Kathy Reichs: Case File for Monday Mourning
We’re returning to the case files of Dr Kathy Reichs, one of America’s leading Forensic Anthropologists and a bestselling author of chilling crime fiction!
When three skeletons are found in the basement of a pizza parlor in Montreal, homicide detective Luc Claudel dismisses them as historic remains. But Tempe Brennan has her doubts. She thinks they’re connected and soon she’s drawn into a web of evil. In this compelling case study, Kathy shares a personal experience that contributed to the plot of Monday Mourning.
The weather was sunny and shirt-sleeve mild that week in September in Montreal. An Indian summer hiccup before the nine-month freeze.
Friday, September 14, was created for hiking the mountain, playing tennis, or biking the path along the Lachine Canal. Instead, I got a call to report to the lab.
When I arrived there were three brown paper bags sealed with red evidence tape.
According to the summary of known facts, the episode began with a backed up toilet in a pizza-by-the-slice joint. Plunger failing, the frustrated proprietor called in help. While banging pipes, the plumber spotted a trapdoor behind the commode.
Curious, the plucky plombier pried, then peered, then plunged underground. When his flashlight beamed up a half-buried long bone, the man surfaced, notified the owner, and the two set off for the local stacks. A copy of L’Anatomie pour l’artiste confirmed that the booty in their sack was a human femur.
The pair called the police. The police processed the basement, recovered a bottle, a coin, and two dozen additional bones, and sent the remains to the morgue. The coroner notified the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciairies et de Médecine Légale. The pathologist took one look and torpedoed my day in the sun.
Sorting and analysis occupied me for several hours. In the end, three individuals lay on my table: a young adult aged eighteen to twenty-four, a middle-aged adult, and an older adult with advanced arthritis. The youngest of the three had sharp instrument trauma on the head, jaw, sacrum, femur, and tibia.
I called the detectives. They informed me that the bottle was new but the coin was old, dating to the late nineteenth century. They could not confirm the coin’s association with the skeleton. I told them to return to the basement. I needed more bones.
A week passed.
Bad news. The detectives reported that no cemetery had ever occupied land under or in the vicinity of the pizza parlor building. Worse news. The detectives reported possible mob links for an occupant of the property some forty years earlier.
Again, I repeated my request for reprocessing, and offered to accompany a team back into the basement. Again, a week passed. Two.
Why the reluctance to return to that cellar?
When confronted, the boys had a one-word reply.
Compromise. Establish that the deaths had taken place within the last half century, and we’d dig the whole cellar, rodents be damned.
My analysis now focused on the question of time since death. Every bone and bone fragment was dry and devoid of odor or flesh. Only one technique held promise.
After I explained the use of the artificial or ‘bomb’ Carbon 14 in determining postmortem interval with modern organic materials, the Bureau du Coroner authorized payment for testing. I cut and sent samples from two individuals to Beta Analytic Inc., a radiocarbon dating lab in Miama, Florida. A week later we had our answer.
Though the results were complicated, one thing was clear. The pizza parlor victims had died prior to 1955.
No curtain call with Rattus rattus. Cue the archaeologists.
Though the dossier is closed, I still ponder those bones. I am touched by the thought of the dead lying in anonymous cellar graves while the living transact business one floor up.
Pepsi, please, and a pepperoni and cheese to go.
What would they think?’
More information on Kathy can be found on her website.
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