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Fingering a Murderer: A Successful Anthropological and Radiological Collaboration

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We illustrate an interdisciplinary approach to identify a victim in a case with complex taphonomic and procedural issues. Burning, fragmentation, species commingling, and examination by multiple experts required anthropological preparation and analysis combined with radiographic adaptations to image and match trabecular patterns in unusually small, burned specimens. A missing person was last seen in the company of a reclusive female on a remote rural property. A warranted search found several burn sites containing human and animal bones. Fragment preparation, analysis, and development of a biological profile by anthropologists enabled examination by the odontologist, molecular biologist, and radiologist, and justified use of antemortem radiographs from one potential victim. Visual and radiological comparison resulted in a positive (later confirmed) identification of the victim by radiological matches of three carpal phalanges. Although some dimensional changes are expected with burning, morphological details were preserved, aided by selection of relatively intact, small bones for comparison.

Keywords: burned remains; forensic anthropology; forensic science; homicide; identification; radiology; taphonomy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Radiology, University of South Alabama Medical Center, 2451 Fillingim St., Mobile, AL 36617. 2: Department of Anthropology and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469. 3: Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, 1326 Audubon St., New Orleans, LA 70118.

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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