and intestines were among the body parts. But police at a news conference Monday said the heart, which had been stabbed, was from an adult and there were no preserved intestines.
Police Lt. Gen. Ruangsak Jarit-ake displayed graphic pictures of the five body parts and told reporters that the parts had been preserved separately in formaldehyde inside sealed acrylic or plastic boxes. Two of the parts were pieces of tattooed adult skin — one with a jumping tiger and the other bearing an ancient Asian script. One of the pictures showed the baby's foot had been sliced into three sections.
"DHL has a policy of prohibited items, which include human body parts. To the best of our knowledge, we have never experienced a similar case before," said Chananyarak Phetcharat, DHL Express Thailand-Indochina's Managing Director.
According to DHL, the parcels were declared as "Puzzle-unlimited collectors ED", "Steamer Cap" and "Antique Train Collector E."
In some Thai cults, preserved fetuses or spiritual tattoos are believed to give the owners good fortune or protection from evil. They can also be used to practice black magic.
In 2012, a British citizen was arrested with six roasted fetuses covered in gold leaf after a tip-off that infant bodies were being sold through a website offering black magic service.
The district attorney's office in San Diego, California, in 2002 filed felony charges including battery against McPherson and Tanner and two others in connection with production of the "Bumfights" videos. A judge reduced the counts to misdemeanors and the four pleaded guilty in 2003 to arranging a fight without a permit. They were fined $500 each and ordered to perform community service at a homeless shelter, but McPherson and one colleague were sentenced to 180 days in jail in 2005 for failing to complete their community service.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.