Austrian customs officials shocked to find human intestine in woman's checked baggage

WASHINGTON (THE WASHINGTON POST) - Customs officials are employed to ensure travellers don't pop from country to country with dangerous items like firearms, bombs or even illegal animals.

So, officials in Graz, the capital city of the Austrian province of Styria, weren't exactly sure what to do when they inspected a bag and found a four-inch piece of human intestine residing there as if it were a pair of socks or a travel-sized toothbrush.

They found the intestine on Sept 8 while conducting a routine check of checked baggage entering Austria at Flughafen Graz-Thalerhof, the airport in Graz.

The entrails, which had been tightly packed in plastic containers and were bathing in formaldehyde, were found in the baggage of a 35-year-old Moroccan woman, according to the Associated Press. The woman, who has not been publicly named, was returning from Morocco to Graz, where she had lived for the past eight years.

The situation grew even stranger - which seemed impossible - when the officials asked the Moroccan woman why she was jetsetting around the Eastern Hemisphere carrying jars of human organs in her luggage.

The woman answered this question through her lawyer, Anton Karner, on Tuesday.

As it turned out, the intestine belonged to her late husband, who recently died. His passing came soon after the couple shared a meal with the man's family, who stood in stark opposition to their marriage.

At the time, the Associated Press noted, authorities in Morocco said the man died from intestinal obstruction. The BBC reported that his death occurred during an operation.

The woman, though, wasn't convinced.

She thought the family might have poisoned her husband in an attempt to put a finite end to their union. But she had no idea how to investigate these suspicions. So she visited a doctor in Marrakesh, the city in eastern Morocco where the couple had been vacationing and visiting relatives.

The doctor agreed with her suspicions, Karner told the New York Times, so he resected a small piece of the deceased man's intestine and gave it to her along with the suggestion that she bring it to Europe for testing.

Gerald Hofler, the head of the pathology department of Medizinische Universitat Graz, told the New York Times he believes that doctor then packed the intestine into the two thick plastic containers for safekeeping during her trip.

"I would imagine that it was done by a pathologist," Hofler said. "It was absolutely secure, triple wrapped, according to European Union norms."

As for the Austrian customs officials, they called the police to see if the woman was in any legal hot water. As it turned out, according to Styria police spokesman Leo Josefus, there are no laws on the books about transporting a sample of one's dead spouse's organs into Austria.

The entrails, meanwhile, have been sent to Hofler's clinic for testing. Results are expected as early as next week.