Storage unit buyer finds body parts – USA TODAY


Long before the premier of Storage Wars on cable TV, Phillip Knight had been thinking of bidding on the contents of repossessed storage units.

When he finally went to an auction Friday, it turned out to be an experience he never will forget.

“You never know what you are going to find, as they say,” Knight said, his first comments since the revelation that body parts from a doctor’s private autopsies were what his wife found in Tupperware, Styrofoam cups and other containers in the unit along with the readily visible office furniture. “I wasn’t one of the lucky ones on my first shot.”

Knight plunked down $900 for the contents, one of two caches he bought that day. The other unit contained furniture and hair weaves.

On April 8, 2009, Michael Berkland, a former osteopathic physician and former associate medical examiner here, rented a unit at Uncle Bob’s Storage. Manager George Klages told the Pensacola Police Department that Berkland was late on the rent several times but usually paid right before the contents were to be auctioned off, according to a police report released Wednesday.

When Knight’s wife made the discovery after they loaded the bulky furniture into a vehicle, storage facility staff called the police.

“I know we noticed an ear, a liver and a tongue,” he said. “We quit looking in boxes after that.”

An officer said the unit smelled like formaldehyde, a chemical used to preserve body parts. The officer also found myriad plastic containers, plastic garbage bags and a plastic trash can. Another box in the unit had a manila folder with Berkland’s name on it and binders full of photographic slides of autopsies.

The Florida medical examiner’s office for this area said the human remains appear to be from autopsies that Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Pensacola and Tallahassee, Fla.

Neither Berkland nor his lawyer, Eric Stevenson, would comment on what was found in the unit.

The medical examiner’s office is trying to locate family members of the deceased.

Berkland was fired from the medical examiner’s office in May 2003 for keeping a large backlog of cases and failing to complete autopsy reports in a timely manner. In 1996, Berkland was fired as a contract medical examiner in Jackson County, Mo., in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports.

His doctor’s license was revoked in Missouri, and it subsequently was revoked in Florida.

The discovery of the remains from more than 100 people — including hearts, lungs, tissue samples and 10 brains — has triggered a state attorney’s office investigation and questions on whether charges could be filed against Berkland.

“It was shocking to find that kind of stuff,” Knight said. “Yes, it’s a little traumatizing. We just left it in the Lord’s hands and don’t think twice about it, except when people call you and ask.”