The Bone Lady
Life As a Forensic Anthropologist
Publication Year: 1999
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
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For almost two decades I have worked with hundreds of law enforce-ment agents, locally, nationally, and internationally. Though too nu-merous to name, they often played vital, even heroic roles in the sto-ries recollected in the following pages. So many times they made thesuggestion, "If you ever write a book, Mary, write one that we would...
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...personnel while working with authorities from most of the sixty-fourparishes in Louisiana, several counties in Texas, Arkansas, and Missis-sippi, and various agencies across the country. In more formal terms, Iam a forensic anthropologist and bioarchaeologist, a scientist whoThe idea for The Bone Lady started years ago when I began to no-...
1 Behind the Levee
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N the first day of the search, I failed to find the body. The in-formant said we would find the man in a black plastic bag. Williethe bag, but he wasn't absolutely sure and it had been five years. Heleaned against a small willow tree and watched us, his thin, nervoushands tightly gripping a rotting branch. His cheek twitched just a lit-...
2 Lost from the MV Mollylea
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...sheriff's deputy shifted his footing to get a little closer to the table as Iexamination, he was certain. The skull and other bones collected bythe Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff's Department made their way to mylaboratory at LSU to become case number 92-15, one of a growing listscanned the bony sphere. "He has a prominent brow ridge, a sloping...
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IEOPLE often ask me, "Just what is a forensic anthropologist?" Weare physical anthropologists who are trained in the human skeleton,and we use that training in a medico-legal context to assist law en-means used by medical examiners or coroners to autopsy a body afterdeath are no longer applicable. Typically, bones are all that remain to...
4 Kevin Paul
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...pologists deal with death on a daily basis, I'm not always clear whetherthat question arises from the desire to know why a woman is in thefield, or from curiosity about why anyone would choose a career thatinevitably deals with the loss of human life and loved ones. Sometimesof my youth putting together the cardboard kind with my five sib-...
5 Beneath the Corn Crib
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...few years ago, a very pleasant lady arrived at my laboratory oneafternoon carrying a small wooden box, approximately eighteen incheslong. It was well constructed, hinged, and lined with velvet, probablypre-World War II, according to a textile expert I consulted later. Thebox was decorated on the outside with lambs in repose. One of the...
6 Under the Porch
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...pushed aside the alligator osteoderms recently delivered to my officeas yet another unidentified "something." As they spilled across thedesk, I mentally cataloged how much the small, circular bits of ar-morlike bone that run along a gator's back looked like ivory sand dol-"Mary, Bill Donovan, Jefferson Parish. There's a house, and a hol-...
7 The Rose Garden
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...mer house on Lutcher Street, staring down at the skeletal remains ofhis first wife wrapped in the frayed remnants of a polyester mattressleaned over to clean away the water-soaked soil, a diamond from a setof wedding rings caught the sun's rays and brought a slight gasp andwhistle from one of the officers assisting me. A perimortem break—...
8 Among the Shadows
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IN my first semester of graduate school, I was especially inspired byDoug Owsley, a new professor at LSU at the time. Volunteering towork in his bone lab led to an assistantship there, where I put togetherhuman skeletal puzzles. Doug and I tackled many projects togetherbefore he left the university in 1987 to accept a nonacademic position...
9 In the Woods
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But it was Ann Marie Mires, one of his former research associates, whoIdentification Unit for the Office of the State Medical Examiner inMany years ago on a cold and windy day—rare in Louisiana—AnnMarie called me at home. She was then a recent Connecticut trans-plant, about as big as a minute, and one of the funniest people I have...
10 The Cast-Iron Coffin
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VER the years, my friends have often asked if I ever felt spookedwhen dealing with someone's bones. "Usually not," I say. But some-In the Plains, a small community just outside Zachary, Louisiana,lies the Young family cemetery, just down the road from where I livedin the 19805. Near this private cemetery, at a little country store where...
11 Fire in the Sky
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Louisiana's industrial plants took on a new meaning for me. A ragingfire had raced through a section of the plant and filled the sky withCalls from private industry usually come a day or so after the ex-plosions and fires. First, the plant safety personnel try to find the bod-ies of the missing workers with little outside help. Then they call. The...
12 Lost and Missing Children
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N any death case, whether it is a child or an adult, assessing cause ofdeath is a necessary part of the examination process. Cause of deathrefers to the action or condition that results in death and can includesuch things as drowning, a blow to a vital region, a heart attack, astroke, or a sharp-instrument wound if there is soft tissue to examine....
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I HE forensic scientist from the State Police Crime Laboratory stoodwaiting for me in the cool shade of the small grove of trees thatcovered the southeastern edge of the State Capitol grounds in BatonRouge. I recognized George Schiro's tanned, rugged face as I roundedthe corner of the old arsenal museum, actually a nineteenth-century...
