To be credible, a forensic pathologist has to be professionally qualified, experienced, and scientifically independent. Once a forensic pathologist has been caught taking shortcuts, making mistakes, or giving in to political pressur…
In September 1995, the daughter-in-law of Josephine Galbraith, found the 76-year-old dead in the guest bedroom of her Palo Alto, California home. The dead woman’s husband, 79-year-old Nelson Galbraith, a retired music school owner a…
The bathrobe sash, 62 inches in length, had been tightly wrapped around Josephine Galbraith's neck three times. After each wrap, the sash had been tied with a double-knot. The three cuts on her wrist, referred to as "hesitation marks," were typical of the half-hearted attempt of a suicidal person who couldn't bring herself to make the deeper, more painful slashes necessary to cause death by bleeding. There was no suicide note. The coroner's investigator, a man who had been on the job 28 years, recognized the scene as a suicide. The Palo Alto detective, based on the evidence at the scene, agreed with this assessment.
The investigators figured that if Josephine Galbraith had been murdered, the killer would not have made the hesitation cuts. Moreover, the pattern of blood spatter did not suggest a struggle. And the presence of the bucket intended to make the scene less messy, was not consistent with a murder scene. Both investigators also knew that while people cannot manually strangle themselves (they pass out before they die), people can strangle themselves to death by ligature--the use of a rope, electrical wire, necktie, or other length of cloth such as a bathrobe sash. They also knew that Josephine Galbraith's death would have been slow enough to allow her to wrap and tie the sash three times. Given the nature of the people involved, and the physical evidence at the scene, the investigators had no doubt that this woman had taken her own life.
Two days after the death, Dr. Angelo Ozoa, the Santa Clara County Coroner, performed the autopsy, a procedure that took him only 45 minutes. Dr. Ozoa found the cause of death to be "asphyxiation by ligature." This did not surprise anyone. What did shock a lot of people, including the investigators, was his manner of death ruling: "strangled by assailant." Dr. Ozoa had based this finding on two assumptions: Josephine Galbraith was too old and frail to have tied the three knots so tightly; and even if she did have the strength, she wouldn't have remained conscious long enough to complete the task. Since Nelson Galbraith was the only other person in the house at the time of his wife's death, if she had been murdered, he must have been the assailant.
Just days before her death Josephine Galbraith had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, an illness that five years earlier had caused the slow and painful death of her sister. Even before the diagnosis, she had told friends and relatives that she wanted to kill herself. She had informed one of her sons that she would like to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, and asked another son, a physician, to provide her with the drugs to end her life. He had refused.
Nelson Galbraith, the man implicitly incriminated by Dr. Ozoa's manner of death ruling, had severe arthritis of the hands, which would have made it difficult, in not impossible, for him to have tied the knots around his wife's neck. Moreover, there was nothing in Galbraith's background, or in his relationship with his wife, that made him a likely murderer. Investigators, urged on by the county prosecutor's office, nevertheless pushed forward with the case against him, albeit at a snail's pace. In the meantime, Mr. Galbraith's life became a living hell. He complained to a journalist about being referred to in the media as the "Red Sash Murderer," and was spending thousands of dollars on his defense. (Ultimately, his defense costs would reach more than $300,000.)
Palo Alto Police, guns drawn, stormed Mr. Galbraith's house in January 1997, and hauled the 81-year-old suspect away on the charge of first degree murder. In August 1998, almost three years after his wife's death, Nelson Galbraith, who had been allowed to make bail, went on trial for murder. The prosecution's key witness, Dr. Ozoa, told the jury that in all his years as a forensic pathologist, he had never heard of a woman killing herself by ligature. Suicide by ligature, however, is a well-recognized method of death that is well documented in textbooks and scientific journals.
