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Until 1985 Indian bone dealers exported thousands of medical skeletons. Now the trade has gone underground.

Until 1985 Indian bone dealers exported thousands of medical skeletons. Now the trade has gone underground. Read More
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Funding Unsuccessful

This project's funding goal was not reached on April 10, 2011.

About this project

Since the mid-1800's Calcutta, India has been the world's primary supplier for human skeletons to university medical programs. Every year aspiring medical students would purchase a whole human skeleton for about $300 along with their introductory textbooks. In 1985 the Indian government shut down the multi-million dollar industry after reports started surfacing that Calcutta's bone dealers were robbing graves to meet demand. 

In 2007 I wrote an article in Wired magazine called "Inside India's Underground Trade in Human Remains" that explored the roots of the bone business and uncovered unscrupulous dealers who had chosen to ignore the ban and operate illegally. That story, along with several other investigations into illegal markets for human bodies will appear in my forthcoming book "The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers" which comes out in June 2011. 

It has been a while since I have been back to Calcutta to investigate the bone business, but over the years several production companies have approached me with interest in doing a documentary on the subject. However there is a steep bar to entry to getting a movie made, and in order to sell the idea I need to make a really snazzy trailer that will get their attention. The trailer above doesn't quite cut it. I'm going to need footage from India. Hopefully the good people at Kickstarter can make it happen. 

For the documentary I want to follow the story of Marshall Cordell a former anatomical specimen salesman in America who made almost a $1 million selling medical skeletons in the 1980s. When the industry in India collapsed he feared prosecution for being unwittingly involved in an international crime.  So he burned his records and changed his business into a Halloween supply store. Now Marshall wants to go back to Calcutta to make his peace with the past and see the roots of a business that he profited on. 

Marshall has agreed to come with me on a trip, but there's a catch. At this point it has been five years since I was last in the region and by now all of the old bone factories have moved to new underground locations, bone dealers have grown tight lipped and their international liaisons have become more circumspect.  So, in short, I need to reinvestigate my old leads and see if filming this project is even possible.  

$15,000 should get me enough to hire a film crew to chase down some of those old leads, hire a film editor to cut a great trailer and provide the foundation for what I hope will be a great film.  The total budget to complete the documentary is probably around $150,000, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. 

And kickstarter, I can't do this without you.   You're my only hope. 

For more information about me. I'll be blogging about the project on my website at and you can get more information about who I am and what I do at


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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10 USD

    A special thank you postcard from the filmmaker, either sent from Los Angeles, of possibly from India during filming. You will also get updates on the project digitally as it comes along.

    2 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25 USD

    A set of exclusive desktop images from the filming. This will be a digital gallery of some of the best, most intimate, and disturbing moments that might not make it into the film.

    1 backer
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $30 or more About $30 USD

    A hard cover copy of "Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal" by Connor Grennan. It's a heart rending romp to rescue children who were trafficked in Nepal's civil war.

    Limited 0 backers
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50 USD

    An advance copy of my first book "The Red Market" before its official launch date in June. Get to read it in hard cover before the rest of the country gets to peek at the tales of skeleton sellers in west Bengal, blood thieves on the Nepal border, egg sellers in Cyprus and stolen kidneys in China. Definitely the best (and only) book that I've ever written. (I can't send out the "Little Princes" as well though, this is an either/or situation.)

    Limited 8 backers
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $75 or more About $75 USD

    I'll autograph the inside cover of "The Red Market" and draw you a picture by hand of anything you like. Want a Narwhal riding in a sea of bacon? You've got it. A creepy skeleton? Done. All in my incredibly shaky and, frankly, not incredibly good, hand. Or, I'll write you a note inside.

    2 backers
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $80 or more About $80 USD

    Both "Little Princes" AND "The Red Market"

    0 backers
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    All the shwag (until the books run out) from above plus this amazing Captain Fantastic T-shirt that I picked up in my most recent trip to Bangladesh It comes in three colors - blue, brown and pink. Pink being my favorite.

    Limited 1 backer
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $170 or more About $170 USD

    A skull with cervical vertebrae from Marshal Cordell's anatomical supply shop (still in business after all these years!). If you want, I"ll even ask him to sign it for you. This is a plastic model, but it will look handsome on any desk or bookshelf. Here's a link to the actual product (you'll have to past it)

    Limited 0 backers
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250 USD

    Something special that I pick out just for you from Calcutta's anatomical supply stores. I really can't say what yet, because those places are crazy. The only thing I can promise is that it will be legal, and vaguely medical. Perhaps a plastic skeleton. Or an anatomy textbook. Who knows. Oh, and plus all the stuff up above.

    0 backers
  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500 USD

    My very personal special thanks. You get credited in the movie. And all the great stuff up above. If you want to give even more, come and call me and we can talk about what works for you!

    1 backer
  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $10,000 About $10,000 USD

    A real human skeleton. Perhaps robbed from a grave, perhaps gotten ethically, you never know. Ok, this actually isn't for real. But if you give $10k you'll get something just as cool

    Limited 0 backers

Funding period

- (30 days)