Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Former Mortician who Stripped Bodies for Parts Hired by Cemetery

Steven K. Finley, no longer a mortician

Steven K. Finley, no longer a mortician

Former New Jersey funeral director Steven Finley, convicted of desecrating corpses to sell the parts on the medical transplant market and barred from ever being a mortician again, was discovered working at a cemetery to the shock of the community and the families of his victims.

It is not known whether or not he broke any laws while working there, though the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is investigating. When the Rosemount Memorial Park cemetery got a call from the Newark Star-Ledger about Finley working at their crematory, they fired Finley. A vice president for the company reportedly told the paper that Finley had done his time and deserved to move on. Given Finley’s history, however, hiring him to work with the dead could easily be considered a bad idea.

Steven K. Finley, 48, formerly of the now-defunct Berardinelli Forest Hill Memorial Home in New Jersey, was one of 12 funeral directors implicated in a multi-state scheme that involved the harvesting of cadavers’ ligaments, skin, bones and anything else of value to the medical community for sale on the black market. Naturally names and cause of death were changed before the tissue was sold. None of the tissue was screened for disease.

The families of the deceased were unaware of the scheme and never gave their consent. Karen DelRe, 49, daughter of victim James M. Thornton Sr., 72 when he died, described for CBS New York what happened to her father’s corpse in 2004 at the hands of Finley’s professional cutters. “Skinned him and took every bone they could. He’s not resting in peace, he’s resting in pieces.” Finley received $1,000 per body from former dentist Michael Mastromarino, founder of the secret operation and owner of a now-defunct biomedical tissue services company that conducted the sales.

Finley told the Star-Ledger that he had done this type of thing to 75 sets of remains, though prosecutors were only able to tie him to about 40. Finley pleaded guilty to a charge of desecrating human remains, and in January 2009 was sentenced to five years in prison thanks to a plea agreement. Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Jane Plaisted tried to have the plea agreement put aside when they found out that Finley had continued his practice even after his mortician’s license had been suspended. This was probably as good an indicator as any that Finley didn’t feel too bad about what he had done, but Superior Court Judge Peter J. Vazquez left the agreement in place.

In fact, though he was eligible for parole in June 2010 and again in January 2012, the parole board recommended against his early release. In 2010 they denied parole, concluding that he needed to “gain greater insight into his behavior.”

The parole board’s comments from the January 9 decision to deny parole would seem to indicate that Finley had not gained the recommended insight into his criminal behavior. The board wrote, “His verbal expressions of remorse were entirely superficial,” his offenses were “such an abomination that he appears capable of anything,” and they believed that he would be “capable of other crimes.” They concluded, “The panel finds his pathology to be deep — and deeply disturbing.”

The board’s decision had little lasting effect, because “deeply disturbing” or not, Finley was released for good behavior a few months later, after serving only three years. Now that Finley’s been caught working with the dead and in a perfect position to put his hand in the cookie jar once again, perhaps authorities will keep better track of him.

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