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Category Archives: Corpse Identification

Crime and Science Radio: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime: An Interview with Forensic Dentist Dr. Michael Tabor

Join Jan Burke and DP Lyle as they explore the world of forensic dentistry with Dr. Mike Tabor, Chief Forensic Dentist of the State of Tennessee Office for the Medical Examiner. Learn exactly how forensic dentistry aids in corpse identification and dig into some of Dr. Tabor’s most famous cases.

 

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BIO: In the spring of 1973, Mike Tabor embarked on a journey that would take him down a path he could have never imagined. With a freshly earned DDS, Dr. Mike Tabor left Carson-Newman College and The University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, and began his career as a family dentist. In 1983, Dr. Tabor’s work as a family dentist took a unique turn and he found himself immersed in the highly specialized field of forensic dentistry. As one of only a handful of forensic dentists in the United States, Dr. Tabor became a highly sought after expert in this field, performing identifications and examinations on homicide victims, as well as aiding police departments, investigators and medical examiners all over the Country in the prosecution of thousands of crimes.

In September of 2001, Dr. Tabor found himself in New York, at the site of the World Trade Center terror attacks, aiding in the identification of countless victims. For Mike Tabor, this infamous and historical event forever changed his life. As a forensic dentist, Mike was no stranger to the examination of deceased victims, but the horrors of September 11th would not allow Mike, the man, to separate himself from his work as Dr. Tabor, the forensic dentist. September 11, 2011 left a lasting and emotional impression on Mike and gave him a completely new perspective on life and loss.

Dr. Mike Tabor was a featured contributor and has written an entire chapter for the Internationally Accredited Textbook, Forensic Dentistry. He has served as the president of the Tennessee State Board of Dental Examiners, and is currently the Chief Forensic Dentist for The State of Tennessee Office of the Medical Examiner, and is an energetic, engaging and highly respected and sought after public speaker. He makes his home in Nashville, with his beautiful wife, Karen and their two snow white canine children, Mollie and Millie. He is the proud father of two grown children and the doting grandfather of seven adorable grandchildren.

LISTEN: 

LINKS:

Dr. Michael Tabor’s Website: http://www.drmiketabor.com

Dr. Michael Tabor’s Blog: http://www.drmiketabor.com/blog/

Walk Of Death: http://www.amazon.com/Walk-Of-Death-Forensic-Novel/dp/1490533737

American Society of Forensic Odontology: http://asfo.org

How Stuff Works: Forensic Dentistry: http://science.howstuffworks.com/forensic-dentistry.htm

Forensic Odontology: http://www.nlada.org/forensics/for_lib/Documents/1124743291.01/425lect16.htm

International Association for Identification: http://www.theiai.org/disciplines/odontology/

Forensic Dentistry Online: https://www.forensicdentistryonline.org

Medscape: Forensic Dentistry: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1771750-overview

Wikipedia: Forensic Dentistry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forensic_dentistry

Forensic Dentistry Careers: http://criminologycareers.about.com/od/Forensic-Science-Careers/a/Career-Profile-Forensic-Odontologist.htm

Animal and Human Bite Mark Analysis: http://www.forensic.to/webhome/bitemarks/

Crime Library: Bite Marks As Evidence: http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/bitemarks/1.html

Writers Forensics Blog: Guest Blogger: Dr. Mike Tabor: Anatomy Of A Forensic Dental Identification: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/guest-blogger-mike-tabor-anatomy-of-a-forensic-dental-identification/

 

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Crime and Science Radio: The Skeleton Crew: A Conversation with Deborah Halber

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The Skeleton Crew: A Conversation with Deborah Halber on the Amateurs Who Are Finding the Missing and Solving Cold Cases

For decades, all across the United States, tens of thousands of missing persons cases have grown cold. At the same time, a mounting number of unidentified remains have been discovered and have been stored in coroner’s offices or buried in potter’s fields. But the Internet has been changing all of that. We talk to Deborah Halber, about some of the challenges and changes in the world of the unidentified dead and those who try to name them.

BIO: Deborah Halber started out as a daily newspaper reporter, then turned to the dark side to do public relations. She worked as a writer and editor for Tufts and as a science writer for MIT, where she chronicled everything from quantum weirdness (that’s the technical term) to snail slime. A freelance journalist since 2004, her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, Inked, Technology Review, and Symbolia. Her narrative nonfiction book, THE SKELETON CREW: HOW AMATEUR SLEUTHS ARE SOLVING AMERICA’S COLDEST CASES, is just out from Simon & Schuster. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the National Association of Science Writers, she lives near Boston in a house with a lot of former pets buried out back.

