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Domestic Violence and Abuse

Decomposing Bodies to Solve Cold Case Murders

I don't know how many dead bodies you guys have seen especially in this stage being out here it's just like a crime scene so it's uh it's kind of natural to me I guess at this point so it doesn't really sound really freaking me out since 1980 you of 250,000 unsolved homicides in this country you know on average is gonna be 450 added every year that's just Florida the National Institute of justice has called it our nation's silent mass disaster today unlike ever before we have more tools more technology we we keep do things that like even five years ago we couldn't do where the problem is is that there's no funding for it it's really important that we think about them as the people that they were they disappeared from their lives and in each case there's a family you know somebody looking for them and it's like until that case is solved you just disappear my name is Erin Kimberly I'm a friend's acam through Paula gist at University of South Florida I do a lot of case for for local law enforcement mostly open homicides but we took on some big projects in the last few years like a cold-case initiative this country has over 50,000 unidentified remains Florida has close to a thousand of those in anthropology we look at humanity from a biological perspective probably grow hopefully interact with the environment so it's basically taking the methods and what we do in math discipline and now applying it to me stuff investigations individuals are found typically it's in a public place right something that doesn't link them to their location there I'm known the question is who's this person and so we use skeletal remains to try and find that answer we have the number of donors outlet we've had 38 come through the program so far they are placed outside on the surface they're modern people we know everything about them and it helps improve our methods for human identification so this space is three and a half acres it's mostly grassland you can see it's very open and then there's a corner of it which is wooded and the low-lying area so it's a great micro environment to look at all the different things that we study here and you see the cages are for keeping away vultures and scavengers and possums and other critters that might come and disturb the remains in some cases we've left that off in order to look at what those activities are and we've been really surprised a lot of what affects rates of decomposition and outdoor crime scenes is local environments so there's a real need for this type of work all over the country with decomposition the grass died there's no vegetation that's typical we caught like a burial silhouette or burial steam after a period of time the vegetation will grow back and then it will grow back larger and they'll do better than the surrounding area in some places where the grass has grown up and you can see like there's little patches or it's particularly large those are areas where we have burials the low-lying part of the facility right now it's dry but in the other part of the year or when it rains every day this fills up with water and the water will get to about this level the red mold and stuff you know Florida is water everywhere and so that's something that's been largely ignored in research related to composition last 10 20 years how crime scene has been approached and process is like well we're outside so just pick up everything put it in a bag and bring it back to the lab what happens when you do that is that your context is lost you've lost so much information how did things come to view where they are that helps you recreate that whole scenario of what happened whether a person is killed in that location or killed somewhere else and brought to that location like those are the circumstances we want to understand excuse-excuse my name is George Lloyd green and I've been in law enforcement for 33 years nothing surprises me anymore you know it's like a doctor I guess or a hospice nurse and you're dealing with death all the time and people that you have to remove yourself from the attachment this is a human being that if you let it get to you they would consume you and looking at the human body or the way someone was murdered if they were killed so you just have to try to treat them as okay this is the crime scene I don't know how many dead bodies you guys have seen especially in this stage as the body decomposes skin loses all its texture and all the fluids out of it and this person is only out here what a week no dignity and death look at all the maggots from there's thousands of them you're just devouring the flesh they could be helpful to us to let us know how long the body is here for you say gee you know by the magnet activity they had to be here at least four days so now you can go back from four days maybe there's surveillance footage maybe there's a witness obviously this one is here nothing but bones when we first initially come we're looking for say the skull is this goal cracked open is there blunt trauma to the skull we want to know if this was a homeless person who was wandering around and died of natural causes or was this individual murdered then the remains would go to the medical examiner's office and they would see if there was anything on the remains that we could you know decipher how this person died you don't know what's relevant at the scene until you go back and start digging so that's why when you come out here we would take everything law enforcement and scientists seem very different however like detectives as a scientist I like things very simple because the simplest explanation is most often the correct life we had a symposium here there's like six other facilities like this around the country and the directors of all those facilities came for a weekend and it was really neat to sort of see in here what they're doing and the difference is Texas gets a lot of altars but nowhere near what we do everyone else even if there's vultures in the area they don't really mess up the bodies I think the toughest cases are those where there's just very little information maybe we find a skull but not all the remains the vultures we've seen we see them coming unseen but I've never seen a video how they turned the whole body which could now altered our crime scene if that was in fact a murder when we go out to see Lucia body like that maybe that's not in the same condition the body yeah or if it was a suicide and that person killed himself and they had a firearm now the birds come in and they turned the whole body the firearm could have been picked up by one of them with a body pod dropped a hundred feet away and now it looks more like a murder when it was really a suicide so how do you start to put back together all that information you do it by treating your outdoor scene like you would an indoor scene for this project we've been really interested in having control over the site and establishing you know location for everything so mapping in all of the body positions with both GPS and then we also have terrestrial laser scanning that we use and some of the applications with that that we've used for law enforcement is when searching for clandestine graves buried bodies so this is from the terrestrial laser scanner that is showing differences in elevation so for example in this we can look at if you have areas of subsidence tracks yeah you see the paths where people are walking in so I mean it's pretty interesting the level of detail you can get elevation wise literally it freezes a site in time the more contacts we can have the better chance of solving it and that's where how we process the scene is really important this is great the body founds it helps us as homicide investigators because it can help us timeline or wide some particular marks were on a body proper removal so we don't damage any evidence I would like to get all the rookies to come down here who have never seen a dead body so they can learn what happens to the body what it looks like yeah yeah it's all a learning experience everybody