The defense called to the stand forensic pathologists who disagreed with Dr. Ozoa, and argued that the defendant could not have physically committed the crime. Following two and a half weeks of testimony, the jury deliberated for one day and returned a verdict of not guilty. Following the acquittal, the prosecutor's office sought the opinion of a forensic pathologist in the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office regarding the manner of Josephine Galbraith's death. The pathologist agreed with the defense experts: the poor woman had killed herself.
Nelson Galbraith, convinced he had been maliciously prosecuted, sued Dr. Ozoa for $10 million. To bolster his case, Mr Galbraith spent $10,000 to have his wife's body exhumed and sent to Salt Lake City to be examined by Dr. Todd Grey, the medical examiner for the state of Utah. According to Dr. Grey, Dr. Ozoa's incorrect finding of homicide was predicated on an incomplete autopsy. Ozoa had, among other things, neglected to dissect the dead woman's neck, a procedure that could have helped determine how long it had taken her to die. He had also failed to interpret the swelling in her brain, and the broken blood vessels in her face and eyes, as evidence of a slow death. Dr. Ozoa, when confronted with Dr Grey's opinion of his work in the Galbraith case, insisted he had performed a complete autopsy, and that the woman had been murdered.
In 2002, almost seven years after Dr. Ozoa's autopsy in the Galbraith case, the Medical Board of California, citing Dr Ozoa's work in that case, voted to suspend the 77-year-old's license to practice medicine in the state. Two months later, Nelson Galbraith died. Two of his sons kept the civil case alive, and in 2008, Santa Clara County settled the matter for $400,000.
By all accounts, Terry Vance Garner, a farmer from Riverton, Oregon, a small town 140 miles southwest of Eugene, loved his hogs. While most adult pigs weigh between 250 and 300 pounds when taken to market, the 69-year-old farmer own…
At 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Mr. Garner walked out to the hog pen to feed the animals. At 2:30 that afternoon, a relative who went looking for him, came across his dentures, hat, pocket knife, cigarettes, and chunks of his body. The body parts and personal items were found inside the hog enclosure. It appeared that Mr. Garner had been consumed by the pigs he had gone out to feed.
Although sudden, unexplained deaths call for autopsies, the forensic pathologist for Coos County didn't have enough of a corpse to open up and examine in an effort to determine the dead man's cause and manner of death. The best the authorities could do was take the farmer's bones to a forensic anthropologist at the University of Oregon.
The forensic scientist didn't shed much light on how Mr. Garner had lost his life. A local dentist identified Mr. Garner through his false teeth.
Because forensic pathology didn't determine what had caused this man's death, several scenarios were possible, none of which were proven forensically. If Mr Garner had stumbled, or had been knocked over by a hog, then eaten alive, the manner of his death was accidental. If Mr. Garner had suffered a heart attack and died while attending to his pigs, his death would have been classified as natural. If one assumed that the farmer had intentionally offered himself up as hog feed, then his death would have gone into the books as a suicide. If it had been a suicide, it was probably a first-of-its-kind case.
There was also the possibility that Mr. Garner had been murdered. If this was how he died, it would not have been the first time a killer relied on pigs to dispose of a corpse. If the farmer had been shot, and the bullet did not exit his body, the slug would be inside one of the hogs. While foul play was a possibility, it seemed an unlikely scenario in this case.
Without an eyewitness, a suicide note, a bullet, or an autopsy report, the cause and manner of this man's death will remain a mystery.
Betty Rice was 79 when she died on November 9, 2009 in her Sevierville, Tennessee mobile home. Elizabeth A. Ogle, Rice’s 48-year-old niece by marriage, had moved from Chatsworth, Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountain region to care fo…
Because of her age and illness, no one questioned the Sevier County coroner's ruling that Betty Rice had died a natural death from cardiac and respiratory arrest. This determination had been made by hospital physicians without an autopsy. A few days after her passing, the body was embalmed and buried.
Two months after Betty Rice's death, some of her relatives informed the Sevier County Sheriff's Office of their suspicion that she had been murdered by Elizabeth Ogle. Not long before she died, Betty had added the live-in caregiver to her will. The suspicious relatives believed that Ogle had given Rice an overdose of morphine in order to inherit a portion of her estate which included the mobile home and some certificates of deposit.
