Friday afternoon sessions wrapped up with a presentation by Dr. Elizabeth Murray, who spoke to us about forensic identification. The topic was of special interest to me, because it’s at the core of my newest book. The book begins when a dog discovers a bone, which turns out to be human. My chief of police character has to figure out where it came from, and who it belonged to. Of course, that’s only the beginning. And, as Dr. Murray explained how to identify these bodies, I was busy noting how to thwart the process so my book wouldn’t be over in chapter 4.
My notes are a little sketchy because Dr. Murray was moving quickly through PowerPoint slides, but I’ll try to share what I can decipher from my notes.
In the United States, 100,000 people go missing every day. Most are recovered within a year, but there are 40,000 unidentified persons in morgues and cemeteries throughout the country. Half the cases in the NamUS database are skeletons.
The quicker a body is found, the greater the odds it will be identified. The dead are usually found close to where they went missing, so the search begins there.
Tools they use to help identify bodies include: tattoos, fingerprints, personal effects, DNA, Xrays, and facial reconstruction. When a bone is found, they take the following steps.
1. Is it human?
2. If it is human, can they use forensics?
3. If they can use forensics, is it an adult or a child?
4. If it’s an adult, is it a male or female?
7. Any other specifics that can lead to an ID?
Remember high school biology? That there are 206 bones in the human body. Turns out, this is an average, and about 70% of people fit this standard.
Dr. Murray explained how they can determine stature by length of bones, and age by the growth plates. The clavicle is the last growth plate to close. I’d already used some of this information in my book, but what I did have to do when I got home was tweak a few scenes to include NamUS, which I hadn’t known about until Dr. Murray’s lecture.
Another interesting fact is that anyone can register to use NamUS, and “ordinary” citizens can input data about someone we know who’s gone missing. The database tries to match descriptions. The more fields you fill in, the better your chance of finding a match, but I did poke around the database and find there are entries that are nothing more than a few bones.
Have a look for yourself: http://namus.gov
There’s a video here: https://identifyus.org/en/home/how_it_works_video
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society