14 Indian Woman
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...pot in America is like. Hill dirt may be in my blood, but ethnically,Dutch, Scotch-Irish, Native Americans . . . maybe even others. Per-sonally I prefer to think of myself as simply an American, though I amninety-five—I guess it's so. In the late twentieth century it seems verypopular to claim Native American roots, especially Cherokee ones....
15 Voodoo Woman
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...sheriff's deputy called me one day in 1989 to ask if I could lookat a skull and tell him something about it. This one wasn't found inthe woods or in a grave or along the side of a road, but in a plastic baglegedly, she had threatened and subsequently tried to kill her longtimeboyfriend, James Robillard. Scared to death of the "voodoo woman,"...
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...could not get a positive identification on 91-14. The remains hadbeen transported to my laboratory at LSU by the sheriff's department,and my profile of the white, petite female under the age of thirty hadnot solved the mystery of who she was or how she had died. Her re-mains were held in the lab as unidentified and stayed that way for...
17 The Boat
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...lazily cast his line hoping to catch just one more fish before headinghome. Then off his port bow, he spotted a small boat drifting in theGuard, who found a body in the boat and had it sent to the coroner'soffice for examination. Parish coroner Dr. Chip Metz asked for myI noted that the young man, not over the age of thirty-five, was of...
18 Clouds and Horses
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HE approaching storm sent lightning zigzagging across the sky andthunder roaring at our heels as the other anthropologists and I headedthrough the woods with the horses' bones in plastic bags over ourOwsley, to talk me into this? I thought back to the phone call that hadcome a few days earlier. The insurance agent had been referred to our...
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I ERHAPS it is the smell of death that draws them toward us in thefield; perhaps my O-positive blood, long thought to be attractive tothings that bite and sting, makes me an especially popular target. "No-see-ums" are what we sometimes call them, and millions of them fillsouthern swamps. These small gnats make their way into every un-...
20 The Lake
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I HE human skull with the three cervical vertebrae still attached toit stared back at me. Its fishy odor confirmed the officer's story that "itFrancis and Richard Couvillion had been out on the lake again forthe weekend. As usual they would drop their net into the water andraise it frequently to see what they had landed. An occasional garfish, a...
21 The Bat-Wing Filling
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HE was just seventeen," the detective from north Louisiana said.What distinguished his call to my lab from the several others I re-bones, and we have two girls missing," he continued. "Can we bringto wait for the remains of some mother's child. My initial outrage usu-ally settles into scientific detachment as I accept that what I do can...
22 Bayou Bleu
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...the assistant district attorney calmly asked me on the phone one after-noon. I felt the sandwich I had just wolfed down for lunch rising inWhen the two bayou detectives entered the forensics lab, their sharpafter-shave introduced a welcome freshness to the stale air. "The case isfairly simple," the clean-shaven, serious officer said, his piercing eyes...
23 Who Killed Huey Long?
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HE crowd that gathered at the cemetery on North Street in BatonRouge that day back in 1991 was not so different from the one thathad scrambled into the State Capitol chambers some fifty-six years ear-lier. They shared a common goal: they wanted a glimpse of the allegedassassin of Huey Long, Dr. Carl Austin Weiss. Of course, Dr. Weiss's...
24 A Witch's Tale
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I am drawn to them, from the smallest, overgrown plot along the sideof the road to the largest, manicured city of the dead. Cemeteries ortales of cemeteries were an integral part of my childhood. Grave clean-ing and the subsequent "dinner on the grounds" were included in ourpilgrimages to Old State Line Cemetery, where my great-aunts and...
25 Duralde's Return
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E cemetery caretaker stumbled as he walked across the grass thatday in early 1991. Where had the hole come from that caught his bootand almost made him fall? After a peek into the opening and a fastwithdrawal, he went scurrying to the church office. A cast-iron coffinrested in a shallow subterranean vault; the recent rains had exposed...
26 Civil War on the Bluff
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N a Pleistocene bluff that rises high above the abandoned flood-plain of the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge lies a small ceme-tery with direct ties to the American Civil War. The Port Hudson Sol-diers' Cemetery lies in an area that was part of the scene of a majorbattle of that war. From May 23, 1863, until July 9, 1863, one of the...
27 For Those Who Wait
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...is a question people often ask me. My answer sometimes surprisesthem. Media attention immediately focuses on any new or rehashedevidence regarding high-profile deaths, such as the assassination ofJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy, the tragic demise of Marilyn Monroe, thedisappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, or the whereabouts of Adolf Hitler's...
Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 1999