Broward News

Top Broward County Coroner Dismissed After $500 Stolen From a Corpse

Cedrick Carnell Camper, Jr., died with $500 in his sock. That was only the beginning.

On Friday, May 27, as medical students from Nova Southeastern University watched, five staff members from the Broward County morgue examined his body. One noticed something protruding from the sock.

Deputy chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Steckbauer, a Davie resident and Air Force veteran with three years at the coroner’s office, placed the money in a manila envelope, according to a police report. He sealed it with evidence tape. Later that afternoon, he realized the envelope was missing. He retraced his steps, thoroughly searched the morgue, and x-rayed the body. But he couldn’t find the money.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office investigated, but more than a month later, no arrests have been made. Steckbauer was dismissed from the office four days after the theft occurred.

“If it’s true,” Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes says, “it’s the most troubling allegation I’ve ever heard of involving a government official. There’s a sanctity involved in someone’s death.”

Neither Steckbauer nor the coroner’s office responded to New Times’ calls or emails. It’s unclear why Camper had $500 in his sock.

According to the BSO, Steckbauer reported that some unnamed former coworkers “advised him that this was potentially an inside job to set Dr. Stockbauer [sic] up for termination purposes.”

Why was the veteran MD fired? Who, if anyone, set him up? It’s not clear.

"There’s a sanctity involved in someone’s death."

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The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office has 42 staffers and a budget of more than $6 million per year. It investigates 1,706 deaths per year. Coroners have found themselves identifying body parts found inside alligators, determining the cause of death for casino bosses and Playboy playmates, and conducting autopsies on 17-year-old models, suicidal cult members, and Major League Baseball players.

The previous chief medical examiner, Joshua Perper, was a frequent guest on national TV. In 2007, he told  Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, and Larry King about the death of Anna Nicole Smith, who overdosed on a combination of sedatives and antidepressants at the Hard Rock Hotel. He was ousted not long after he misclassified the death of a wealthy widow as a slip-and-fall accident when she’d been hit on the head with a monkey wrench.

Perper had campaigned against prescription drug abuse, but his own son was charged with racketeering and drug trafficking in a pain clinic raid. After he left, Broward’s Office of the Inspector General found that more than 2,000 pain pills confiscated in cases of suspicious death had gone missing while he was in charge. So had $3,000 belonging to a deceased person. The report also noted someone had been keeping dolls which they planned to sell on eBay in a room used for storing body tissue.

The new chief medical examiner, Craig Mallak, is best known as the guy who identified Saddam Hussein’s body. Recently, he’s faced criticism from the Florida Bulldog over the fact that evidence more than a year old has been thrown out. Neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers are happy. “If there’s new technology that becomes available in the future that makes that blood or tissue relevant, you can’t use those samples because now they’ve been destroyed,” Gordon Weekes of the Public Defender’s Office says. “I don’t understand putting the procedural policy over due process.”

Steckbauer’s personnel file shows he worked for the medical examiner’s office for three years after attending med school at the University of Nevada and doing a stint in the Air Force. The Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission has no records of complaints about him. He consistently received positive performance reviews. His most recent evaluation, dated August 25, 2015, noted, “With time, he will be an outstanding chief deputy and, if so desired, a chief medical examiner some day.” His termination letter did not state why he was dismissed.

His salary was $210,000 per year. He couldn’t have been that desperate for an easy $500. Right?
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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.