has to work together you know hand in hand because we're on the same goal is to find our victim will you bury a body and if you haven't been here for a year or two it's like take some probing rods in there and see if I mean just something to see if you would actually would smell the remains of somebody in the ground for a year or two I guess depending on the depth how badly they decomposed we could try something like that if that would work yeah yeah oh the guy who years ago you in the back when Jill had the guy who hung himself up in the tree he's like 60 feet up in the tree and someone found the part of a bone of a person on the floors like Pidgey where this guy this bone and they went out looking oh there he was to help identify somebody who's unknown the more information we have to work with the more complete a picture we can put together of who this person might have been things need to be improved in a system communication right everything works together anthropology helps inform medical examiner's in law enforcement of a lot of different components of who this person was and what happened to them this is the forensic anthropology laboratory it's essentially a dry lab so we work on skeletal remains here all my research since graduate schools been in skeletal biology basic you know that's like the core of the science there's a lot that we learn about a person from their biology what we're really excited about is chemical isotope test II one of the easier isotopes to talk about is the oxygen isotope because water is made up of primarily of oxygen and hydrogen you're drinking the tap water the foods that you eat it's also what you breathe in and so that becomes embedded in your chemical signature your biochemistry throughout your life and so when we look at the oxygen isotopes and the teeth it gives us a good idea where that person may have been raised or where they may have been born so what I'm showing you is a broad overview of a oxygen isotope map you can differentiate from areas of the southwest region because there's so much precipitation here in Florida and Georgia and you know the southern states you tend to have heavier isotopes when you start to migrate upward up north and over to the west coast you have less precipitation and you have higher altitudes and that is really helpful because we can knock down our kind of triangulate a region for that individual when we look at the oxygen isotopes in the bone that gives us a good regional idea of where they have been living in the last five or ten years you can look at someone's nail within six months and see if they've actually moved from one country to another we're using multiple isotopes so it can help kind of triangulate kind of like that past life history of that person one of the things that's been really important and helpful to us is the ability to do 3d printing we use it to help with facial reconstructions so we put to shoot up some markers on the skull basically little erasers are cut at links reflective of the soft tissue at that point on the skull so obviously cheeks and the chin they're wider whereas on the forehead there quite a bit narrower I take notes on our biological profile that we recreate in the lab so in this case I have determined this is a male individual who's over fifty years old he has European or white ancestry and so we will use tissue depths that will reflect that population and you can actually see some really interesting features of those individual so he has dentures which of course will help build him the structure to his face and then has fractures on his nose so I will take notes on all of this to give turned forensic artists so that they can take those different features and those special nuances into account as they're doing their facial reconstruction depending on which method of friends of court we're using to make the face for example it's clay the model will actually have the clay sculpture built right on it if it's going to be a composite or a digital composite or illustration then we're altima doing that on the computer but we're doing it in 2d so we take that nice 3d model that we have flatten it to a 2d image and then build the face over it the key in these cases is to get that information out to the public because someone knows who they are someone may know what happened to them hopefully that triggers someone's memory hey George the first guys on the scene if they really don't know they can you know potentially mess it up for you [Laughter] I'd say to do this type of work it is very difficult and very challenging and I think you'd find that across the board both within anthropology and then within homicide units where they are trying to deal with cold cases where the problem is is that there's no funding for it I find that whether it's the public or politicians or others they tend to just think this is already covered by somebody else's priorities Nielsen's budgets and we all should have it it is the responsibility of medical examiners and law enforcement to identify people and solve cases but the cases keep coming in every day so as the years pass and they turn to decades whose responsibility is it just go back and say well we've still have all these open cases from years and decades ago let's continue to work them as hard as we're working the ones coming in this morning some agencies embrace it but a lot on that I think is where as part of the whole justice system sort of breaks down accountability for that we do you know a lot of events specifically to target certain cases and get it out to the public and every time we've sold cases so we know it works but without any resources and funding it's just impossible to sustain about half of the cases in here that we're featuring come from Florida and the other half come from around the country and they've been largely neglected for decades so this little girl for example was found in Philadelphia in the 80s and it's the first time there's been a facial reconstruction for her this is a teenage girl who actually went missing from New Hampshire and her remains were found in 1985 this is a woman found murdered and inside of a trunk found on Halloween in 1969 we really wanted to feature it this year and just get it out again because whoever knew her you know may be quite old early today and so we want to reach them while we have that chance I used to have scene shows she probably came from another state north of here maybe the Carolinas in Kentucky that that general northern part of the south east region this is a gentleman that was probably in his 60s of 70 he actually died alone in a movie theater in Philadelphia never been identified but also they never had a good facial out there and haven't haven't tried for a long time people often ask how accurate are they we work to make them as accurate as possible based on the biology and the Anatomy we've had a lot of success with it we had one case that we were going to feature and right before the event she got identified which was great she didn't missing for about over 30 years and so we just included this example the show that the process does work in the there's a lot of hope for cases that are even decades old the thing about an exhibit and by using art and making it visual as I think people can connect to it and it becomes an experience not just a story in the paper you read but something that can be emotional connection what struck me the most in interacting people as I'll say like wow the eyes are so powerful or did they really have freckles and curly hair and things like that and it's really important I think that we think about them as the people that they were they disappeared from their lives and in each case there's a family you know somebody looking for them the thing I've heard over and over from families it's always paramount to them but they know what happened even though that truth might be horrific but not knowing is worse the message that we've always said and always tried to make is that anything that we do with the dead it is for the living I can tell you generally crime rates are going up homicides are going up and so it's the unsolved you

