The Los Angeles Coroner's office has the serious task of investigating sudden, violent or unusual deaths in Los Angeles County. But, the office also runs a gift shop with some macabre gifts, as VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
The idea for the shop began in 1993, with the sale of some coffee mugs and t-shirts at a conference. Today, the coroner's gift shop, called Skeletons in the Closet, sells 100 items, many with the copyrighted logo of the chalk outline of a body on the ground.
A marketing analyst for the coroner's office, James Hazlett, says the shop offers educational and gift items, some serious and some with a twist of dark humor.
"Windbreakers, jackets, t-shirts, polo shirts that have the official seal on them, as well as our coroner's shirt - a black shirt with big, bold yellow writing on it," said Hazlett. "It is also one of our more popular items. And then anything with the body outline, the chalk outline, which is our logo, sells really well."
The body logo is printed on beach towels, baseball caps and gift bags. Shoppers can also buy yellow plastic tape, like the tape used by the coroner to mark off crime scenes. They may also buy a book on the human body or a Christmas ornament with the coroner's seal.
A humorous sign warns shoplifters that their next of kin will be notified, if they are caught stealing, and another says dental records, often used to identify bodies, are acceptable identification for making purchases.
Shop manager Edna Pareyda says customers like the humor. Some place orders over the Internet, and others come in person, from many different countries.
"And, they are surprised," said Pareyda. "People are very surprised that we have a gift shop here. But, last week, I had London, Australia, France, people come from everywhere, everywhere."
James Hazlett says the coroner's office has the serious task of investigating 10,000 deaths a year, including those of gunshot and accident victims.
The office also works with the courts to provide educational programs for drunk drivers and people involved in weapons incidents. Revenues from the shop, about $250,000 a year, help finance those programs.
Downstairs from the gift shop is the county morgue, where bodies are brought for autopsies and investigation. Hazlett says the scene is sobering, with many victims under the age of 30.
"If you go down to our service floor, where the decedents are, nine times out of 10, it is not somebody that is older," he said. "It is somebody my age or younger that just died in a tragic accident. So, we really want people to think about putting on their seat belt, driving a little slower, being safe out there, because those things definitely do help."
And he says that, with some humor, the gift shop reminds people just how fragile life is, while supporting a good cause.