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Forensic Anthropology in Los Angeles County, California 1998-2003 Elizabeth Miller, Ph.D. Consulting Anthropologist Los Angeles County Department of Coroner and Assistant Professor of Anthropology California State University, Los Angeles. Forensic Anthropology is….

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Forensic Anthropology in Los Angeles County, California1998-2003Elizabeth Miller, Ph.D.Consulting AnthropologistLos Angeles County Department of CoronerandAssistant Professor of AnthropologyCalifornia State University, Los Angeles

forensic anthropology is
Forensic Anthropology is…
  • The application of anthropological techniques to modern human remains for law enforcement.
  • In general, the forensic anthropologist provides a basic biological profile to aid in identification of the decedent.
  • Your textbook uss the definition of “skeletal remains resulting from unexplained deaths”. Why would this be incorrect?
the ten questions i ve added to the original ten codified by snow 1982 my additions are in red
Is it bone?

Is it human?

Is it of forensic value?

What bones are present?

What is the MNI?

What is the sex?

What is the age?

What is the ancestry?

What is the height?

Are there any anatomical anomalies, pathologies, etc.?

Are there any indicators of behavior?

What is the PMI?

Evidence for cause of death?

Evidence for manner of death?

The “ten” questions (I’ve added to the original ten codified by Snow (1982). My additions are in red).
five main objectives
Five Main Objectives
  • Ancestry, age, sex, and height
  • Trauma information to determine cause and manner
  • Postmortem interval
  • Locating and recovering buried or surface remains
  • Positive identification
  • Thomas Dwight (1843-1911)
    • “Father of Forensic Anthropology in the United States”
    • Wrote articles and essays and lectured on human skeletal identification
    • Researched determination of height, sex, stature, age at death
formative period
Formative Period
  • Early 1800s to 1938
  • Parkman murder of 1849
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes I and Jeffries Wyman
  • Leutgert case of 1897
    • George Dorsey
  • Harris Wilder, Bert Wentworth, Paul Stevenson, Ales Hrdlicka, Earnest Hooton, T. Wingate Todd, Robert Terry
consolidation period
Consolidation Period
  • 1939-1971
  • Began with publication of Guide to the Identification of Human Skeletal Material by Krogman
    • Written for the FBI
  • WWII dead were badly decomposed, but needed to be identified, so CILHI was established
  • Korean War dead, new CIL in Japan, several studies and publications
  • Research in depth on military dead
modern period
Modern Period
  • 1972 to present
  • Establishment of the Physical Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1972
  • American Board of Forensic Anthropology created in 1977
  • Forensic Anthropology Data Bank at UT Knoxville
data gathering methods
Data Gathering Methods
  • Anthroposcopy = Visual inspection of the human body
  • Osteometry = measurement of human bone
  • Chemical methods
  • Histology = study of the microstructure of bone and teeth
Decision table helps researchers judge the relative importance of information
  • Range chart uses multiple ranges of estimates so a central tendency can be determined
  • Indexes use numerical expressions of shape to compare between groups
  • Discriminant functions calculate a numerical expression of shape
  • Regression uses one value to determine another
forensic anthropology in la
Forensic Anthropology in LA
  • Six basic types of cases on which I work
    • Human vs. Non-human identification
    • “Wet” Cases
    • Decedent Searches
    • Skeletal Remains/Surface Field Recovery
    • Buried Body Recovery
    • Burned Body Recovery
for the other types of cases
For The Other Types of Cases
  • Decedent Searches
  • Skeletal Remains/Surface Field Recovery
  • Buried Body Recovery
  • Burned Body Recovery
  • There is SORT, the Special Operations Response Team
the special operations response team
The Special Operations Response Team
  • SORT founded in 2001
    • SORT grew out of the former Los Angeles County Coroner Disaster Response Team (DRT), which was started in 1996
      • DRT covered only mass fatalities
      • All members of DRT were also members of the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT)
      • Because of the large number of “special” cases the DRT was expanded into the present SORT
Mass Fatality Incidents

Multiple Decedent Assistance

Special Decedent Recovery (includes burned bodies)

Buried Body Recovery

Decedent Searches

Public Relations Events

  • Traditionally one Coroner Field Investigator was assigned per call regardless of the type of case or number of fatalities involved.
  • The Investigator on cases involving specialized resources was forced to rely on other agencies’ personnel, equipment, and resources, and therefore often lost control of the crime scene and lost decision making power as the other agencies moved in to assist in the processing of the scene.
  • SORT provides all necessary equipment and personnel to the Investigator.
  • SORT provides skilled manual labor available 24 hours a day to assist the Criminalist, with team members able to recognize items of potential evidential value and thereby prevent accidental contamination of a scene by support staff.
  • In addition, the pre-organized SORT allows for efficiency in processing a scene.
  • From the pathologist's perspective, the importance of a team such as SORT is twofold:
    • The team will effectively document the recovery and the scene
    • The pathologist knows the team understands his/her requirements and preferences and will maximize the evidence collected to be used in his/her efforts
  • The main concern of the Archaeologist in the field is total recovery of the decedent, no matter how scattered, total recovery of artifacts associated with the decedent, and total recovery of associated evidence.
  • SORT allows the Archaeologist more flexibility in applying archaeological methods and techniques to the scene.
The Anthropologist requires remains as complete as possible to construct a biological profile and aid in positive identification of the decedent.
  • Knowing that a specially-trained team is performing the recovery allows these consultants to concentrate on their jobs, not on what everyone else is doing.
  • The trust engendered allows a recovery to proceed at a fast pace without the consultants constantly having to check the efforts of other personnel.
problem cases prior to sort
Problem Cases Prior to SORT
  • Buried body recovery, decedent searches, and recovery under special circumstances were especially difficult prior to SORT.
  • Without the proper personnel or equipment, ready on short notice, personnel present at scene must take on tasks for which they may not have proper training, or for which they are unprepared.
outside agencies
Outside Agencies
  • Even after the formation of SORT, but prior to wide publication of it’s existence, outside agencies often assumed and/or maintained control of scenes in which a body was found.
    • Such circumstances made complete recovery and identification of decedents more difficult for Coroner personnel.