It seems you can hardly turn the TV on these days without flipping to one of the many crime shows currently on air. NCIS, Bones, CSI-Miami, Cold Case…you can barely find a show whose premise doesn’t surround a murder. In real life, though, crimes can’t always be wrapped up in a quick 3o minute episode, you don’t always find the bad guys, and one investigator rarely solves the crime alone. Dr Emily Craig, a world and nationally-renowned forensic anthropologist, clears up the myth and mystery of real-life crime scene investigations in her amazing and fascinating book, Teasing Secrets from the Dead.
Dr Craig’s career began as a medical illustrator, which involved making highly detailed drawings of the human body and surgical procedures for physicians. A man she was dating who worked in law enforcement turned her on to the possibility of a new career in forensic anthropology, so Craig headed back to school to get her Ph.D. in forensic anthropology in her mid-forties. A forensic anthropologist’s job is to evaluate bodies and/or human remains at crime scenes to help solve crimes. Dr Craig specialized in skeletal remains and what they can tell her about the identity of the victim and the nature of the crime. Amazingly, there is much information that can be found from skeletal bones: the sex, race, and age of the victims can be determined from certain skeletal bones, and also how they died, if knife marks or bullet holes are found in the remains. Dr Craig shares with us many of the trips she goes on as part of her job with the State Examiner’s office in her home state of Kentucky to help solve violent crimes, hanging off of cliffs, crawling into tiny mine shafts and sifting through ash at house fires to locate and catalog remains. Dr Craig’s expertise was also requested in the aftermath of three of America’s most devastating crime scenes from the last twenty years: Waco and the death of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians; the Oklahoma City bombing; and the Sept 11 attacks on America. Dr Craig was there on site for all of these momentous and horrifying occasions to help coroners and medical examiners to identify the victims in order to return their remains to their families.
Most importantly and poignantly, although she is a scientist, Dr Craig shares early and often the need to remain human in the face of such tragedy. It’s understandable that many protect themselves by putting up emotional walls to keep themselves immune to the magnitude and horror of these violent crimes. However, Dr Craig stresses the importance of staying in touch with the humanity of these crimes, remembering that these victims were real human beings who died violent deaths, with sad families that are grieving their loss. She opens up about the stress of working near Ground Zero for eight weeks after the Sept 11 tragedy, where the sadness and anger of the event hung over all of them as they sifted through the remains of the innocent victims. Yet she also finds resolve in her work, to help these victims to justice whenever possible, and to give closure to their families.
Dr Craig recently retired from the Kentucky State Examiner’s Office in late 2o1o after a distinguished career. This book was a completely engrossing read and I really enjoyed it. I hope you’ll check it out.