Dead Men Do Tell Tales, is a fascinating candid approach to the very morbidly mysterious world of crime scene forensics investigation. "From a skeleton, a skull, a mere fragment of burnt thigh bone, Dr. William Maples can deduce the age, gender, and ethnicity of a murder victim, the manner in which the person was dispatched, and ultimately the identity of the killer." (Forward)
The title of the first chapter sums up the ensuing pages with the quote, "Every day is Halloween" and quickly makes you a believer of that statement while unveiling your eyes to the underworld of crime. From insurance fraud to the false anthropological findings of the early 1920’s, back to a young boys infatuation with Bonnie Parker, Dr. Maples introduces you to a side of forensics that is exciting and even sexy in a very strange way. He frames us up with a story that would almost seem like the movie Twister, with young scientists racing around the countryside chasing down crime scenes and evidence, instead of tornados.
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If there was a nieve bone in your body, I’m sure that he has collected it by the time you’ve reached the second chapter. Stories of professionals who fall down in front of moving vehicles and such, set to "bring you face to face with some of the most vivid, brilliant, highly plausible fictions ever spun by human ingenuity." One might almost be compelled to call everyone, as the Swahili phrase goes, "shenzi."
Today, Dr. Maples studies the highest profiled cases around the entire nation and operates labs that are tighter than Fort Knox, whiling technologies that might only seem fit for science fiction. I was extremely impressed to read about his archaeological expeditions to Rifft Valley in the foot steps of the late great Leakeys. That gave me a better sense of the authors over all experience, and a greater respect and perspective for the field of Forensic Anthropology. In his description of the working environment, I get a sense that there is a real concern to preserve evidence from tampering which raises questions about a jurisdictions "organized crime" rates where there is fully functional forensic crime labs that access new technologies at their disposal?
I found it interesting that a bears claw is so similar to a humans hand, but even more interestingly he describes the difference between a fracture to a living skull trauma and a break after the fact, such as when a passing animal steps on a dry bone, in that the living bone creates a hinged beveled effect that reveals the direction of motion to the blow where as the other is more of a cracking or shattering of brittled substance. Either way he is more the man than I, to beat a baboon who has its teeth sunken into his arm and not change professions.
As the reader, I almost have an epiphany of my own, as I have never heard a biblical passage quoted in reference to crime as is with the use of Ezekial where God brings a vision to the profit about the re-emergence of a dead people (nation). Only here they are brought to life by pragmatic scientists. In this, I find hope, that no crime is unsolvable, and that every case can be brought back to life through justice as God would have intended and by diligence is succeeded.
Maples puts a few old myths to rest about nails and hair that grow after death, is nothing more than receding skin shifting. I thought it was utterly disgusting when he described the body bag that broke in the trunk of his wifes car, leaking the gooey remains of a find, yet he won’t give a skeleton a humorous name.
In the fourth chapter, the ensuing earth, I found it very enlightening that certain burial conditions can preserve a body so well, such as the ten year old infant in the suit case that was almost perfectly intact, with soft tissue still preserved. There was also a very interesting table of decomposition of open air, to water, to ground burial and I did not know that maggots are used to date a body and are birthed within 24 hours of death on a time clock almost. They do not hatch under ground beyond 2 feet, therefore, in cases where the body id dug up containing maggots they can determine how long the body was dead before burial.
I think the end is summed up quite well, as Dr. Maples ponders all that he has achieved and why, with the biblical quote, "sufficient unto the day is evil thereof." That it is quite tragic that this field has found such an abundant need, as by supply and demand, that neither he nor his students shall go without work is evident. I think that most of the accounts in this book support my enduring stance for the death penalty and wish that more people could get this picture of the grizzly realities of those select few, that walk among us, who are purely evil and a constant liability.
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