In January 2010, Sevier County Sheriff Ron Seals obtained a court order that allowed the exhumation of Betty Rice's remains for autopsy. Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Chief Medical Examiner for Knox County, and professor of pathology at the University of Tennessee, performed the autopsy. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, a native of Croatia, reported that Betty Rice's body, at the time of her death, contained a "lethal amount of morphine."
Eight months after the autopsy, Sevier County prosecutor Jeremy Ball charged Elizabeth Ogle with first-degree murder. The entirely circumstantial case was based on the changed will, a signature that looked forged, Ogle's role as the only person in charge of Rice's morphine intake, and the excess amount of the narcotic in the dead woman's system. Elizabeth Ogle, held under $1 million bond, awaited her trial in the Sevier County Jail.
On October 30, 2012, in his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Ball said that Betty Rice had died from "a liver full of morphine" shortly after the defendant had forged the old woman's signature on the new version of her last will and testament. To establish the forgery, the prosecutor put a FBI handwriting expert on the stand. According to the forensic document examiner, the signature in question was substantially different than signatures on greeting cards known to be Rice's. But on cross-examination by defense attorney Charles Poole, the document witness acknowledged that he couldn't declare that without a doubt the questioned signature was a forgery.
The prosecution's key witness, medical examiner Mileusnic-Polchan, took the stand and testified that in her expert opinion, Betty Rice had died of a morphine overdose. Conceding on cross-examination that cancer had destroyed one of Rice's lungs, the medical examiner testified that the old woman had not died a natural death. In the forensic pathologist's opinion, Betty Rice had died of morphine poisoning, and by implication, criminal homicide.
Defense attorney Poole, by asking Dr. Mileusnic-Polchaln how the presence of morphine can be ascertained from remains that had been embalmed, failed to attenuate the certainty of her conclusion.
On November 3, after the prosecution rested its case, the defense put on the first of its three expert witnesses. Steven Karch, a cardiac toxicologist from San Francisco, testified that there was no scientific basis for determining, in the human liver, what was an abnormal level of morphine. Although this witness was not a forensic pathologist, he testified that Betty Rice's cause of death was probably heart failure.
Dr. Gregory Davis, a medical examiner with the state of Kentucky, testified that he "respectfully but vehemently disagreed" with Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan's cause of death determination. After reviewing her autopsy report, Dr. Gregory came to the conclusion that Betty Rice had died due to complications from her cancer. The forensic pathologist also said that assuming the morphine had contributed to Rice's death, the patient could have self-administered the pain-killer.
Dr. Davis was followed to the stand by a pharmacologist who opined that scientists had not established a way to determine abnormal levels of drugs in a person's body through liver analysis. Scientists had not figured out what an abnormal level of morphine was in a person's liver.
At the close of testimony on the fourth day of the trial, circuit judge Rex Ogle (no relation to the defendant) took the case out of the hands of the jurors by issuing a directed verdict of acquittal. In the judge's opinion, the prosecution had not met its burden of proving a prima facie case.
Elizabeth Ogle was released from custody and determined eligible to inherit pursuant to Betty Rice's will.
Medical examiners are the only doctors whose patients are dead and therefore silent. They cannot explain why they died, so we have to find out in other ways. We are the detectives of death–we visit the scene; we examine the medical…
Our medical specialty is forensic pathology. We know about the three kinds of unnatural death--suicides, homicides, and accidents. We are trained to analyze traumatic injuries--gunshot and stab wounds, blunt force, and poison. Our work is different from that of the hospital pathologists who autopsy bodies to study the ravages of disease. Our methods are different from those of doctors who care for the living and whose concern is more the treatment than the cause. We want to know how the knife went in, from above or below, and where the person who wielded it was standing; which bullet hole was the entrance and which the exit and where the shot came from. Medically, these things may be irrelevant, but in a courtroom they are extremely significant in deciding the cause and manner of death and reconstructing how it happened.
Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner, 1989
When people die suddenly and unexpectedly without a clear reason, forensic pathologists, rather than classify them as deaths of undetermined causes, often explain these fatalites as being caused by a syndrome. Attribu…
Excited Delirium Syndrome (EDS)
Forensic pathologists in the United States, Canada, England, and Wales, in situations involving agitated, violent, incoherent, and erratic male subjects who die suddenly while fighting with police officers or prison personnel trying to subdue them through physical force or taser jolts, often attribute these deaths to EDS. Most of these men are overweight, a high percentage are black, and they are all high on drugs and/or alcohol. Many are also seriously mentally ill. Under intense stress, the hearts of these men race wildly, their body temperatures soar to 103-5 degrees, and they either die of cardiac or respiratory arrest. Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas, a well known forensic pathologist and textbook author, believes EDS subjects die from overdoses of adrenaline.
Dr. Deborah Mash
The term "excited delirium" was coined by Dr. Deborah Mash, the neurologist who founded the Excited Delirium Education, Research and Information Center at the University of Miami where she has studied the brain tissue of 120 men she believed died of EDS. Called a junk scientist and charlatan by her critics, Dr. Mash has appeared as an expert witness on behalf of Taser International, the stun gun company that was been sued by families of men who have died after being tasered. When asked about her relationship with the firm, Dr. Mash has reportedly said, "I don't care about the taser, and I'll tell you why. Excited delirium was happening before the taser....If it happened with pepper spray, you'd say, 'oh, it's the pepper spray that's killing them.'...We have some cases where there were no police involved, and they still died....Medical examiners have described cases where paramedics got to the scene and the room is trashed, there are ice cubes everywhere, and the subject is dead. That tells me that person was trying to cool down." (Miami-Dade County fire rescue paramedics carry excited delirium survival kits designed to cool overheated brains.)
Critics of EDS as a cause of death determination include the ACLU and other civil libertarian organizations. Noting that EDS is not recognized by the American Medical Association, these critics believe the authorities use EDS to cover-up and white-wash the real causes of death--police brutality and excessive force. They see EDS as a forensic device used to excuse and exonerate heavy-handed law enforcement.
September 5, 2006
The police encountered 52-year-old Larry Noles, an ex-Marine, standing nude in the middle of the street. After failing to subdue Noles by force, officers shot him with a taser three times. The highly agitated subject suddenly stopped breathing and died. The Jefferson County Medical Examiner attributed the death to EDS.
October 29, 2006
Roger Holyfield, 17, was walking in the middle of the street carrying a phone in one hand and a Bible in the other. He was screaming incoherently when approached by the police. After struggling with the out-of-control man, officers tasered him. Holyfield went into a coma and died the following day. The local medical examiner attributed the death to EDS.
December 17, 2006
High on cocaine and delirious, 29-year-old Terill Enard, with a broken bone sticking out of his leg, was creating a disturbance at a Waffle House restaurant. The police came, tried to restrain him, then shocked him with a taser. Enard collapsed and died at the scene. The coroner's office listed the death as "cocaine-induced Excited Delirium."
Coral Gables, Florida
At two in the morning, Coral Gables police found ex-con Xavia Jones lying in the middle of a highway screaming "God is coming to take me!" When officers approached him, Jones yelled, "Kill me, shoot me." Instead of shooting him, an officer tasered him four times. When that had no effect, another officer gave Jones five more jolts. The subject sort of locked-up, then died with a white liquid trickling from his mouth. The Miami-Dade County Associate Medical Examiner cited "excited delirium syndrome, associated with cocaine use" as the cause of death.
