True Crime Thursday – Eyes of a Killer

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By Debbie Burke



April is National Donate Life Month to promote the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation. I covered this subject in an article for Montana Senior News. While researching, I spoke with people who had either been recipients of donations or surviving family members who agreed to donate organs, corneas, or tissue from their deceased loved ones.

The stories were bittersweet but also heartwarming. A recurring theme ran through them: the worst day for one family is the best day for another family.


Miranda Denison with the tools of her trade.

A major source for my article was a woman named Miranda Denison, one of six people in Montana with the unusual job of harvesting corneas. When someone dies, she or one of her colleagues goes to the hospital or funeral home to remove the thin, dime-shaped tissue that gives sight. She carefully packages it, then arranges transportation to an eye bank. There, the corneas are medically evaluated and, if viable, sent to hospitals to be transplanted. The surgery has a 95% success rate of restoring vision.

Miranda’s duties are similar to that of a coroner or medical examiner. She undresses bodies and thoroughly examines them, draws blood and other fluids for lab analysis, makes note of injuries, scars, tattoos, needle tracks, and signs of trauma or disease that might affect whether or not the corneas can be transplanted. For instance, IV drug users are excluded as donors, as are people with hepatitis C or who are HIV positive.

Donors’ and recipients’ identities are confidential but a transplant coordinator can act as an intermediary. This allows recipients to send thanks to the surviving donor family. With consent from both parties, they may communicate directly with each other, often forming lasting friendships because of the gift of life that connects them.

What does this have to do with True Crime Thursday?

Sometimes donors are victims of crimes. In such cases, recovery of organs takes place at the crime lab in Missoula, Montana.

Sometimes donors are perpetrators of the crime.

In the early morning hours of January 19, 2022, Kirk Brown, 48, shot and killed his dog and his mother, Florence Brown, 79, in the home they shared in Big Arm, Montana. Then he turned the gun on himself. He didn’t die immediately and was transported to a hospital where he later succumbed to his injury. The case was ruled a homicide/suicide.

Kirk Brown was a registered organ donor. Recovering his corneas was an especially grisly task because of the gunshot wound. Although Miranda didn’t work this particular case, she was familiar with it because her colleague handled it at the Missoula crime lab.

Miranda knows I write thrillers. After she told me about the case, we started talking about fictional possibilities.

If someone received the eyes of a killer, how would that affect them? Would they view life and people differently? Would they take on characteristics of the murderer?

The concept is not new. A 1920 French novel, Les Mains d’Orlac (The Hands of Orlac) explored the idea of transplanted body parts. After an assassin is executed by guillotine, his hands are attached to a pianist who had lost his in an accident. The pianist begins to commit crimes because he cannot control the grafted hands. That story inspired several horror films, including Hands of a Stranger (1962).

Other films, including Body Parts (1991), In the Eyes of Killer (2009), told stories of characters who develop criminal characteristics after receiving parts from a murderer.

I’ve never written horror or sci-fi/fantasy. But the idea of a killer’s eyes intrigues me. I may have to give it a whirl.

Kirk Brown’s corneas were indeed successfully transplanted—the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud.

Thanks, Miranda, for introducing us to your unusual occupation and for triggering my imagination. 


TKZers: What are some other works of fiction or movies where transplanted body parts are the basis for the story?

How about the opposite scenario? Do you know of fiction where an evil character receives a good person’s organs that redeem the bad guy?



Today is launch day for the seventh book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

An innocent father in prison. A guilty rapist set free. A surprise son from the past.

Investigator Tawny Lindholm and her attorney-husband Tillman Rosenbaum juggle three baffling cases where DNA is supposed to prove guilt or innocence. Instead, it reveals deception and betrayal, triggering a crisis in their marriage and an unimaginable threat to their family.

You can buy UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY from Amazon and major booksellers.

This entry was posted in #truecrimethursday, book launch, coroner, Writing by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, Flight to Forever, and Until Proven Guilty. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

28 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – Eyes of a Killer

  1. Thanks for sharing, Debbie. I know I’ve read stories where body transplants figure prominently — it’s a minor motif in the horror genre — but I can’t recall a specific title. I’ll, um, have to keep an eye out for one…

    • Rim shot, Joe!

      As a kid, I remember lurid movie posters advertising Hands of a Stranger and similar horror films. I was always too chicken to watch them.

