Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
I wish to warn you about a new crime ring that is targeting business travelers. This ring is well organized, well funded, has very skilled personnel, and is currently in most major cities and recently very active in New Orleans. The crime begins when a business traveler goes to a lounge for a drink at the end of the work day. A person in the bar walks up as they sit alone and offers to buy them a drink. The last thing the traveler remembers until they wake up in a hotel room bath tub, their body submerged to their neck in ice, is sipping that drink. There is a note taped to the wall instructing them not to move and to call 911. A phone is on a small table next to the bathtub for them to call. The business traveler calls 911 who have become quite familiar with this crime. The business traveler is instructed by the 911 operator to very slowly and carefully reach behind them and feel if there is a tube protruding from their lower back. The business traveler finds the tube and answers, "Yes." The 911 operator tells them to remain still, having already sent paramedics to help. The operator knows that both of the business traveler's kidneys have been harvested. This is not a scam or out of a science fiction novel, it is real. It is documented and confirmable. If you travel or someone close to you travels, please be careful.
Austin Ops Engineering Manager
From: Patty Radford@Desktop@PCPD Hou, on 12/16/96 10:33 AM:
Yes, this does happen. My sister-in-law works with a lady that this happened to her son's neighbor who lives in Houston. The only "good" thing to his whole story is the fact that the people doing this horrible crime are very in tune to what complications can happen afterwards because of the details precautions they take the time to set up before leaving the room. The word from my sister-in-law is that the hospital in
Please be careful.
From: Kathy White@OS Dev@Sys Hou, on 12/13/96 3:25 PM:
Sadly, this is very true. My husband is a Houston Firefighter/EMT and they have received alerts regarding this crime ring. It is to be taken very seriously. The daughter of a friend of a fellow firefighter had this happen to her. Skilled doctor's are performing these crimes! (which, by the way have been highly noted in the Las Vegas area). Additionally, the military has received alerts regarding this.
Origins: Late January 1997 saw the
Breathtakingly frightening, eh? And not a word of truth to it.
The majority of people who had this pass through their hands failed to realize this was but an urban legend, an apocryphal tale told and
As part of the effort to dispel belief in this nonsense, the National Kidney Foundation has asked any individual who claims to have had his or her kidneys illegally removed to step forward and contact them. So far no one's showed up.
Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand mentions in The Baby Train that he first heard this horrific story in early 1991. Very shortly thereafter he was swamped by it coming in from every direction, told as happening in various large cities. In this earlier incarnation, friends discover the victim either in his blood-soaked hotel bed, on the floor, or propped up against the side of a building. It's only at the hospital that the grim "truth" of the missing organ becomes known.
By 1995-96 a couple of interesting little twists were added to the basic story — the victim was now being left in a bathtub full of ice, the "friends" seemingly disappeared, and the "If you want to live, call 911" message became firmly woven into the fabric of this tale. The traveler was now clearly on his own, his fate solely in his own hands. (A much scarier story that way, don't you think?)
Yet another noteworthy change saw the businessman version of the legend seemingly localize to
(A "college student" version appeared on the Internet in May 1996. By the fall of that year it had became tangled around both the University of Texas at Austin's newspaper, the Daily Texan and someone who worked there as an administrative assistant who came to be misidentified as the editor of that paper in this much-forwarded
1997 saw the "New Orleans" version kick-start what had previously been stuck in
There is no 100% reliable way to pinpoint where an urban legend comes from, what (if any) "true life" event kicks it off. Birth records aren't kept for urban legends, and the pursuit of the debunker boils down to working backwards in an attempt to trace the oft-times tenuous, oft-times non-existent, thread from where it now is back to where it once was.
All of this is by way of introduction to my theory on the origins of this legend. The plot of the
And then I found the following. These horrific claims made by a Turkish man who'd been brought to Britain to sell a kidney are excerpted from a
Far from being a victim, Koc was one of a willing consignment of four Turks who sold a kidney that day. The removals/transplants took place in Britain in 1988, and in January 1989 Koc went on record in Turkey with his tale of organ abduction, likely in an effort to get the organ brokers who'd handled his case into trouble with Turkish authorities. (Which he succeeded in doing — one of the two brothers who'd arranged the sale was charged in January 1989 and sentenced to two years in jail in May of that year as a result of Koc's testimony. Koc received a two-year suspended sentence for his part in the illegal sale.)
Yet it was not until
Justice was eventually served, and Koc's advertisement in a Turkish newspaper offering to sell one of his kidneys came to light. Even so, his story made quite the splash at the time it hit the papers. Consider how you would react to the following, from the
As mentioned earlier, the legend has changed from its early days and now includes such up-to-date frills as instructions to call 911 and
This panic-stricken reaction takes its toll, and the 1997
It's not just the
The Austin man, whose name and phone numbers are affixed to the bottom of the "Travelers Beware!" message, would certainly agree. Call his number nowadays and you'll get this recorded message: "If you're calling about the story on the Internet, I did not place it."
As many urban legends do, this one plays upon our fears. Fear of travelling to distant cities and thus being out of our element. Fear of being ill and desperate. And, most of all, fear of becoming the victim of random crime. We picture that man waking up in a bathtub filled with ice, and we see ourselves in his place.
