Forensic Expert Realities Differ From CSI Plots


Rick Snow, 56, is the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic anthropologist. In the 1980s, when he went back to college to prepare for his new career, most people didn’t know what he was talking about, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now, hit television shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” help people understand. Snow is called when a hunter finds bones in the woods and local authorities can’t tell whether it’s the remains of a deer, a bear, or a human. He is called when a body is so badly burned or decomposed that a local coroner can’t identify the person or determine a cause of death.

The Journal-Constitution profiles Snow, explaining what it takes to be a forensic anthropologist. Snow enjoys watching programs like “CSI” but sometimes finds himself laughing out loud. He recalls one program that showed investigators using ground-penetrating radar and finding the outlines of a buried body, so detailed that they could see the person’s fingers. In reality, Snow said, such technology allows investigators to find areas where the earth has been disturbed – no outlines of hidden bodies. People may not understand that he can have a full skeleton, a DNA sample, and a good idea of a person’s demographic profile, but if there isn’t a missing persons report, or a matching DNA sample in a database somewhere, or a tip about the victim’s identity, the physical evidence isn’t enough.


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