      BTW, if you ever need a hand, let me know 😉

  2. This might be a little flippant, but there was a Simpson’s episode where the local criminal, Snake, was executed for murder and his body parts were harvested. Homer got his hair which insinuated itself into his brain. It turned him into Snake and he exacted Snake’s revenge on the people who turned him in. It eventually targeted Bart as the only independent witness to the original murder. Homer resisted, and the hair detached itself from Homer’s brain and tried to kill Bart itself. The police arrived and the shot up the hair until it expired. The Simpson’s has the best satire on television.

  3. Good morning, Debbie. Very interesting post. And lots of potential for plots in future stories. I don’t have any titles to add to your list, sorry.

    Congratulations on the launch of Until Proven Guilty. I bought it this morning and look forward to reading it.

  4. Congrats on release day, Debbie! Wishing you many sales.
    I’ve read stories with organs being harvested, seen some television episodes, but can’t remember titles, of course. However, I searched my own blog archives and found this bit on a post I did about conflict:

    On an episode of “The Closer” the police had been searching for a serial killer. The twist was that organs were missing from the victims, and the victims all were suspected of being rapists. The police find their killer in the middle of performing a heart transplant in his inner-city clinic. (We’ll overlook the dramatic license with the credibility of a doctor performing this procedure single-handed. Then again, he wasn’t worried about saving the life of his “donor”—his goal was to harvest the heart.)

    So, the cops show up and want to arrest him. Should be simple. However, the previous scene was in a hospital, where a young child who had been on the waiting list for a new heart for some time was being prepped for surgery. The cops spoke to her parents who said they’d just about given up hope, when they’d gotten a call that someone had specifically donated a heart for their daughter. Without it, she was certain to die.

    This creates a choice the cops have to make. Do they stop the surgery, saving the life of the possible rapist on the table? If they arrest the doctor before he finishes his surgery, the child dies. If they wait, but follow the law, the heart becomes evidence and can’t possible be given to the child. Again, she dies.

    • Thanks, Terry.

      TV and film writers like to explore the ethical conflict of organ harvesting. I recall an episode–maybe on Law and Order?–about victims whose organs were removed to sell on the black market. But, as you mention in The Closer episode, the stories often require big-time suspension of disbelief.

      China has long been under fire for harvesting organs from prisoners, a practice which was outlawed in 2018.

      Lots of story fodder.

  5. Of course, one must mention that classic of American cinema The Thing With Two Heads (1971), starring Academy Award Winner (!) Ray Milland and former Rams football great Rosey Grier. Grier plays a guy on Death Row who avoids the electric chair by volunteering his body for some kind of experiment. That turns out to be the scheme of a mad, dying doctor (Milland) who wants his head attached to a donor body so he can continue his work.

    The movie is actually a comedy-horror with something on its mind, coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. You can get the gist by the hilarious ad line they had on the movie posters: They transplanted a white bigot’s head onto a soul brother’s body!

  6. There’s a movie from late 1990s/early 2000s where the protagonist suffers with visions of murder after receiving a serial killer’s eyes, but I can’t remember the title. Excellent flick. Jennifer’s [?]…hmm… If it comes to me, I’ll shoot you an email.

  7. Blindsight by Robin Cook focused on a conspiracy to murder young organ donors so their corneas could be harvested for a local crime lord who needs a transplant. Creepy!

  8. Oh yes! I just remembered a famous episode of Rod Serling’s The Night Gallery, that was the first thing directed by a kid named Spielberg. Joan Crawford starred as a wealthy New York woman who is blind, but who is told by a doc she can have sight for a few hours if they can get a set of eyes. She pays some hapless gambler who is in hock to give her his eyes (ick) and has the surgery. Now she shall be able to see! But when the bandages come off (it’s night) New York has a…blackout! She cannot see anything after all!

    Reportedly Crawford was outraged that she was going to be directed by a youngster with no credits. The brass prevailed upon her to give the kid a chance…and she recognized his talent from the start. (After directing more TV shows, Spielberg burst into prominence with the classic TV movie Duel.)

  9. Fascinating, Debbie. Not sure I’d believe the premise of “body parts” morphing a person into a clone of a bad guy, but it makes for a good story.

    One of my favorite movies is Face Off, where a bad guy (Nicolas Cage) switches faces with a cop (John Travolta). Then the bad guy moves in on the cop’s family, taking his place, and of course makes dastardly plans for the cop’s wife and daughter.

    Totally unbelievable, but I enjoyed it anyway. 🙂

  10. Congratulations, Debbie, on “Until Proven Guilty”! The link to Amazon is working and I got my copy.

    Does “Frankenstein” qualify for the most body parts donated in a single story?

  11. Congratulations on the release of your book!
    I was thinking about Frankenstein as I read the other comments, and then Kay mentioned him. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a horror film.

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