Forensic Identification: Putting a Name and Face on Death
By: Elizabeth A. Murray
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 2012
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2013
It might seem a bit mind-boggling to think that thousands of unidentified people around the world are found dead every year. Sometimes identification is a simple matter, but other times the body is so disfigured by accident or natural disasters that their bodies can be "extremely difficult to identify." Women found under such circumstances have been dubbed Jane Doe, men John Doe (Joe Bloggs in other parts of the globe), and children are labeled Baby Doe. An astonishing "four thousand unidentified deceased persons are discovered every year" in our country, but only a quarter of them are identified within a year. You might ask yourself, how this could possibly happen?
In this book you'll find out why and will be able to explore some real case files as you read about how forensic experts identify these unfortunate people. Some unaccounted for people become missing purposefully, while others may have "met with foul play such as kidnapping, murder, and other crimes." If left to the elements, decomposition of the human body can make it even more difficult for forensic medical examiners to identify a person. Take for example, when skeletal remains are discovered, things such as facial features, tattoos, scars, and even fingerprints have been obliterated by time and the elements. Even if "personal effects" are found nearby, they doesn't necessarily contribute to positive identification.
There are several reasons positive identification of a person is important, including the fact that authorities need to "create an official death certificate." In the first case file in this book a hunter chanced upon the scattered skeletal remains of someone in a wooded area. You'll be able to walk through the case from the discovery to the scientific inquiry and DNA profile resolution. Not all remains are skeletal and you'll learn identification based on "body surface basics" such as skin color, pigmentation (birthmarks, freckles, moles), fingerprints, scars, tattoos, eye and hair color and how they can factor into positive identification. You'll also learn about identifying skeletal features, forensic dentists, "durable goods," artistic reconstruction using the skull, the role of digital imagery and "computerized age progression," isotope testing, DNA analysis, and you'll learn many more fascinating facts about forensic identification.
This is a scientific look at how forensic investigators are able to discover the identities of unknown and missing persons. This is definitely not a book for the squeamish as there are graphic photographs in these pages. The science is solid and the research Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, a forensic anthropologist, lends to this work is impeccable. The young reader is led through the forensic identification process of missing and unknown people, including those who are "mutilated, decomposed beyond recognition, or cut into pieces." Actual case files, introduced in brief sidebars, are interspersed throughout the book. After a brief look at the case, questions are thrown out to make us think as we read further. The conclusion of the case is later discussed. In the back of the book is an index, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website information to explore.
Quill says: This is an excellent exploration of the world for forensic identification based on real science for the upper grade level student.