Berkland and Willie Junior

Michael Berkland has a lot of explaining to do. The former assistant medical examiner made a living performing private autopsies after he was fired by the Medical Examiner’s Office in 2003. Last week, a family bought the contents of a storage unit at Uncle Bob’s Storage that Berkland had rented. Instead of treasure, the family found boxes, jars and garbage bags of body parts.

Berkland was in the news in 2005 when he was hired to perform a second autopsy of former Commissioner Willie Junior, who had been found dead in late 2004 under a house in Pensacola. Junior had a court date for his sentencing on accepting a bribe from fellow Commissioner W.D. Childers when he went missing.

Junior’s death was ruled a suicide, but many, particularly in the African-American community, felt that he was murdered. Berkland’s autopsy and review of the crime scene failed to disprove the suicide determination. Movement for Change paid for the autopsy and I sat through Berkland’s presentation in July 2005. His investigation left more questions than answers (Read “Solving the Willie Junior Mystery“).

Now the question we have to ponder is: Were parts of the former commissioner in that storage unit?

Here is the official Pensacola Police Report on the storage unit:

A multi-agency investigation continues into the discovery of human body parts found inside a Pensacola storage unit on August 24 in an effort to determine what, if any, laws may have been broken.

The remains were stored in plastic containers, specimen cups and trash bags inside Unit B12 at Uncle Bob’s Storage, 195 E. Fairfield Dr. The unit was rented by Dr. Michael Berkland, a former associate medical examiner who is no longer licensed in Florida.

Lungs, hearts, tissue samples, and 10 brains were among the body parts from more than 100 people found in the air-conditioned unit. The body parts were stored in formaldehyde in plastic containers, plastic bags, and even a 32-ounce Styrofoam cup from a convenience store. Some of the containers had cracked and leaked.

The discovery was reported to police on Friday. Storage shed Manager George Klages told police contents of the unit had been sold for $900 during an auction on August 22. As the purchaser began cleaning out the unit, cardboard boxes of plastic containers holding the remains were found.

Klages told police Berkland rented the unit from April 8, 2009 until it was auctioned August 22. He said Berkland was late on rental payments several times during the lease, but usually paid right before the unit contents were to be auctioned. The storage unit also contained office furniture and other property.

It is believed the remains are from autopsies Berkland did between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in Pensacola, Tallahassee, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City. There were labels on some of the containers of a person’s name and autopsy date but other containers did not have identification indicators.

The remains have been given to the Medical Examiner’s Office. The Pensacola Police Department is not releasing the inventory because some of the decedent families may not be aware of the investigation.

Berkland worked for the Medical Examiner’s Office between 1997 and May 2003 when he was fired for failing to complete autopsy reports in a timely manner.

The discovery is being investigated by the State Attorney’s Office, the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Pensacola Police Department.