CHICAGO (CBS) — When a loved one dies unexpectedly, it leaves family members with lots of questions. Was there foul play? Was it a homicide? Was it a case of malpractice?
To answer those troubling questions, families will pay thousands of dollars to hire an independent forensic pathologist to perform a private autopsy. However, CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman has learned that one man offering such services may never have done the work and wasn’t qualified to do it anyway.
“We wanted to do everything we can just to honor him, to make sure they did everything right, that there was no negligence when he passed,” said Luis Quintanilla.
Quintanilla’s 74-year-old father Jose died the day he was supposed to be released from the hospital.
Doctors at the hospital ruled that Jose had a heart attack, but the younger Quintanilla had questions.
“Did they do something to accelerate my dad’s death?” Quintanilla asked. “That’s what I want to find out.”
The funeral director gave Quintanilla a brochure for National Autopsy Services. The pamphlet touted its independent “forensic pathology services.”
Quintanilla contacted the owner–a man named Shawn Parcells.
“He sounded like he was the best,” Quintanilla said.
Parcells’ main lab is located in Topeka, Kansas. A CBS affiliate in Kansas City recently toured the facility with Parcells. It’s filled with specimens and body parts from autopsies from across the country.
“Some of these cases are homicides. Legally we have to keep those forever,” Parcells said.
But now, dozens of clients across the country, including the Chicago area, have complained that they paid Parcells $2,000 to $3,000 for autopsies and never got the results.
“It seems that we were scammed,” Quintanilla said. “This guy took advantage of our feelings … took our money and kept playing us.”
Kane County coroner Rob Russell, who is also president of the Illinois Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, said it is illegal for Parcells to do autopsies in the State of Illinois.
“Only a licensed physician has the authority to do an autopsy in the State of Illinois,” Russell said.
Parcells is not a doctor, but clients like Quintanilla believed he was. Parcells website listed his nationwide offices, including a location at a funeral home in Naperville.
The owners of that Naperville funeral home say Parcells never had an office there and they did not know about his lack of credentials when they allowed him to perform several autopsies there for other funeral directors.
Parcells denies telling clients he’s a doctor. As he explained in an interview with our Kansas affiliate.
“I tell people all the time I almost became a neurosurgeon. That doesn’t mean I’m a doctor,” Parcells told CBS’ KCTV in Kansas City. “That doesn’t mean that I was in medical school. I really did almost do that.”
“It’s been 20 months. I have no results,” Quintanilla said. “I’m upset.”
And so is Raul Guerrero, whose mother Leticia was diagnosed with lung cancer last June.
“It went from a five to 10 year life expectancy, to ‘you’re going to die in a few days,'” said Guerrero. “I wanted some answers.”
He found National Autopsy Services online and texted with Parcells, who told him via text, “I’m here to help, not to rip you off.”
But instead Guerrero said, “He ripped me off. He did not help. He made this even worse.”
Guerrero never got the results. Now his mother has been cremated, and there is nothing he can do.
“This could have been stopped,” Guerrero added. “This gentleman was exposed years ago, and he fell through the cracks.”
Indeed, Parcells’ professional credentials were first questioned in 2014 when he was part of the team performing the autopsy on Michael Brown, who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He gave his opinion about the shooting at several media events.
“It could have happened when he put his arms across in a defensive manner,” Parcells commented back in 2014. “We don’t know.”
The notoriety of that case prompted him to start using the name Professor Lynn, which is his middle name.
The Better Business Bureau has received about 18 complaints prompting the agency’s F-rating and a national alert.
Some clients said they did get autopsy reports from Parcells, but there were other problems.
“Some allegations referenced a police department unable to prosecute somebody because the autopsy was incomplete, inconclusive and not done right,” said Steve Bernas, president of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago.
Parcells has been criminally charged in Kansas with theft by deception and desecration of bodies.
A judge has also issued a temporary restraining order in the Kansas Attorney General’s civil suit. The TRO prohibits Parcells from doing autopsies or representing himself as an expert in forensic medicine or even keeping an office in Kansas to practice medicine.
“Honestly your honor, I’d like to keep doing some autopsy work outside of this state. If that means I need to move my business, I’ll follow that,” said Parcells during a recent hearing that case.
Another one of Parcells’ clients, Pamela Padilla, recently heard about his legal problems.
“I was in shock,” Padilla said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Padilla’s mother died a year ago, and she is still fighting to get the autopsy report needed for a possible malpractice case.
Days after the restraining order was issued in Kansas, Parcells was still conducting his autopsy business in Illinois, telling Padilla via text: “It’s done. I will send it today.”
Now Padilla has filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
“Because of the anguish he has put people through, the deceit, the lies. He just doesn’t stop.”
Parcells responded to repeated phone calls texting that he has not done anything illegal in Illinois and denies the charges against him in Kansas.
He said his education background and job experience qualify him to do autopsy work and that he consults with pathologists who supervise him when needed.
He also said clients in this story did not get their autopsy reports because of the restraining order in Kansas.
Even if they get them, the judge in the Kansas case said in his opinion they are “essentially worthless.”
If you have a complaint you wish to file, you can call the Illinois Attorney General’s Office Health Care Hotline at 1-877-305-5145 (TTY 1-800-964-3013).