Employment Law

I Guess We’ll Never Know Why These Severed Heads Are on Your Desk, Boss Says to Whistleblower

Artist's impression

I have been required to devote a lot of time to a trial lately (happily, not my own, but unfortunately, not Donald Trump’s). Unlike on TV, trials often aren’t all that interesting, so it was quite pleasant to receive a link to this story about three severed heads that mysteriously showed up on somebody’s desk in Illinois.

The part about the severed heads isn’t exactly “pleasant,” I guess. But on the other hand, in a way it kind of is.

According to reports (Law & Crime, Chicago Tribune), a man who works for an Illinois non-profit returned to his office a few weeks ago only to be “greeted by a macabre and occult-like scene,” which seems like a pretty good description of finding three severed heads and a bunch of burning sage on your desk. At least, I might use such a term to describe this if it happened in my office, because I hate the smell of burning sage and the part about the heads is also pretty creepy. I would also immediately suspect foul play, because the list of innocent explanations for severed heads showing up on a desk at a law firm is pretty short.

This was not the case, however, in the Illinois incident, because head-finder Dale Wheatley works as a delivery man for the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois. The AGA is described as “a group of eight in-state medical schools with a shared mission,” that mission being “to procure, prepare and preserve” bodies donated after death for medical and scientific study. The man in question works in the facility’s “rack room,” where “donors” are stored while awaiting their chance to contribute to the advancement of knowledge. Or to be more specific, while waiting for Dale to load them into a van and take them someplace where they will presumably make such a contribution. And evidently the donors are not always, shall we say, intact. So, unlike in my office, there were presumably at least some heads lying around that could be found without looking too hard.

Wheatley apparently likes his job, because he said would like to keep working there even after this incident. But he has gone public with accusations that conditions at the facility are sub-standard. Well, “shabby” and “deplorable” are among the words he used, and recipients have apparently also complained that the condition of their deliveries was … less than optimal. Wheatley believes that the recent appearances on his desk are a form of retaliation for his whistle-blowing. The AGA has “strongly disputed” this allegation, however, and has pointed out that handling body parts is part of Wheatley’s job description. This is true, but presumably that doesn’t involve arranging them on his own desk and starting a small fire next to them.

Also, according to Wheatley—and this quote is really why we’re here, ladies and gentlemen—his supervisor made a comment to him that, if true, kind of seems to support the retaliation charge:

“My boss walked by, I asked him why the heads were at my desk,” he told WFLD. “He said they need to get back with their bodies so we can send them to cremation. I said, ‘I understand that, Why are they at my desk?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know Dale, there’s a lot of strange things happening.’

(Emphasis added.) Yep, the world’s a funny place. One day all the cable channels are suddenly different, and the next day severed heads start showin’ up on people’s desks. Lotta weird stuff goin’ on these days, Dale. Who can say?

Wheatley has reportedly filed complaints with state and local regulators, but at last report had not filed an employment-law action. That seems odd to me, but who knows, there’s a lot of strange things happening these days.