Hanover Township, New Jersey
A New Jersey State Trooper pulled up to 25-year-old Kenwin Garcia as he walked along Interstate 287. After frisking the unarmed man, the officer put him in the back of his patrol car where the mentally ill subject became agitated and kicked out a window. Zip-tied around his wrists and ankles, the trooper and another officer placed Garcia into a second patrol car where the subject kicked out another window. A third trooper arrived at the scene to help restrain the agitated man. One of the troopers turned off the dashboard camera before they pulled Garcia out of the car and piled on top of him. Garcia kicked and struggled, said he couldn't breathe, then went limp. He died a week later at a nearby hospital after they took him off life support.
Although the medical examiner found that Garcia had a broken breastbone, fractured ribs, a torn kidney and internal bleeding, and had not been under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he ruled the cause of death excited delirium syndrome. As a result, none of the troopers in the case were charged with a crime or even disciplined.
Pursuant to an independent investigation of Garcia's death, four forensic pathologists reviewed the autopsy and found that Garcia had died from suffocation while being restrained. Three law enforcement experts opined that the troopers in this case had used excessive force. The dead man's family, based on these findings, filed a wrongful death suit against the township.
In 2013, attorneys for Hanover Township agreed to pay the Garcia estate $700,000 in an out of court settlement. No criminal charges were filed in this case.
July 22, 2011
The Bangor police were called at 6:45 P.M. to deal with 32-year-old Ralph E. Willis, a man addicted to a hallucinogenic stimulant called MDPV, the key ingrediant in bath salts. Officers found him running wildly around yelling at people on the street. When Willis resisted being taken into custody, several officers had to subdue him. In so doing, they used their nightsticks.
At the Penobscot County Jail, Willis continued to be agitated and uncooperative. He fought with jail personnel who put him into a holding cell. Thirty minutes later, when they checked on him, Willis appeared unresponsive. When deputy sheriffs entered the cell, Willis began to yell. He then grabbed his testicles, banged his head against the wall, and rolled onto his stomach flailed his arms and legs At that point the inmate stopped breathing. A short time later doctors pronounced Willis dead at a local emergency room. He had died of cardiac arrest and at the time of his death had a body temperature of 103 degrees.
The state's medical examiner ruled the manner of Willis' death accidental. The cause: MDPV toxicity. In her report, the forensic pathologist described Willis as having been in a state of excited delirium. As a result of the Willis case, the Penobscot County Jail no longer accepted prisoners who were under the influence of bath salts.
EDS in England and Wales
Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not for profit organization based at City University in London, disclosed that excited delirium was first used in a British case in 1996. Since then, the condition has been used by coroners in England and Wales to explain 10 police restraint related deaths. In researching EDS, bureau journalists interviewed several forensic pathologists including Dr. Deborah Mash who told an interviewer that,"Just because you die in police custody doesn't mean that what the police were doing at the time you died led to your death. The symptoms of EDS are why the police are called to the scene to begin with."
In Great Britian, Dr. Mash has drawn the wrath of several prominent critics in the field of forensic pathology. Dr. Derrick Pounder, a forensic pathology expert at the University of Dundee said, "Excited delirium is a theory....It has come from the United States, where the science is very politicized, without a robust enough analysis. If you write off a death as excited delirium, then you close the door to guilt being attributed, and more importantly, lessons being learned from the types of [police] restraint used."
Dr. Richard Shepherd, another English forensic pathologist who spoke to journalists with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, said this: "We know there are a group of people who exhibit this very bizarre behavoir. Whether they strictly fall into this group called 'excited delirium' or not, I think will become clearer as more research is done....I think it is a term that should be used with great care...."
Like its cause of death counterparts, SIDS and SBS, EDS will attract supporters and critics and remain controversial until it is either totally rejected in the medical community or accepted as valid forensic science.
