Sunday, November 8, 2009

Forensic pathologists

Thanks to the 1976-1983 television drama "Quincy M.E." and because of his many high-profile cases, Dr. Thomas Noguchi (pictured, top) became the country's most well-known forensic pathologist. Dr. Noguchi, now retired, became coroner-chief medical examiner of the County of Los Angeles in the 1960s. As "coroner to the stars," he has autopsied a number of celebrities: John Belushi (1949-1982), William Holden (1918-1981), Janis Joplin (1943-1970), Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), Marilyn Monroe,(1926-1962), Sharon Tate (1943-1969), and Natalie Wood (1938-1981). When asked in a 1986 interview how forensic scientists differ from other scientists, Dr. Noguchi answered, "The public expects unusual personalities, but we are temperamentally similar to lab researchers. Yet medical detectives are congenial and able to work closely with police, juries, and lawyers. Also forensic leaders never give up -- we work at a case even though many years may go by. Gallows humor, or better, morgue humor, is a safety valve for us. Because of the pressure of being surrounded by dead bodies and death scenes, we tend to see matters in a different vein."

With the popularity of TV crime shows, there are now 2 series based on forensic pathologists - both of them women. Kathy Reichs works for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of North Carolina and wrote the books that inspired the drama "Bones." Jan Garavaglia is the Chief Medical Examiner for Orange County, Florida, and stars in the documentary "Dr. G: Medical Examiner."

Several other forensic pathologists may not have name recognition, but are frequently interviewed on TV. Michael Baden, once the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, has consulted on many high-profile cases, including John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and Sid Vicious (1957-1979), and the murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, and Claus von Bulow. Cyril Wecht, an expert in forensic medicine who has conducted more than 14,000 autopsies, was consulted or interviewed regarding the deaths of Vincent Foster (1945-1993), John and Robert Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne (1940-1969), David Koresh (1959-1993), Elvis Presley (1935-1977), and JonBenet Ramsey (1990-1996). Henry Lee (pictured, bottom) is Chief Emeritus for Scientific Services for the State of Connecticut and has assisted in the investigation of more than 6,000 cases. Of his profession, Dr. Lee writes, 'The forensic field is not lucrative. You cannot become wealthy. If you want to be challenged, it’s the right field. But you have to have a good science background. You also have to learn to use deductive and inductive logic. You need to have curiosity. You can’t have an 8-to-4 attitude. I never have a day where I go home at 4:00. You have to have that persistence. Then you need an attitude, that you do your best. Win, lose, draw, you don’t care. Don’t let public opinion pressure you. Don’t let the police pressure you. Don’t let anything pressure you to do something unethical. Then you can survive and become one of the best forensic scientists.”

1 comment:

  1. In my capacity as Sirhan B. Sirhan's legally appointed researcher I came to know something about Dr Thomas Noguchi and Dr. Henry C. Lee.
    From personal experience I found Dr. Noguchi to be one of the most honest and dedicated people.
    About fourteen years ago Sirhan's brother Adel mailed my research reports to Dr. Lee asking him to review them.
    Adel truly believed Dr. Lee could provide some answers into the many unanswered questions surrounding Robert Kennedy's assassination. And, more than anything Adel Sirhan had the greatest admiration for both Dr. Noguchi and Dr. Lee.
    I couldn't agree more.
    Rose Lynn Mangan


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