In August 2018, an article recounting a grisly discovery during a police raid in Bloomington, Illinois, appeared on a website purporting to be affiliated with the Fox News Channel.
The report said a local mortician was being held for psychiatric evaluation in connection with charges of organ trafficking:
Police made an astonishing discovery this morning while executing a search warrant at the residence of a Bloomington mortician: 218 embalmed human penises.
Authorites [sic] suspected 54-year old Paul Houston, an employee of the McLean County Coroner’s Office, of being implicated in an organ trafficking network.
Investigating several reports of missing organs and body parts, dozens of police raided his residence this Monday morning, hoping to find evidence of his involvement in the crimes.
What they found on the site was a lot more disturbing than what they expected, as the Police spokesman Andy Ramirez described the scene in an interview with WMBD.
“There were shelves everywhere, filled with hundreds of glass jars. Each of them contained a penis floating in formalin.”
The article included an image that appeared to be a screen capture of a version of the story broadcast on the Fox News Channel:
Several aspects of the story raised doubts about its legitimacy, however. For starters, the article referenced an interview with a police spokesman named Andy Ramirez which supposedly aired on WMBD, a Bloomington television station. We were unable to find any record of a Bloomington police spokesperson by that name, nor evidence that WMBD had interviewed anyone by that name in connection with any recent police investigations. We were also unable to find the named suspect, Paul Houston, listed as a staff member on the web page of the McLean County Coroner’s Office.
In point of fact, in a statement to Cities 92.9 (a Bloomington radio station), County Coroner Kathy Donovan-Davis said that no person by that name had worked there in the entire history of the McLean County Coroner’s Office. When asked if organ harvesting is going on in Bloomington or McLean County, Donovan-Davis replied, “No, there is not.” The first anyone in her office heard of the alleged incident was when the phones “blew up” with calls from upset citizens, she said: “People actually believed the fake news, which is really sad.”
One clue that ought to have alerted readers to the hoax was the URL of the spoof website: foxnews-us.com (the legitimate URL of Fox News Channel’s website is www.foxnews.com).
Also, the story may have had a familiar ring to some of our readers. A search of our fact-check archive turned up a similar fabricated news item from 2017: “FBI Seizes Over 3,000 Penises During Raid at Morgue Employee’s Home.”
The mugshot of the supposed perpetrator has been used to illustrate a number of junk news stories on various sites in the past, including one from EmpireNews.net in June 2018:
Bleich, James. “Bloomington Police Discover Over 200 Penises During Raid at Funeral Employee’s Home.”
Foxnews-us.com. 22 August 2018.
Cities 92.9. “Coroner: Online Story Regarding Harvesting of Organs, Penises in Bloomington Is a Hoax.”
Accessed 23 August 2018.