Cesar Sullivan

44 thoughts on “Decomposing Bodies to Solve Cold Case Murders

  1. I guess the people that died didn't want a grave thats horrible I wounder how they know this. They probably have no family because my family would say fuck no!!

  2. Kindly make a video of what is going on Sudan.. They have been blacked out, raping, killing, burning.. Currently happening

  3. Wait so when you decompose ina field, vegetation is gone but comes back over time and better than its surroundings area … so really we were ment to complete the cycle of nature after death …. makes more sense than heaven tbh

  4. I've missed this. An informative video that's mindblowingly interesting, that sucks you in and you just watch the whole thing in awe.
    Thanks Vice!

  5. They are very sloppy with their work. They are walking unprotected through the decomp areas, rewatch as they stroll through the broken down grass that has turned black.

  6. Celebrity Supplements Storm The Globe

  7. Imagine getting plastic surgery and they tried to figure out how you actually look and nobody knows your old face…

  8. This is the best video from vice in a while. vice was doing really good a while ago and then they quit posting videos like this. All of their videos where interesting. And then all of a sudden it was like they quit caring. And it's probably affected them. But this is the vice I like. The vice from years ago

  9. This is the TYPE OF CONTENT I SIGNED UP FOR- nah fuck that lmfao show me the basketball sneaker collection and yes I’ve seen comments like these 5 times in a row

  10. I really hope this gets more media attention and gets more funding. This is powerful stuff, "it is paramount to them to knowing even if it may be horrific, not knowing is worse."

  11. "Decomposing bodies to solve cold case murders"
    VICE, WTF DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?? Propoganda organ Vice News can't even title their videos in a straight forward fashion. Embarrassing.

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