In 2005, the Allegheny County coroner's office visited the McKeesport garage of Robert B. Winston, Jr. a former funeral director. As soon as they set foot inside, the investigators knew they were dealing with death.
The odor was awful inside the detached garage at the 1800 block of Evans Avenue. The smell came from stacked boxes from which the smell was emanating, which were clearly labeled as fetal remains.
But it wasn't until the Allegheny County coroner's office opened the boxes that they learned some of the remains were not fetuses. They were actually babies, 19 in all, who had been born and had lived for a short time. Their tiny diapers and caps gave it away.
The remains, contained in plastic biohazard bags with preserving fluid and placed in 27 stacked cardboard boxes, contained fetuses and embryos from stillbirths, abortions and miscarriages. Many of the bags were labeled with autopsy case numbers. Cremation authorization paperwork was attached to many of the boxes. Some had no labeling which would make identifying the remains nearly impossible.
Following a months-long process of poring over medical records and matching remains with cases at Magee-Womens Hospital, Allegheny County Police criminally charged Robert B. Winston Jr. with theft by deception, and 19 counts of abuse of a corpse.
Police alleged that Mr. Winston, the one-time owner of Newman-Winston Memorial Chapel, violated a contract with Magee to pick up fetal remains and treat them in a "respectful and dignified manner" by having them cremated.
Instead police said, Mr. Winston stacked boxes of remains in his garage from 1999 through early 2002. In doing so, Mr. Winston earned roughly $9,000 from Magee. Instead of paying a subcontractor to cremate the remains, Winston pocketed the money according to court documents.
Winston's ex-wife, Renee Brooks, asked police to force open the garage door, for which she did not have a key, so she could check work files Winston told her he had left there, according to a police affidavit.
Ms. Brooks contacted police after finding a box with 105 unsigned cremation permits. That discovery made her uneasy the affidavit said, because she knew that the permits were typically signed by a crematory, and copies forwarded to the proper authorities.
Nineteen of the containers held infant corpses, 179 had remains of fetuses older than 16 weeks, 154 held fetal remains under 16 weeks gestation, and 253 had autopsy remains.
The affidavit said:
According to Winston, he had a contract with Magee-Womens Hospital since the year 1993 and that he would collect fetal remains from the hospital as many as three times a week for a fee and have them cremated on a monthly basis.
Janet Mrzlack of the South Side, applauded the criminal charges against Mr. Winston. Mrs. Mrzlack had several miscarriages at Magee from 1999 to 2002, and wondered if any of the remains in the garage were her babies. She said she was told by the coroner that because some of the remains were commingled, she might never know.
"I think that's a good thing," Mrs. Mrzlack said of Mr. Winston's arrest. "He deserves what he gets, and I'm glad that he turned himself in. As for closure, that's not going to happen."
Judge Brletic released Mr. Winston who was 61 years old at that time, on a $100,000 unsecured bond and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Allegheny County Jail's behavior clinic.
In March 2004, the state Board of Funeral Directors fined Mr. Winston $3,000, and suspended his license for three years. In 2005 he moved to public housing. Mr. Winston's ex-wife initiated divorce proceedings, and finalized their divorce July, 2005. Ms. Brooks had also filed two petitions for protection-from-abuse orders against Mr. Winston in 1999 and 2004.
In 2006, several families sued Magee-Womens Hospital in connection with the handling of deceased babies and fetuses by Mr. Winston.
On September 22, 2008 Robert Winston pleaded no contest to 19 counts of abuse of a corpse, and one count of theft in relation to the remains of deceased newborns, and fetuses found stockpiled in his garage in 2005. The prosecutor agreed to a sentence of probation to be set by the judge.
Magee's treatment or lack of oversight as to what is done with fetuses goes back decades.
In 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services joined with Magee-Womens Hospital (Magee) hoping to quiet serious ethical legal questions regarding Pennsylvania's largest hospital abortion provider's role in fetal experimentation.
In 2020, a taxpayer-funded study described where the scalps of second-trimester babies obtained through elective and medically indicated abortions at Magee, were attached to mice and rats by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. There is a question as to whether pregnant women are referred to Magee in order to meet fetal tissue demands.
Representatives from Magee have been unwilling to publicly talk about the process of obtaining consent from pregnant women who donate fetal tissue. How much are this women being told when they sign permission to use their babies for research?
In August, 2015, a grant application sent from the University of Pittsburgh to the National Institute of Health boasted about keeping to minimum, the time between collection of fetal tissue, and cooling it for storage to ensure "the highest quality biological specimens." There were racial targets mentioned in the proposal, where the university sought to have 50% of aborted babies representing non-white groups.
The question is were these babies dead when the tissue was collected?
In September, 2021, 92 Senate and House members sent a request to the Biden administration to provide more information about their fetal tissue practices. In turn the university hired a law firm to complete and independent review of their fetal tissue research practices. A report was issued in January, 2022 that left many questions unanswered.
Whistleblowers about the practices at Magee go back to 1973, when a nurse testified to the Pennsylvania's Abortion Law Commission that she witnessed moving, breathing fetuses "packed in ice" and rushed to the laboratory.
A 2014 article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, described that between 1932 and 1963 University of Pittsburgh (Magee) anatomist Davenport Hooker, Ph.D., performed and filmed studies of reflexive movement on more than 150 surgically aborted human fetuses before they died.
In October, 2022, PA Family along with The Magee Project held a rally against UPMC-Magee "for its complicity in abortion and fetal tissue experimentation". The hospital performs more abortions than any other hospital in Pennsylvania.
Ultimately whether it was Mr. Winston's mishandling of those babies' remains, or the questionable use of fetal tissue at Magee, greed appears to be the driving force behind these chilling acts.
In 2019, another disturbing incident surfaced involving fetal remains. More than 2,400 fetuses were found in the home of German-born, Dr. Ulrich Klopfer one of the most prolific abortionist in the Midwest, who operated for over 40 years. Klopfer died in 2019, and his relatives came across 2,246 set of preserved fetal remains "stacked floor to ceiling in his garage. Later, 165 more were found in the trunk of a car at a business" where he kept several vehicles.
Fetal remains were stashed in moldy boxes and Styrofoam coolers amid piles of personal items, soda cans and random garbage stacked to the ceiling.
In the early 2000s, several complaints were lodged against Klopfer, including an abortion performed on a 10-year-old girl who was raped by her uncle, but he failed to notify police. His medical license was suspended in 2016.
A former colleague of Klopfer, Dr. Geoffrey Cly said the clinics run by Klopfer "was a practice with botched cases and bizarre behaviors", something he described as pathological and deceptive.
Cly said, "That is in the realm of extreme pathological behavior, which would be like the Hannibal Lecter in the movie." He believed Klopfer was holding onto the remains as mementos or trophies.
In February, 2020 the fetuses found in Klopfer's home in Illinois were buried in Indiana, at Southlawn Cemetery in South Bend.
In October, 2023, Magee had its first public meeting in four years. They closed their board meetings one months after the University of Pittsburgh released a study in September 2021, describing where the scalps of aborted babies (procedure conducted at Magee) were grafted to mice and rats.
Retired Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen, a graduate of Pittsburgh law school made the following statement:
She was 'extremely disturbed' by her alma mater’s research using aborted tissue. She condemned Magee’s consent form for fetal tissue donation, noting that the document’s wording 'entices women who are at their most vulnerable' by suggesting that aborted babies could contribute to new discoveries and treatments. She brought to mind the similar reasoning of Nazi scientists, who believed that unethical medical experiments were for the greater good of society.
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