Except for a small poster of the Grateful Dead rock band, there’s very little to indicate what happens behind the walled-in industrial compound in East Los Angeles owned by Vidal and Vicki Herrera.

The only hint a casual observer might have is when a white Hummer pulls in or out of the driveway, the words “1-800-AUTOPSY” in bold black lettering on its side.

“They say dead men tell no tales, but I disagree,” says Vidal Hererra, a veteran autopsy technician.

And he should know. Hererra and his wife Vicki, the owners and creators of 1-800-AUTOPSY, a mom-and-pop business that provides private post-mortem examinations, hear tales from the dead every day – tales of drug abuse, poisonings, violence and medical malpractice.

Hererra’s business is one that might give many the chills, but he insists it’s a business with a red-hot future.

Autopsies used to be a normal procedure for deaths in U.S. hospitals, mainly to understand fully the cause of patients’ deaths. But the growth of managed health care plans has brought cutbacks, and these days only 2 to 5 percent of deaths are autopsied in hospitals, compared with about 50 percent of deaths in the 1970s. But demand remains constant, Hererra notes: Family members still want to know why their loved ones died.

“Death is, in fact, a recession-proof business – it just never stops,” said Hererra.

Photo by 1-800-AUTOPSY.

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