Barbara Mastromarino’s picture-perfect life with her dental surgeon husband Michael Mastromarino and two kids crumbled to dust when she learned of her husband’s ghastly illegal activities. Everything she thought her life was turned out to be a lie.
Barbara and Michael got married on May 23, 1992, and Barbara felt like she was marrying her dream man. They had first met when Michael was still in dental school. They dated for three years while he finished his schooling. They had two sons together: Michael Jr. and Jerry.
Michael was a good father, but he didn’t spend much time at home because he was always working as a craniofacial surgeon in NYC. He made millions because he developed a reputation of being one of the best surgeons in his specialty. The couple was soon able to purchase a huge mansion in New Jersey where they lived an affluent dream life. However, looking back, Barbara would have taken it all back if she had known what was really going on.
A dangerous problem
One day Barbara witnessed Michael in a terrible state after he had shot up some drugs. She found this behavior to be out of character. Barbara looked in the bathroom and found fentanyl, Demerol, and dirty used needles and tissues hidden in his toiletry bag.
The next day Michael acted like nothing had happened, and Barbara trusted that he had everything under control. Things were not under control, and in just a few weeks Barbara received a call from one of Michael’s associates who was concerned because he had just walked into an operating room and found a patient there under anesthesia waiting for surgery, but Michael wasn’t there. He was in the bathroom passed out.
That same day Michael came home drugged up and bloody. Their kids were shocked to see their dad in this state. His business partners asked him to go to rehab before he came back to work. He had put a patient’s life in danger, and it wasn’t safe for him to continue working.
Michael was supposed to stay at rehab for three weeks, but he only last for three days because he thought he was better than the other people there and was smarter than the doctors. Still, Barbara thought that he seemed like he had been able to get things together. She believed him because she wanted to believe him.
Three weeks later, at Jerry’s third birthday, Michael didn’t come home. Barbara put on an act for her kids so they wouldn’t know anything was wrong. Later that night, Barbara found most of Michael’s drug paraphernalia and waited for him to come home. When he finally did come home, he saw Barbara and started sobbing. She wanted to uphold her vows and get through his drug struggles with him, but unfortunately, there was much more going on with Michael.
A month later, the day before Mike’s sixth birthday, Michael didn’t come home again. Barbara got the feeling that she should go search for him, so she set out in the car with her two kids. She ran into a scene with a dozen police cars around a car split in half around a telephone pole. Michael was there, alive and in handcuffs. He had been arrested for possession and distribution of cocaine and Demerol. The car had been driven by a woman.
Again, Michael promised to change, and Barbar took him back. He spent two hours professing his love for her. She found it hard to trust him, but she wanted his love. “Love messes a girl up and that’s what it does,” Barbara says in the Investigation Discovery show Love, Honor, Betray. “His love just messed me up.”
A career change
Because remaining in the dental surgery profession constantly exposed him to the drugs he was abusing, he decided on a career change. He decided to go into the tissue recovery business, where tissues are surgically removed from dead bodies to help people like burn victims.
Barbara remembers Michael being “happy and vibrant” after he founded his new business: Biomedical Tissue Services. She felt like she had her husband back. Barbara was sure that their future was bright and all the pain and stumbles were in the past, but there was still trouble ahead.
One day the FBI raided his office. Michael called Barbara to tell her but claimed he had no idea why they were there.
In 2004, police got a call about a Brooklyn funeral home that was sold to a new owner, who had discovered something odd. The second floor had a hole in the floor where bodies could be pushed onto an operating table. Michael’s business Biomedical Tissue Services had operated there, in the funeral home.
Harvesting tissues was a legal business, but operating tables are usually not in funeral homes. Police looked at the consent forms that gave permission to harvest the tissue, but data like names and addresses were wrong. They started contacting the relatives and found that no one had given consent to have their deceased family member be an anatomical donation.
What Michael was doing was described as “Body Snatching” by the tabloids, and Michael himself was described as a “ghoul.” Barbara found out about her husband’s body stealing charges on the news. There were a whopping 1000 counts against him. She didn’t understand how he could have done something like this. She felt sorry for him because he was recovering from such a crippling addiction.
Police had to exhume bodies to find out what tissues were missing. They found missing legs replaced by PVC pipes to fool the relatives so they wouldn’t know their family member’s body had been cut out and sold.
It was also found that the deceased people’s cause of death had been fudged. Patients who had died from hepatitis or cancer were changed to simply “natural causes” on paperwork. Certain causes of death can have disastrous results for the recipient of the tissues.
Michael later brazenly admitted to his cousin that he had taken people’s bodies without anyone’s consent. In court, he pled guilty to enterprise corruption, reckless endangerment, and body stealing. His illegal business was worth $4.6 million dollars. He was sentenced to 18-30 years in prison.
Barbara felt an intense rage inside when he admitted what he had been doing to her. She also felt completely crushed. She once saw him as her dream man, and now saw him as a monster. Barbara was left with a huge amount of debt and she had her sons have changed their last names to Reifel. She felt immense relief when she finally divorced him. The severing of the tie made her feel safe and secure. She has since written a book about her experience called The Body Snatcher’s Wife: My Life with a Monster (affiliate link.)