In 2015, 22-year-old Rebecca Hardy resided in a modest home in Port Huron, Michigan with her boyfriend Matthew Grattan and their 18-month-old daughter Molly. Port Huron is a small, Canadian border town located 60 miles northeast of …
On Thursday afternoon, December 3, 2015, Rebecca Hardy stormed out of her house following an argument with her boyfriend. In the backyard of another house in the neighborhood, she took off her shoes and climbed over a fence that kept the owner's two dogs confined to his property. The dogs, a pit bull and a pit bull-husky mix, immediately set upon the intruder.
The dogs knocked Rebecca Hardy to the ground and attacked her neck and face. A local resident witnessed the mauling and tried, but failed, to call the dogs off. Eventually the dogs' owner responded to the attack and subdued his pets. By then the dogs had severely injured the woman who had climbed into their yard.
Paramedics rushed the severely bitten Hardy to the Lake Huron Medical Center from where she was airlifted to the Beaumont Hospital for emergency surgery. That evening, Rebecca Hardy died from her injuries.
The dogs who had attacked Hardy were gathered up by animal control personnel and euthanized the next day. The local prosecutor, following a police investigation, declined to file criminal charges against the dogs' owner.
On Wednesday, December 9, 2015, Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, the Chief Medical Examiner of Oakland County, ruled the manner of Rebecca Hardy's death as suicide. In his report, Dr. Dragovic wrote: "These were attack dogs. They were vicious dogs in an enclosed space. She [Hardy] obviously was aware of that, because she climbed over the fence to subject herself to this threat." According to the medical examiner, Rebecca Hardy recently attempted suicide after being thrown out of her house.
Following Rebecca Hardy's gruesome and fatal mauling, Matthew Grattan, her boyfriend and the father of her child, told a local reporter that he disputed the medical examiner's suicide ruling. "I, in no way, shape or form believe that she was looking to hurt herself on that day. She had a little girl. She wanted us to be a family."
Rebecca Hardy's mother, Terressa Engel, was reported as saying this about her daughter's bizarre death: "I just don't understand how being mauled to death is suicide. They must have a new term for suicide."
Absent suicide, Rebecca Hardy's fate would have been classified as either an accident or a homicide. Matthew Grattan did not offer an alternative theory as to the manner of Rebecca Hardy's death.
In January 2016, Dr. Dragovic released the toxicology report that revealed that Rebecca Hardy had alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine in her system at the time of her death.
Have you heard the one about the hooker, the trick with a bad ticker, and the bungled autopsy? Probably not, because what happened to a prostitute named Natasha Vanwasshenova and her client Jonathan Hood is not that funny. &nb…
On November 23, 2010, Jonathan Hood, a resident of Rochester, Michigan, called a Dearborn escort service and requested a hooker and $80 worth of heroin. The 38-year-old John, in the midst of a divorce, was under the influence of alcohol and heroin when 28-year-old Natasha Vanwasshenova arrived at Hood’s suburban Detroit home with the requested drug.
After consuming more heroin and booze, Mr. Hood and the prostitute soaked in his hot tub for 30 minutes after which he took a cold shower. While having sex with Vanwasshenova shortly thereafter, Mr. Hood died. She called 911, tried to revive him, and waited for the EMS personnel and the police.
The forensic pathologist with the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office who performed the autopsy ruled that Jonathan Hood had died of an heroin overdose. The forensic pathologist noted that Mr. Hood had an enlarged heart and significant blockage in one of his arteries.
Since, according to this forensic pathologist, Vanwasshenova’s heroin had killed Mr. Hood, a local prosecutor charged her with delivering a drug that caused the user’s death. Arrested on this criminal homicide offense, Vanwasshenova, if found guilty, faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Sitting in her Oakland County jail cell, Vanwasshenova must have wondered how having sex with a 38-year-old man had killed him, and why she was being held responsible for his death. Heroin, while not good for you, is not arsenic. Had she known the authorities would charge her for causing this trick’s demise, she might not have stuck around for the police.
