Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Why is the American system of death investigation so inconsistent and inadequate? In this unique political and cultural history, Jeffrey Jentzen draws on archives, interviews, and his own career as a medical examiner to look at the way that a long-standing professional and political rivalry controls public medical knowledge and public health.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05406-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On any single day, the newspapers, books, and television newscasts of every American city and town describe the gruesome details of thousands of homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths. Although these represent a small percentage of the total number of deaths in the United States, they captivate the public’s attention and imagination. Yet the realities of these deaths are invisible to the public they entertain. Beyond the friends and family of the dead, that reality is known only to those who investigate these cases. It is the role of coroners and medical examiners to determine the cause and manner of these...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Good and Lawful Men
    (pp. 9-30)

    “The aforesaid William Bateman was sett on shore upon a the necke of land neere Pullen Poynte, in the bay of Massachusetts, by a shallop of one Mr. Wright,” began the first inquest in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, in 1630, in front of John Winthrop, governor of the colony. Also in attendance were Isaack Johnson, justice of the peace, and twelve men impaneled for the inquest jury from the surrounding community. “They, returning home, left him with provisions and a fire; but when they returned, they found the said William Bateman dead, about the high water mark. . ....

  5. CHAPTER TWO Rockefeller Philanthropy and the Harvard Dream
    (pp. 31-52)

    In the waning months of World War I, communist radicals threatened the lives of American capitalists, mailing bombs to the homes of icons of American industry, including John D. Rockefeller Jr. After a bomb exploded in front of the residence of U.S. attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer in Washington, D.C., the FBI instituted an all-out effort to export some sixty thousand alleged alien radicals. In the charged environment of this so-called Red Scare, on April 15, 1920, two holdup men shot and killed the paymaster and guard of the Slater and Morrill shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, and escaped...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A Model Law
    (pp. 53-70)

    On the morning of July 4, 1954, the tiny city of Bay Village in suburban Cleveland awakened to the shock of a brutal murder. Marilyn Sheppard, the wife of Dr. Samuel Sheppard, lay draped over the end of her bed, her breasts exposed and her head and face macerated from multiple blows from a blunt object. Dr. Samuel Gerber, the well-known Cuyahoga County coroner, took charge of the scene investigation. He interviewed Dr. Sheppard, his lead suspect, and had the body removed to the morgue. Under Gerber’s authority and direction, Dr. Lester Adelson, a highly skilled and nationally respected forensic...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Creating an Identity
    (pp. 71-95)

    In 1962, the Hennepin County (Minnesota) board turned to Dr. John I. Coe to fill the position of coroner in the wake of a damaging newspaper scandal. A paper had reported on the imprisonment of the current Minneapolis coroner for selling narcotics from his office and revelations of the previous senile coroner’s improprieties. Local pathologists had refused to assist the coroner, whom they detested for his miserly payments for performing autopsies, and they had responded by declining to testify in court. A general pathologist for almost twenty years and chairman of pathology at the local county hospital, Coe had observed...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE In Search of Authority
    (pp. 96-114)

    On November 22, 1963, as the limousine carrying President John F. Kennedy turned slowly in front of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, a sniper shot and killed the president. After emergency surgery at nearby Parkland Hospital failed, doctors officially declared him dead. Dr. Earl Rose, a forensic pathologist and the Dallas County medical examiner, arrived to take jurisdiction over the body. As he did, members of the president’s Secret Service attachment confronted him and demanded custody of the body so they could return it to Washington. Rose angrily defended his authority, according to Texas law, to retain and...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Autonomy Challenged
    (pp. 115-133)

    In 1967, Dr. John I. Coe, the chief medical examiner of Hennepin County, Minnesota, testified in a Minneapolis courtroom, accused of misusing public funds by illegally removing pituitary glands from cadavers and selling them for his own remuneration. Beginning in 1959, several endocrinologists had approached medical examiners, requesting that they remove the pituitary glands from corpses so that human growth hormone could be extracted. The health of thousands of children affected with hypopituitary dwarfism depended on the hormone harvested from these cadaver glands. In April 1963, through the collaboration of the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases with the...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Beyond Vital Statistics
    (pp. 134-153)

    During a July weekend in 1995, Chicago and other cities in the upper Midwest experienced a heat wave of unprecedented severity. The Cook County medical examiner, Edmund Donoghue, reported that hundreds of citizens, most of them elderly and with severe chronic illnesses, had died as a result of the excessive temperatures. Reacting to a public outcry that city officials had failed to respond adequately to the disaster, Chicago mayor Richard Daly and local health department officials criticized the actions of the medical examiner. They accused him of erroneously attributing the cause of death to the heat and artificially inflating the...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Road to Demedicalization
    (pp. 154-173)

    The South Carolina coroner system remained below the national media’s radar until August 1993, when Tim Brown, a construction contractor and the part-time coroner of Marlboro County, cremated the body of an unidentified black male. The badly beaten and visibly unidentifiable, severely decomposed corpse had been discarded just off a local highway. Brown claimed that his lack of an available refrigeration facility for body storage had made it necessary for him to dispose of the body quickly. Six days after cremating it, he received a tip on a possible missing person and consulted local dental experts for assistance. Using teeth...

  12. CHAPTER NINE The Popularization of Forensic Pathology
    (pp. 174-189)

    More than two hundred forensic pathologists sat enthralled as Dr. Julianna Cox, the fictional medical examiner of the popular television seriesHomicide: Life on the Streetsaddressed the 1997 Baltimore meeting of NAME. As television cameras recorded the staged event for inclusion in an episode of the popular series, the youthful and attractive Dr. Cox, portrayed by actress Michele Forbes, accepted the Medical Examiner of the Year award from NAME’s president. Medical examiners applauded as they projected their professional image to the public through the metaphorical Dr. Cox. In an American culture simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by their craft, forensic...

  13. CHAPTER TEN In Search of Reasonable Medical Certainty
    (pp. 190-207)

    In a 1985 series of newspaper articles, theNew York Timesaccused Eliot Gross, chief medical examiner of New York City, of a cover up involving the certification of the deaths of a number of police-related deaths. TheTimesargued that Gross had tainted the outcome of the investigation of these deaths by refusing to certify the manner of death and instead leaving it “undetermined.” The five-stage comprehensive investigation that followed suggested that Gross’s excessive conservatism and cautiousness in the certification of deaths was “so excessive as to undermine credibility rather than enhance it.”¹ Gross demanded, the report suggested, “the...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 208-214)

    On February 18, 2009, eighty years after the release of the 1928 NRC report, leaders of the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO), huddled around a computer screen at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver to view the release of the a second major NRC report on the state of forensic science in America. The congressionally mandated report entitledStrengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forwardfound serious defects in the forensic science system. With the notable exception of DNA evidence, the report claimed that fingerprint, ballastic, bite mark and other forensic evidence had “little...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 217-274)
  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 275-278)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 279-280)
  18. Index
    (pp. 281-290)