It's not a nice picture.
Barbara "a little organ muse (sick)" Mikkelson
Update: In 1995, India's parliament passed a bill limiting organ donations to close relatives and imposing prison terms of up to seven years for selling an organ. But in Uttar Pradesh and a string of other states where the law has not been ratified by state legislatures, middlemen continue to track poor people in need of quick money and coax them to operating tables. In such instances, these paid donors receive about $1,000, more than a year's salary for a rural Indian laborer. Those receiving the stolen kidneys typically pay about $6,000 to $10,000 for the organ and the transplant operation.
Still, news accounts from India occasionally surface reporting claims that doctors have been arrested for stealing kidneys (either through trickery or force) from unsuspecting citizens. Such claims are difficult to evaluate given the typical lack of any follow-ups in the Western press, but other sources suggest the usual result is that charges are dropped or reduced when investigations determine that the claimants entered into voluntary agreements to sell their kidneys (and later leveled criminal accusations because they regretted their decisions or were disgruntled with the size of the payments they had received).
In May 1998 three surgeons and seven others at the Noida Medicare Center in Uttar Pradesh, India were arrested for tricking indigents out of their kidneys. According to charges made against them, members of this group approached various unemployed men, holding out the promise of jobs and offering to connect them with those doing the hiring. Victims were advised that a medical examination was required; they submitted and then were told something correctable by a small operation had turned up in the exam. During the operation and unknown to the patients, one of their kidneys would be removed for resale. Afterwards, nothing further would come of the job offer.
In January 2008, several people were arrested in the Indian city of Gurgaon for allegedly luring hundreds of laborers to an underground medical facility in that area by promising them jobs, then duping or forcing them into "donating" their kidneys for transplant into wealthy clients. However, police later determined that the primary complainant's kidneys were both intact.
| Debunking the Kidney Heist Hoax |
(United Network for Organ Sharing)
| Organ Donation Hurt by Story of Kidney Heist |
(United Network for Organ Sharing)
This legend also shows up as the plot of the 1993 movie The Harvest. You'll also find it in the 1998 Will Christopher Baer novel Kiss Me, Judas, and it makes a gruesome appearance in the 1998 slasher classic Urban Legend. The 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back includes a sequence during which one of the lead characters dreams he wakes up in a tub of ice after selling one of his kidneys.
The 6 February 2006 episode of the TV series Las Vegas (titled "Urban Legends") references this legend when Danny and Mike enter one of the Montecito's hotel rooms to discover a man missing a kidney lying in a bathtub full of ice.
Last updated: 12 March 2008
Beelman, Maud. "Body Parts Needed for Transplants." Los Angeles Times. 16 July 1989 (p. A1). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Baby Train. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN 0-393-31208-9 (pp. 149-154, 247). Chakravarty, Sayantan and Sanjay Kumar Jha. "Kidney Racket: Bizarre Return." India Today. 15 June 1998 (p. 59). de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (pp. 26-27, 223-232). Fletcher, David. "Turk 'Lost Kidney in Hospital He Thought Was Hotel.'" The Daily Telegraph. 9 December 1989 (p. 3). Halpin, Tony. "Transplant Surgeons 'Stole My Kidney.'" Press Association Newsfile. 8 December 1989. Helm, Hunt. "'Cash-For-Kidneys' Uproar Hits Humana Hospital in England." The Courier-Journal. 4 February 1989 (p. A1). Scott, Bill. Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends. St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996. ISBN 0-7022-2774-9 (p. 75). Scrutton, Alistair. "Kidney Racket Scandal Shocks Country." Reuters 28 January 2008. Young, John and David Sapsted. "Kidney Doctor Defiant After Being Struck Off." The [London] Times. 5 April 1990. The Economist. "Organ Transplants; Parts Wanted." 28 January 1989 (p. 57). Financial Times. "Kidney Man 'An Invalid.'" 9 December 1989 (p. 1). The New York Times. "India Holds 10 in Plot to Steal Kidneys." 12 May 1998 (p. A8). The Record. "Turk Arrested in Kidney Sales." 24 January 1989 (p. D11). Reuters. "Turkish Farmworker Weeps About 'Stolen Kidney.'" 8 December 1989. Reuters. "Turkish Middleman in Human Kidney Trade Jailed." 18 May 1989. Reuters. "Turk Accused Over London Kidney Transplant." 25 January 1989. The Times of India. "Kidney Racket: Complainant's Kidneys Intact." 19 February 2008. Xinhua News. "Turk Tells How His Kidney Was 'Stolen.'" 8 December 1989. Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Manias and Delusions. Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992. ISBN 0-8094-7731-9 (pp. 31-32).
Also told in:
Fiery, Ann. The Complete and Totally True Book of Urban Legends. Philadelphia: Running Press Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7624-107404 (pp. 57-62). Holt, David and Bill Mooney. Spiders in the Hairdo. Little Rock: August House, 1999. ISBN 0-87483-525-9 (pp. 81-82). Roeper, Richard. Urban Legends. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1999. ISBN 1-56414-418-6 (pp. 17-21). The Big Book of Urban Legends. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (p. 154).