The mystery surrounding an unexplainable ‘bone room’ inside a Melbourne health agency’s corporate office continues as the Coroners Court investigates why human remains were found in waste bins.
It was alleged that a nurse educator first noticed fluid leaking into a hallway from a disused room within Eastern Health’s Box Hill corporate office on February 14.
Once the woman opened the door and entered the room, she soon uncovered bone fragments within a plastic bag, a pair of clinical waste bins, a plastic container filled with brown liquid, and a small fridge oozing an explained liquid.
There was also a table with a metal tray, surgical implements, tissue fragments and a fine white/yellowish powder.
An ear, nose and throat surgeon accessed the same room two days later, and when he was able to open the fridge, realised it contained human temporal bones preserved in formaldehyde. For those who don’t know, temporal bones are found in the skull.
Although the Eastern Hill office is located directly across from Box Hill Hospital, there was no reason for any human remains to be stored in a room with no medical purpose – and located just one floor below executive offices.
There’s also some confusion surrounding the delay in the remains first being found, the Victorian Coroners Court being notified and police attending the scene.
In total, there was a two-week gap and Eastern Health had already cleaned up the grizzly human remains.
“They [police] attended the bone room and found that the scene had been cleaned and the remains placed within yellow hazardous waste bins,” Counsel Assisting the Coroner, Lauren Bedgood, explained.
“A plastic bag containing unknown identified material was also located within the freezer section of the fridge.”
Eastern Health has claimed the remains were purchased from the University of Melbourne in 2014 and they were intended to be studied by medical trainees.
However, no records exist to explain why they were stored in that specific room, or that they were used for educational purposes.
The University of Melbourne has also reported that it has no records of the sale and cannot prove where it came from.
As a result, Coroner Paul Lawrie is leading the investigation into whether the remains can and should be classified as reportable deaths – forensic testing has so far not identified who the remains belong to, but it’s believed to be multiple people.
“Ordinarily, this starts with the identity of the deceased, that is where the identity can be ascertained, but here we have remains and understand that there remains from a number of individuals, I don’t know how many individuals,” Mr Lawrie said.
“As I understand it, there are limited practical means for the identification of these remains through forensic testing.”
Karen Cusack, Senior Legal Counsel for Eastern Health, explained that the law firm Russell Kennedy has been brought in to conduct an external investigation.
“We felt it was important that we bring someone else in from outside to be able to really scrutinise the processes, and what’s happened,” Cusack said.
“We certainly want to know what we need to put in place to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen. But also, how did we get to this point? So in that we’ll look at the records and the source of the tissue, if we can ascertain that.
“The search for the records has turned up nothing.
“We’re hoping perhaps some of the former staff may be able to point to some other records – there might be some personal records that have been kept.”
There are hopes that the remains will be identified in the coming weeks, or at the very least, their source. Mr Lawrie said it was especially concerning that the University of Melbourne had denied selling the remains in the first place.