 

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/06/29/crime-and-science-radio-with-deborah-halber

 

LINKS:

Deborah Halber http://deborahhalber.mit.edu/

NamUs: The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System http://namus.gov

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children http://www.missingkids.com/home

NOKR: The Next of Kin Registry http://www.nokr.org

Black and Missing Foundation http://www.blackandmissinginc.com/cdad

Clark County Nevada Coroner’s Office: Las Vegas Unidentified  http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/depts/coroner/unidentified/Pages/default.aspx

Provincetown Site for Lady of the Dunes http://www.provincetown-ma.gov/index.aspx?NID=618

Todd Matthews Tent Girl Site http://www.angelfire.com/tn3/masterdetective2/

Porchlight International http://z10.invisionfree.com/usedtobedoe/index.php?showforum=41

The DOE Network http://www.doenetwork.org

The Charley Project http://www.charleyproject.org

America’s Missing Adults http://americasmissingadults.com/

California State Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit http://oag.ca.gov/missing

Ohio Missing Adults http://www.ohiomissingadults.com/

WDAZ: Remains Found 31 Years Ago in Wyoming Identified as Missing Minnesota Native http://www.wdaz.com/content/remains-found-31-years-ago-wyoming-identified-missing-minnesota-native-0

People Magazine: Murdered Teen’s Remains Given to Her Family 46 Years Later http://www.people.com/article/philadelphia-missing-girls-jane-doe-identified-family

Story About The Skelton Crew by Deborah Halber in Time Magazine: How to Solve a Murder With Just Your Computer http://time.com/2973705/how-to-solve-murder-with-computer/

 

Guest Blogger: Dr. Mike Tabor: Anatomy Of A Forensic Dental Identification

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The next time you’re in deep thought imagining what your protagonist can do next to draw readers in to your plot, think not only of ‘whodunnit’, or ‘what happened’, but also, ‘who is it’? Many a successful storyline has been written about the first two, but not so many where the mystery is solving WHO this John Doe really is. For now, let’s just explore some details of how forensic identification really works. Here’s how it started out for this forensic odontologist.

In the spring of 1983, I began to assist the newly appointed state medical examiner with the identification of a ‘John Doe’, whose body had been pulled from the murky waters of the Cumberland River, here in Nashville, Tennessee.  The badly decomposed body was bloated, discolored and bore an odor that would choke most. Visual identification would be impossible. Fingerprints were long gone. DNA had yet to be perfected. Fortunately, the decedent bore a mouthful of expensive gold inlays in his molars that would uniquely differentiate him from any other person. That was my baptism in the world of forensic identification.

 

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Barely two years later, I testified in Tennessee’s first criminal trial where human bite marks would be admitted in a court of law. Opposing my testimony as expert witness was Dr. Richard Souviron, Chief Forensic Odontologist for Miami/Dade County Medical Examiner’s office.  Fresh off his appearance in the now world famous Ted Bundy trial, Dr. Souviron later became a lifelong friend and mentor.  Bundy had become the first person in US history sentenced to death where all evidence was circumstantial except for the damning bitemark he left on a victim.   All Tennessee eyes were on Souviron’s testimony, since Bundy had become well known for his serial killing rampage of over a hundred women from Seattle to Tallahassee. Souviron’s testimony was pivotal in obtaining a guilty verdict. The fact that Bundy had been employed at a suicide prevention hotline desk made this case all the more daunting.

Another notorious case in middle Tennessee involved the mysterious disappearance of the wife of a prominent Nashville attorney. Janet March suddenly disappeared in 1996, and her body has never been discovered.

Missing persons departments have worked tirelessly for decades.  Since media presence was so high, any time bones were found, our medical examiner’s team was called to the scene. Many times, it was animal remains, but every time it was a dead end. After over a decade, her husband was the first Tennessean to be convicted of a capital offense without ever producing a body.  Just when you think it is not possible, then the truth often takes a mysterious turn!  It proves that oftentimes, the truth is stranger than fiction.

