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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Kenneth Douglas: The Morgue Employee From Hell

     First you are murdered, then your corpse is sexually abused. This represents the ultimate victimization. Having sex with a dead person, while a relatively minor crime, reflects behavior that is beyond deviant, and worse than bad. It's disturbing to know the world is populated with sexual deviants like Kenneth Douglas who can commit their disgusting acts for years without detection. While dead victims cannot speak, advances in forensic science has given them a voice. It's that voice that brought Mr. Douglas to justice.

     From 1976 to 1992 Kenneth Douglas worked the night shift at the Hamilton County Morgue in Cincinnati Ohio. According to his wife who reported him several times to his morgue supervisors, when he'd undress at home after work he "reeked of alcohol and sex." Eventually morgue officials told Mrs. Douglas to stop calling. Apparently they were not interested in knowing if one of their morgue employees was abusing corpses and contaminating evidence. When the 38-year-old left the morgue in 1992 it was not because officials fired him. He simply stopped showing up for work. The situation at the Hamilton County Morgue reflected a typical example of governmental inertia.

     In 1982, ten years before Kenneth Douglas left the morgue, door-to-door salesman David Steffan confessed to beating and slashing the throat of 19-year-old Karen Range after she invited him into her home. The forensic pathologist found traces of semen in the murder victim's body. Mr. Steffen denied that he had raped the victim. (This was before the science of DNA identification.) The judge sentenced David Steffen to death. (In 2016 a federal judge re-sentenced Steffen to life in prison plus 19 years.)

     In March 2008 police officers arrested Kenneth Douglas, the former morgue employee, on a drug charge. A detective ran his DNA sample through a database and came up with a match. The semen found in Karen Range's body was his.

     Following his indictment for abuse of a corpse in August 2008 Kenneth Douglas pleaded no contest to the charge. The judge sentenced him to three years in prison.

     Four years later investigators in Cincinnati discovered that Douglas' DNA matched semen that had been found in two other female corpses in the Hamilton County Morgue. One of these cases involved 24-year-old April Hicks who died in October 1991 after falling out of a three-story window. Kenneth Douglas, when confronted with the DNA evidence, admitted having sex with her body on the day she died.

     The other case involved the 1992 murder of 23-year-old Charlene Appling. Douglas confessed to having sex with her corpse as well. (In 1993 Mark Chambers pleaded guilty to strangling Charlene Appling. Sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison Chambers was paroled in 2000.)

     Kenneth Douglas shocked his interrogators by confessing to having sex with more than 100 Hamilton County corpses during his tenure at the morgue. He blamed his deviant behavior on crack cocaine and booze. 

     In 2012 relatives of Karen Range, Charlene Appling and April Hicks sued Hamilton County in federal court. The plaintiffs accused the defendant of "recklessly and wantonly" neglecting to supervise Mr. Douglas. In 2013 a U.S. district judge dismissed the suit on grounds the plaintiffs, while perhaps victims of negligence on the part of morgue administrators, had failed to establish that their constitutional rights had been violated. The plaintiffs appealed that ruling.

     In August 2014 a three-judge panel on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision. This meant that the civil case could go forward against Hamilton County.

     In February 2015 Hamilton County settled the abuse of corpse lawsuit by paying the plaintiffs $800,000.

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