Vanwasshenova’s court appointed attorney, Charles Toby, when he read the autopsy report, wondered why the forensic pathologist hadn’t taken Mr. Hood’s enlarged heart and blocked artery into consideration in his cause of death ruling. With that in mind, attorney Toby asked Dr. Kirit Patel, the Chief Cardiologist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, to review the autopsy. Dr. Patel, after reading the police and autopsy reports, concluded that Jonathan Hood had died of “acute coronary thrombosis,” not a heroin overdose. His weak heart had failed under the stress of the drug, booze, hot tub, cold shower, and sex.
In light of Dr. Kirit’s post-mortem analysis, the local prosecutor reduced the charge against Vanwasshenova to delivering a controlled substance. Oakland County medical examiner, Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, amended Mr. Hood’s cause of death to heart attack.
In May 2012, after spending 14 months in the county jail, Vanwasshenova pleaded guilty to the drug delivery charge. She also apologized to Mr. Hood’s relatives who were in the courtroom. Judge Leo Bowan sentenced her to two years probation and ordered her released from custody.
Attorney Charles Toby, noting that his client had been in jail for 14 months on a minor drug crime, objected to the probated sentence. If Vanwasshenova returned to prostitution, she would violate the terms of her probation, and if caught, could end up serving the rest of her drug delivery sentence behind bars. Perhaps her experience with Mr. Hood would point Vanwasshenova, the mother of four, in another direction, career-wise.
The history of forensic science is also the history of pseudoscience, phony experts, and bogus courtroom testimony. Fakes and charlatans have flourished in the fields of handwriting identification, DNA analysis, forensic toxicology,…
These forensic pretenders work in our crime labs, police departments, coroners' and medical examiners' offices. They also practice as private consultants and independent contractors. Within the private sector, these experts from hell often charge less than their qualified counterparts and tailor their findings to meet the needs of the people paying their fees.
Most forensic impersonators work in the shadows until they become involved in a celebrated case. Once in the public limelight, they are often exposed for who they are. That doesn't mean, however, that they slink, disgraced, into forensic oblivion. When the smoke clears, most of them return, with revised phony credentials, and continue to screw up the criminal justice system with their bogus work. They get away with this because in the U.S. there is very little oversight in forensic science.
Shawn Parcells, after graduating in 2003 with a degree in life science from Kansas State University, was accepted into a medical school in the Caribbean. He did not attend the school because he and his wife were expecting a baby. So, instead of becoming a physician and acquiring extra training in forensic pathology, Parcells started a company in Overland Park, Kansas called Regional Forensic Services.
Mr. Parcells, calling himself a forensic pathologist's assistant, offered his services to police departments, coroners' offices and medical examiners' officers. He was not certified as a forensic pathology assistant because no such field is recognized within the forensic science profession.
In Kansas and Missouri, Parcells testified in homicide trials as an expert witness on issues dealing with forensic cause of death. Even more disturbing, he performed autopsies without the presence or supervision of a real forensic pathologist.
On his Linkedln page, Parcells claimed to be an adjunct professor at Washburn State University in Topeka, Kansas. He also claimed to have earned a master's degree from New York Chiropractic College. (Like that would qualify him to perform autopsies.)
A deputy sheriff in Missouri claimed that Parcells held himself out to be a doctor. If true, this could comprise a criminal offense. Otherwise, the laws in Missouri and Kansas are not clear on whether it's legal for a person without a medical degree to perform an autopsy.
In August 2014, in the wake of the Michael Brown police-involved shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri, Shawn Parcells came out of the shadows when he assisted Dr. Michael Baden perform an autopsy on Mr. Brown at the request of his family. (Dr. Baden is a world renowned forensic pathologist and Fox News contributor.)
Following the Brown autopsy, Parcells made himself a TV authority on the 18-year-old's death by appearing on CNN, Fox News, and several other television networks. In watching those interviews, very few people would be under the impression that Dr. Baden's assistant was not a forensic pathologist. He came off as being quite authoritative on the subject of Michael Brown's shooting death.