No forensic experience, however, would surpass the enormous identification task while working with victims of the 9-11 attack of the World Trade Center. I had the privilege of assisting the New York Medical Examiner’s Office in the identification of those victims. Over an eleven month period, forensic scientists identified 1,000 of the roughly 3,000 victims of that horrific event. A large majority of those ID’s were done by dental record comparison. As recent as May 10, 2014, random identifications are made, over a decade since the attack. There are still almost 8,000 remaining unidentifiable body parts stored at the ONYME.  http://news.msn.com/us/9-11-remains-returned-to-world-trade-center-site#tscptme

There are three basic methods used to confirm the identity of an individual. Fingerprints have been used the longest and have become a very reliable method of identification. It makes one assumption: fingerprints are like snowflakes, in that there are no two that are exactly alike. But fingerprints are not durable in weather and environmental factors, and will disintegrate within days in the hot summer.

Around 2000, DNA became, and is now, considered the gold standard for identification. DNA’s reliability is unquestioned, especially since it is the only scientific method able to quantify the accuracy of its determination.  There is one major drawback. The microscopic evidence is very sensitive to the elements. There are several types of DNA, and most are easily destroyed and can be lost within days after elemental exposure.

The third method is that of dental characteristic comparison. Like all methods, it requires the comparison of a known sample to an unknown sample. We must have dental records and/or xrays of an individual who authorities think it might be. The advantage that dentistry has over the other two methods is that human teeth are virtually indestructible.  Most all petroleum based fires will not burn enamel, the hardened outer covering of our teeth. The dental restorations are equally as durable and will withstand all environmental decomposition.

Forensic dentistry has been used to confirm identity of some rather notorious individuals. Back in 1998, I was consulted by the state medical examiner’s office to confirm a dental ID on James Earl Ray, the confessed killer of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Even though he died of hepatitis while in prison, and his face was readily identifiable, our medical examiner wanted certainty. He remembered the controversy with Lee Harvey Oswald’s body just eighteen years after JFK’s assassination. Naysayers claimed conspiracy, so forensic dentistry reconfirmed his identity following an exhumation in Dallas.

What case is the most bizarre mystery I’ve worked? It spanned over a decade and resulted from the murder of a John Doe whose body was placed in a car, burned beyond recognition, while the killer staged his own death.  When his plot was later foiled, it took years to determine the victim’s identity. It was the first time in Tennessee courts of law where a capital murder hearing took place and no one in the courtroom had any idea who the victim was! Think about that for a minute!! This mysterious convoluted storyline gave birth to my first forensic novel, based on this case entitled ‘Walk of Death’.

Why do you do this? I get that question a lot. ‘I don’t see how you stand being around all that stuff all the time!’ Not sure I have a really good answer. The grossness of the endeavor is without question, but that is something that you can overcome. You almost have to look at the project as if you were dissecting a frog in biology class. I don’t mean to trivialize death but by keeping it clinical, the process is more manageable.

Although it sounds somewhat like a cliché, the one redeeming factor in forensic identification is the fact that we are able to finally bring closure to the families whose lives have already been turned upside down from the disappearance of their loved one. The confirmation that truly the ‘search is over’ is somehow able to bring some measure of peace to those families, is an element that probably cannot be completely understood, unless you walked in their shoes. The peace, that’s what I’m after!

Dr. Mike Tabor has served as Chief Forensic Odontologist for The State of Tennessee Office of the Medical Examiner since 1983.  He is past President of the American Board of Forensic Odontology and Section Chair and Fellow for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, as well as past president of the Tennessee Board of Dental Examiners.

He assisted the NYC medical examiner’s office after the 911 event.

 

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Dr. Tabor is the author of his first forensic novel, “Walk of Death”, the story of a cold case murder involving forensic dental identification that took over a decade to solve. His second in the Chris Walsh series is entitled “Out of the Darkness”. Since entering the writing phase of his career, Tabor has become a member of the Mystery Writers of America, as well as the International Thriller Writers Association.

For more info on Dr. Tabor’s work, he can be reached at:

http://www.drmiketabor.com

 

 

Crime and Science Radio: When Disaster Hits: Naming The Dead: An Interview With NTSB’s Paul Sledzik

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How does forensic science help us in the aftermath of disasters such as plane crashes, floods, hurricanes and other events that result in mass fatalities?  We find some answers in this episode, when D.P. Lyle and Jan Burke interview Paul Sledzik.

