Death Takes A Sideline

California Lawyer — Friday, 1 July 1994

After the Los Angeles County Coroner's office raised its prices for private autopsies last year, business has been booming for Vidal Herrera's Autopsy/Post Services, the area's only commercial autopsy service. Autopsies conducted at the discretion of the county coroner are free. BMost of his customers are attorneys seeking evidence for medical malpractice actions or criminal defense cases.

“I do Johnnie Cochran's autopsies,” Herrera shouts into the phone over an ominous sawing sound, which, he explains, is an assistant going to work on a spinal cord. In L.A.'s Latino community, where he often performs autopsies for free, he is called El Muerto.

Herrera spent more than 20 years as a “death care” worker for Los Angeles County. Among his claims to fame are assisting with the autopsies on the Hillside Strangler and Skidrow Slasher cases and finding a fingerprint on a window that helped nab Richard Ramirez, L.A.'s “nightstalker” serial killer. In 1984, Herrera suffered a back injury and was considered unemployable. In 1988, Autopsy/Post Services was born. He has purchased his own 800-AUTOPSY number and says he intends to start franchising soon.