Parcells' media exposure ultimately led to an investigation by CNN regarding his credentials as a cause of death expert. On November 24, 2014, Parcells sat for a television interview conducted by a CNN correspondent. He admitted having performed autopsies on his own, and when asked how he had acquired his expertise, he said, "by watching pathologists and assisting them at various morgues." Some times he was paid, other times not, he said.
Parcells, when asked about his master's degree from the chiropractic school, said he couldn't produce the diploma because it had not arrived in the mail. According to the CNN interviewer, when an inquiry was made at Washburn State University regarding his adjunct professorship, a spokesperson for the school said he "is not now and has never been a member of the Washburn University faculty." According to the school official, Parcells had once spoken to two groups of nursing students about the role of a forensic pathologist's assistant. He was not paid for his presentation.
Had the 32-year-old forensic practitioner remained on the fringes of forensic pathology in Missouri and Kansas, he would not have become the subject of a minor forensic and media scandal.
Anneka Vasta was born Marjorie Lee Thoreson in July 1952 in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1973, she met and started dating Penthouse Magazine publisher Bob Guccione. Two years later, she became Guccione’s Penthouse pet of the year, a…
Vasta, in 1988, claiming that Guccione had compelled her to have sex with two of his business associates, sued him for sexual harassment. The jury, in 1990, awared her $4 million, but an appeals court, ruling that the damages were nonrecoverable, vacated the damages. In retaliation for the suit, Guccione reprinted photographs of Vasta and another woman in a lesbian love scene from "Caligula."
In 2003, while living in Sherman Oaks, California, Vasta began suffering bouts of paranoia and anxiety. Seven years later, the recently divorced 58-year-old, now having financial problems, still struggled with mental illness.
A pair of joggers, on January 4, 2011, discovered Vasta's naked body on a Marine training beach at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. Agents with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) took control of the case. Shortly after the discovery of the corpse, investigators located Vasta's Mazda at a popular scenic overlook along Interstate 5. Because her body would not have reached the water from this point, agents concluded that Vasta had not jumped off the sixty foot cliff.
At autopsy, the forensic pathologist determined that while Vasta had a broken neck and back, she had drowned. The pathologist found, on Vasta's wrists, superficial cuts called "hesitation marks" that suggested an half-hearted attempt at suicide. The body also revealed two shallow stab wounds to her chest. Vasta's body contained no traces of alcohol or drugs. The autopsy produced no evidence of sexual abuse.
In the dead woman's car, searchers found blood-stained clothing--a blouse and a sports bra--inside a plastic bag. They also found a steak knife bearing traces of her blood. The Mazda also contained Vasta's cellphone and purse. On the passenger's side floor investigators discovered Lithium and an empty Xanax bottle.
Two days before the joggers came upon Vasta's body in the sand, she had rented a room at Motel 6 on Raintree Drive near South Carlsbad State Beach. Vasta had not checked out. Investigators found no evidence of violence or foul play in her motel room.
Vasta's history of paranoia and anxiety, and the presence of the hesitation marks, suggested that she had killed herself. But, as in most suspicious death cases without eyewitnesses or obvious suspects, questions remained. For example, how did Vasta get from her car to the water? How did she receive the broken neck and back before drowning in the Pacific? Could these injuries been caused by the action of the ocean before her death?
Anneka Vasta's life and sudden death--the star-struck gal from Minnesota, corrupted and abused by a sleazy Hollywood porn merchant--is the stuff of Los Angeles noir. It brings to mind the famous quote by novelist and screen writer Ben Hecht: "I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and a sandpaper skin under her silks; shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight."
On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, Anneka Vasta, having quickly faded from public consciousness, briefly surfaced in the media on the occasion of the death of a Swiss artist named H. R. Giger. Giger was best known for his design of the creature in Ridley Scott's science fiction film, "Alien." Internet articles regarding the 74-year-oid's death from a fall featured Giger posing with Anneka Vasta in April 1980 at the opening of an art exhibition in New York City.