Scientist Special: Clyde Snow

“There are 206 bones and 32 teeth in the human body… and each has a story to tell” – Cylde Snow

Clyde Snow was a world-renowned American forensic anthropologist, involved in the examination of thousands of skeletal remains

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Born in Texas in 1928, his rise to forensic stardom was not a smooth one. After being expelled from high school, failing at military school, and dropping out of college first time around, he finally obtained his PhD in anthropology. Initially Snow worked for the Civil Aeromedical Institute examining the bodies of individuals involved in fatal air crashes. He later became increasingly involved with issues of human rights, working with the United Nations Human Rights Commission and being involved in the investigation of victims of genocide and mass graves. Over the years he worked on an array of prominent cases, including the victims of infamous serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, victims of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and even the death of John F Kennedy. He also testified in the trial of Saddam Hussein.

In 1985, a set of remains were discovered in Brazil, suspected to be those of infamous Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele. It was believed that after German officials released a warrant for his arrest, Mengele fled to numerous South American countries where he lived under the name Wolfgang Gerhard until his death. Snow was asked to put together a team of experts and confirm the identity of the remains. And he did just that. Accompanied by a human rights colleague, an X-ray specialist, a renowned forensic odontologist and various others, Snow travelled to Sao Paulo and set to work on examining the remains. The team established that the victim was in his sixties, close to Mengele’s would-be age, was a European male, and had the correct stature and handedness. Mengele’s SS dental records, although lacking in much substance, were consistent with the skeleton under scrutiny. Photograph superimposition was also used, utilising both old and recent photographs of Mengele and superimposing them over the skull, resulting in an “impressive match”. The team ultimately concluded that the remains found in Brazil were in fact those of Josef Mengele. A few years later this deduction was verified by DNA analysis.

His work is by no means limited to legal investigations, but also extended to historic studies of the remains of King Tutankhamun and the suspected remains of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Clyde Snow’s career spanned decades, stretched across dozens of countries and was of the upmost importance. He strived to identify any set of human remains that came his way, hoping to discover an identity and whatever information he could gather that might help bring someone to justice and put yet another victim to rest. The work was no doubt gruelling, both physical and emotionally. To end on words spoken by Snow to his students… “Do the work in the daytime and cry at night”,

Unfortunately, Snow passed away in 2014.

References

The Economist. Stories in Bones. [online][Accessed 20 Feb 2015] Available: http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21602660-clyde-snow-forensic-anthropologist-died-may-16th-aged-86-stories-bones

Forensic Architecture. Osteobiography: An Interview with Clyde Snow. [online][Accessed 19 Feb 2015] Available: http://archive.forensic-architecture.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Cabinet-43_Osteobiography.pdf

Washington Post. Clyde Snow, Forensic Anthropologist who Identified Crime Victims, Dies at 86. [online][Accessed 20 Feb 2015] Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/clyde-snow-famed-forensic-anthropologist-dies-called-grave-digging-detective/2014/05/16/f93778a4-dd44-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html

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