In this episode, he tells us about historical responses to mass disasters, such as the General Slocum disaster of 1904, which caused the loss of over one thousand lives.  He’ll also talk to us about today’s processes for dealing with mass fatality events, the role of forensic scientists in processing mass fatality incidents, and the work done on these sites by forensic anthropologists and other specialists.

Near the end of the interview, we were also able to talk to him a little bit about his work on historical remains belonging to “New England Vampires.”

Bio: Trained as a forensic anthropologist, Paul Sledzik began his career at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, as a museum technician. By the time he departed the museum in 2004, he had become a curator with responsibilities over the museum’s unique and historic anatomical and pathological collections. From 1998 to 2004, he served as the team commander for the Region 3 Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In the response to the events of September 11, 2001, he led the DMORT team in the identification of the victims from the crash of United flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Paul joined the National Transportation Safety Board’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division in 2004 as a medicolegal specialist and in 2010 became the division director. The division coordinates access to information and services to support victim and family members impacted by aviation accidents and accidents in other transportation modes.

He has served as a consultant and advisor to federal and non-governmental agencies on issues of human identification and disaster response. A Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, his scientific articles have appeared in professional journals and textbooks. He has participated in the response to over 30 mass fatality events and transportation accidents.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/02/14/crime-and-science-radio-with-paul-sledzik

LINKS:

National Transportation Safety Board https://www.ntsb.gov

NTSB: Information for Families, Friends, and Survivors https://www.ntsb.gov/tda/family.html

NTSD: Family Assistance Operations: Planning and Policy http://www.ntsb.gov/tda/ops.html

The National Museum of Health and Medicine http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/index.cfm?p=about.index

Federal Emergency Management Agency http://www.fema.gov

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Public Health Emergency/DMORTs: http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/responders/ndms/teams/Pages/dmort.aspx

New story on study of preservation of DNA in mass disasters http://phys.org/news/2013-09-team-dna-mass-disasters.html

The General Slocum Disaster, New York, June 15 1904 — over 1000 lives lost

General Slocum Disaster information at New York Public Library http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/06/13/great-slocum-disaster-june-15-1904

“Sinking of the General Slocum” information at The Mariners Museum http://www.marinersmuseum.org/content/sinking-steamboat-general-slocum

General Slocum Disaster information at New York History.Info  http://www.newyorkhistory.info/Hell-Gate/General-Slocum.html

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York, March 25, 1911 — over 140 lives lost

Documentary on YouTube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCB4SgXRgKg 

History Channel site http://www.history.com/news/100-years-ago-the-triangle-shirtwaist-fire

Centennial program on NPR’s “All Things Considered” http://www.npr.org/2011/03/24/134766737/a-somber-centennial-for-the-triangle-factory-fire 

The Eastland Disaster, Chicago, July 24, 1915 — over 800 lives lost, including all members of 22 families

Eastland Disaster Historical Society description of the disaster http://www.eastlanddisaster.org/disaster.htm

Montage of newspaper photographs of the event on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0Qxy5yAXb4

Eastland Disaster documentary on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZp0kW3O6Uc

“Brief communication: bioarcheological and biocultural evidence for the New England vampire folk belief.” (American Journal of Physical Anthropology)   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8085617

The Great New England Vampire Panic http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-new-england-vampire-panic-36482878/?all

 

 

The Writers Forensics Blog: 100 Top Websites to Bookmark

The crew over at FornesicScienceDegrees.org have listed The Writers Forensics Blog as one of their Top 100 Websites to Bookmark, which they describe as a “list of great sites to present practical, real-world information on the subject.” Many great sources here.

Thanks. I’m flattered.

 

 

Crime & Science Radio: The Body Tells the Tale: DP Lyle and Jan Burke Interview Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

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The Body Tells the Tale: DP Lyle and Jan Burke Interview Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Join DP Lyle and Jan Burke as they explore the world of death, corpses, and decay with Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass is the founder of the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, the so called Body Farm. Jon Jefferson is a journalist, writer, and documentary film maker. Together they write fiction as Jefferson Bass. This will be a lively, or is it deadly, interview.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2013/11/20/crime-and-science-radio–jon-jefferson-and-bill-bass

LINKS:

The Body Farm-Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_farm

Tour The Body Farm: http://www.jeffersonbass.com/videos.html

Video Tour of The Body Farm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSDCiOW81mk

