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DEAD MEN DO TELL TALES by William R. Maples


The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist

by William R. Maples & Browning

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-47490-3
Publisher: Doubleday

A lively narrative that illuminates the science of forensic anthropology. Ever wondered what happens to the human body while it's decomposing or to a silicone breast implant during cremation? Maples, bone expert for the Florida Museum of Natural History (affiliated with the Univ. of Florida) and crime solver extraordinaire, with Miami Herald reporter Browning, answers these questions and many more in an exceedingly well-written and accessible volume. He provides insight into his unusual profession, revealing how an experienced forensic anthropologist can glean from a few bone fragments the age, sex, race, and lifestyle of the deceased. Each chapter covers a different episode in Maple's career, from his days as a budding young scientist studying baboons in Kenya to his identification of the type of murder weapon used in the 1990 Gainesville, Fla., serial murders. Maples has trained his expertise on an assortment of murders and suicides. The most interesting chapters discuss some of his more celebrated cases, such as his analyses of the skeletons of the Elephant Man, servicemen who fought in Vietnam, and Francisco Pizarro (conqueror of the Incas); his inquiry to determine whether the 12th president of the US, Zachary Taylor, died of arsenic poisoning or natural causes; and his trip to Ekaterinaburg in 1989 to examine nine skeletons, all that remained of the last Russian czar and his entourage after the Bolsheviks executed them in 1918. Maples avoids euphemisms, describing much of his gruesome work in vivid language that may repulse some squeamish readers, but he tempers the mood with occasional doses of tasteful humor. He expresses profound respect and sympathy for the dead but stresses that he puts his emotions to the side while conducting his investigations. His occasional forays into the merits of capital punishment and the criminal justice system are less interesting, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise superb book. Not just for the morbidly curious.