Seattle man charged with mishandling donated body parts

Walter Mitchell found himself in a position where his company would be next in line to receive the donated bodies that were rejected by the University of Washington.

SEATTLE — A KING 5 investigation has revealed the Northwest’s largest medical school unwittingly helped provide human bodies to a former Seattle man who now faces criminal charges.

Walter Mitchell, who operated FutureGenex, is in jail in Yavapai County, Arizona, facing trial on 29 counts of abandoning or concealing a corpse.

FutureGenex, which closed in February 2020, according to court records, was a for-profit company that solicited donations of human bodies in exchange for payment of cremation fees and other death-related services.

FutureGenex explained to donors that the company sells their bodies, or parts of them, for use in medical seminaries, private educational institutions and medical device manufacturing companies.

KING 5’s investigation revealed that Walter Mitchell had found himself in a position where his company would be next in line to receive donated bodies that were rejected by the prestigious Washington University School of Medicine.

“It really bothers me,” said Cheryl Patterson, whose ex-husband Doug Patterson enrolled in college “Volunteer Corps Program” before dying in 2019.

Doug Patterson’s remains were found dumped in the desert near Prescott, Arizona in December 2020, along with the body parts of several other people.

“For the University of Washington, which is respected, you know, the medical school…for them to be so negligent, I don’t understand,” she said.

The UW School of Medicine accepts body donations so that medical students can learn real-world anatomy while studying.

Douglas Patterson’s death from heart failure at age 59 provides the model for how Mitchell obtained bodies through the UW.

When the Camano Island man died on April 22, 2019, his family followed instructions and called the University’s Willed Body Hotline to report his death.

The person who answered the phone said the university was rejecting Patterson’s donation because of several disqualifying medical conditions, which his family said they were notified of in advance.

“They said they couldn’t take her, and they recommended this other place,” Cheryl Patterson said.

The other place was FutureGenex. The family signed a donation contract the next day with Walter Mitchell which stated that Doug’s body would be used by ‘third parties’ for ‘education and training, scientific advancement and/or research and development’. .

The family received an urn, supposedly filled with ashes from Doug’s body parts that weren’t used, a few weeks later and thought their wish to advance science and medicine had been granted.

But then the Washington State Patrol came in early 2021.

Documents obtained by KING 5 investigators through a public records request show that Yavapai County Sheriff’s Detectives gave the State Patrol the names of 13 Washington state residents who had donate their bodies to FutureGenEx.

The people were potential victims whose body parts had been dumped at two remote locations in Yavapai County that were discovered in the days after Christmas 2020. Investigators found medical tags and labels near five human heads that were left in one place and arms, legs, knees, and feet that were left in another.

The medical information on those tags led investigators to Walter Mitchell, who they learned had shut down FutureGenex in Seattle and allegedly moved to Arizona with at least five bodies packed into cold storage.

Police records show Mitchell refused to speak to investigators when they interviewed him at his home in Chino Valley, Arizona. He was arrested and charged with abusing the bodies and possessing a pipe bomb, which authorities said they found during a search of his apartment.

Mitchell pleaded “not guilty” to all charges and his attorney declined to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, Washington State Patrol detectives deployed to obtain DNA samples from blood relatives of the 13 known victims in Washington to see if any of them matched the DNA. body parts found in the desert.

Cheryl Patterson said her son’s DNA matched certain body parts, confirming that Mitchell allegedly dumped body parts given to Doug in the Arizona desert.

“He’s a bad man. I think he’s evil,” Patterson said.

The University of Washington Medical School agreed to an on-camera interview with KING 5 investigators to explain its connection to Walter Mitchell. But the day before the scheduled interview, media relations director Susan Gregg canceled, saying in an email “We don’t believe an interview with our faculty would add any additional context to your story. .”

Instead, the school released a statement.

“We cannot imagine the heartbreak and suffering these families have experienced because of this heinous incident,” the university said in the written statement.

He then diverted the blame to a private contractor.

“It is not our practice to provide the names of other programs…” when a donor is rejected by the university. “After hearing about this tragic incident, we discovered that, contrary to our established practice, our contracted transportation service and our after-hours response service provided the names of other whole body donation programs. …,” the statement read.

The contractor, a Kent funeral service business called First Call Plus run by Steve Webster, did not return repeated calls seeking comment. The UW says it still uses First Call Plus to answer its phone lines and transit agencies.

Using police and court records, KING 5 was able to identify and contact several of the 13 potential victims in the Arizona case.

Four families said they or their relatives had registered with the University of Washington Volunteer Corps Program, who had rejected the donation at his death. Like the Patterson family, they called the hotline and thought they were talking to a college representative who had rejected the donation. And, when this person recommended Walter Mitchell, they thought that meant FutureGenex had the prestigious university’s seal of approval.

“If they’re going to come up with the name, you hope they did some sort of business or background (check) or something. This is serious business,” said Cheryl Patterson.

There were red flags for Walter Mitchell long before his ties to the University of Washington.

Court records show a 1993 felony conviction in which Mitchell stole money from an employer and fled to Mexico.

In 2014, the Phoenix body broker Mitchell worked for, Biological Resource Center, was raided by the FBI for lying to donors and mishandling body parts. Officers found rotting and mislabeled body parts and a woman’s head sewn onto a man’s body, among other abuses.

Owner Stephen Gore has been charged and convicted. Mitchell has not been charged and there is no indication that he has been charged with a crime.

The final red flag for the university should have been his statements in 2006.

That’s when KING 5 investigators released a story about Biogift. It was one of the first private, for-profit “whole body donation” businesses to open in the Pacific Northwest. This was a new concept and potentially in competition with the university’s donation program.

Biogift’s owner at the time – Walter Mitchell – declined to speak with KING 5 for the story.

Biogift still operates in Washington state, but the company says Mitchell sold the company over a decade ago and no longer has any involvement.

In 2006, the head of UW’s Willed Body Program, Dr. Dan Graney, said the unregulated “body broker” industry posed a threat to all nonprofits seeking donations.

“It’s always a question of the next newspaper or the next TV show that’s going to influence people to say, ‘You know, I’m not going to trust these people and I’m not going to donate my body and at that point we are in real trouble,” Dr. Graney said on the show.

It’s unclear how many bodies Mitchell received through his backdoor connection to the University of Washington.

“You trust them to take your loved one and treat them with respect, and that’s not what happened at all,” Cheryl Patterson said.

Interested in body donation?

The American Association of Tissue Banks warns that many companies are accepting whole body donations in the United States. But only seven of them are accredited by the AATB.

This means participating donation companies must: allow independent inspections of their facilities, maintain sufficient records, and demonstrate that they are providing a safe supply of donated human tissue.

Find a list of accredited body donation companies here.

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