WBIR Interview: http://www.wbir.com/news/article/139066/190/Your-Stories-Dr-Bill

JeffersonBass Website: http://www.jeffersonbass.com/index.php

Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales: http://www.amazon.com/Deaths-Acre-Inside-Legendary-Forensic/dp/0425198324

Metro Pulse: The Cult of Forensics Expert Dr. Bill Bass: http://www.metropulse.com/news/2009/feb/25/cult-forensics-expert-dr-bill-bass/

Peter Breslow’s 2004 NPR Profile of The Body Farm: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1906569

Taphonomy-Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taphonomy

 

Mummies: A New Method For Analysis

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After death, some corpses mummify rather than decay. This more likely will happen in very dry environments but can happen in almost any circumstance. If the corpse dessicates (dries out) more quickly than it decays, mummified remains are produced. These corpses are leathery, dark brown, and appear as if the skin has been “shrink wrapped” over the bones. They also can be very difficult to analyze.

For years, rehydrating finger pads with water, glycerin, and some other liquids, has allowed investigators to obtain fingerprints from mummified corpses. Now it seems that Alejandro Hernandez has found a way to do this with an entire mummified corpse. Very interesting.

 

 

Richard III Found?

Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, died on August 22, 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field. His death wasn’t a pleasant one. Recently skeletal remains that might be those of the King have been unearthed from the ruins of Grey Friars Church in Leicester, the location where many believe Richard was buried.

 

The remains apparently show significant scoliosis, a bending of the spine that often raises one shoulder higher than the other. Historical documents, as well as the famous play by William Shakespeare, indicate that Richard was a “hunchback.” This condition is most often caused by kyphosis, a more forward curving of the spine, which is not the case with these remains. But the distinction probably wasn’t appreciated in 1485 so people who suffered either scoliosis or kyphosis were often termed “hunchback.”

How can researchers prove these are indeed Richard’s remains? The best bet is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed down from generation to generation through the maternal line. This type of DNA doesn’t change often, mutating only about once every 6500 years, making it ideal for ancestry studies.

 

To employ this technique, they will need mtDNA from a known maternal descendent of Richard. And it seems they have located Londoner Michael Ibsen, the 17th great-grand nephew of Richard. His late mother, Joy Ibsen, was apparently a direct descendent of Richard’s eldest sister Anne. If true, and if the mtDNA matches, that would constitute fairly strong evidence that the remains are indeed those of Richard.

 

Maggot DNA Identifies Corpse

Corpse identification is as much art as science. Sometimes no ID is possible and at other times creativity is required. In a recent case, where a badly charred body could not be identified due to the damage, DNA was extracted from the GI tracks of the fly maggots that had populated the corpse. Using the STR technique, DNA from the maggots was compared with DNA from the suspected victim’s father and a paternity-type match was made, proving the ID of the corpse to an accuracy of 99.685% according to the authors of the study.

This is the first time this technique has been used in this manner.

 

 

A New Non-DNA Identification Technique?

Most Americans have a positive Mumps Skin Test. Why? Most of use were exposed to the Mumps virus at some time in our lives and therefore have Mumps antibodies in our system. The test reveals these antibodies. A positive test doesn’t mean you have Mumps only that you’ve been exposed to it at some time in the past. The skin test is not useful for the diagnosis of active Mumps but is often used simply to prove that a person’s immune system is intact and working.

We produce similar antibodies to very bacterium, virus, and other invader we encounter. This antibody building is going on every minute of every day as we are constantly exposed to these critters. Each of us has a different history of exposure to these various “bugs” and will necessarily have different types and amounts of antibodies running around our body. If these antibodies were tested for, each of us would have a unique “Antibody Profile.”

This individually unique profile just might be a method for identifying each of us and it seems that Global Forensics Ltd (UK) and Identity Sciences LLC (US) are marketing just such a TEST. The AbP ID test, developed by Idaho National Laboratory, seeks out Individual Specific Antibodies (ISAs), which are found in every tissue and body fluid. Since each of us has a unique antibody profile the discrimination should rival that of DNA Profiling. Maybe better since even identical twins, who have the same DNA, will have unique antibody profiles.

The test seems to be rapid (two hours), cheap, and doesn’t require a specialized lab, highly trained lab techs, or a large sample.

This is a technique that deserves watching. Begin with this VIDEO.

 
 
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