Most of us would not want our deaths to become mysteries. We would not want those we love to spend years wondering what had become of us. We would not want to be John or Jane Does lying unknown and unclaimed.
If our remains were found in some forest or desert, we would hope someone would be able to figure out who we were, and let our loved ones know what had become of us. And especially if we had the misfortune to be murdered — we would hope for immediate justice, for someone to figure out what had happened to us, and catch the killer.
Perhaps more than we hope for these things for ourselves, we want them for those we love. We want this for ourselves and our families, but we are moved by the stories of strangers as well. Most of us want to live in a society that will do its best to see that no individual within it is denied identity or justice.
The work of the forensic anthropologist often provides the last opportunity for identity and justice for the dead. I have the great privilege of counting among my friends a number of these bright, highly trained, compassionate and dedicated individuals, and I met most of them through Paul Sledzik.
Paul now works for the National Transportation Safety Board, but when I met him, he was the Curator of Anatomical Collections for the National Museum of Health and Medicine. (If you visit the Washington, D.C. area, take time to stop by this museum. Admission is free.) Through his work with DMORT, he has led or worked on teams that identified remains from mass fatality incidents — events such bombings and airplane crashes, as well as natural disasters. At the time we met, he had recently worked on the identification of remains from the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. A few years later, on September 11, 2001, as Commander of DMORT Team III, he was called to Pennsylvania help identify those who had been on United Flight 93.
In those years, he was also the director of a forensic anthropology course taught at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. I was able to take the course, and much of Bones was inspired by Paul and the other forensic anthropologists I met through the AFIP class. I was struck again and again by their compassion, their willingness to be in incredibly stressful and horrific situations, all to give names to the dead, to give a voice to victims who could no longer speak for themselves, and to aid the grieving process of the families left behind.
Paul was quoted in the National Library of Medicine's "Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body" exhibit:
What intrigues me about anthropology is how the study of all[The exhibit will be at NLM until February, 2008 and is worth visiting -- even if the section on crime fiction is crappy.]
aspects of humans—their past, culture, language, and biology—
helps solve complicated human problems....
Paul has also written about historical military medicine and worked on a number of historic skeletal biology cases. I was to learn more about these when we started talking about writing a story.
Next: we finally get to the vampire part of this story