Indiana State University Newsroom



Forensic anthropologist discusses cases

November 2, 2009

A forensic anthropologist with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii discussed investigating serial killer cases to mass graves during a one-day Forensic Seminar at Indiana State University on Oct. 27.

"A movie about a serial killer is something a lot of people are interested in," said Dr. Robert Mann, director of JPAC's Forensic Science Academy. "They will certainly put fear into your heart - a serial killer will do that."

JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory is the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world. More than 30 civilian forensic anthropologists work in the lab toward achieving the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing due to past military conflicts. In 2008, the laboratory opened the Forensic Science Academy, an advanced forensic anthropology program.

In addition to discussing his work on two serial killer cases, Mann also spoke about uncovering single and mass graves to recover remains during the seminar for law enforcement officers, coroners and military personnel.

Robert Huckabee, ISU associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, said he thought it was important to bring Mann to the university.

"First, what they are doing is extremely honorable; all Americans should be aware of this organization and the men and women who do the hard work of returning the remains of missing service members to their families," he said. "Second, what JPAC does in terms of locating, recovering and identifying human remains is directly relevant to what police officers and coroners are often called on to do."

That became clear when Mann discussed two serial killer cases in which he assisted in identifying victims.

Mann worked on cases involving victims of Jeffrey Dahmer and Kendall Francois. Dahmer, murdered 17 men and boys before being arrested in Milwaukee in 1991. Francois killed at least eight women in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., before being arrested in 1998.

After Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee, he admitted to first killing a hitchhiker - 18-year-old Steven Hicks -- when he lived in Ohio. Dahmer dismembered the body and later smashed the bones with a sledgehammer before scattering the remains on his parents' property.

Officers in Ohio set up an archeological grid on the property and sent everything they found, including numerous human and animal bone fragments, to the Smithsonian Institute, where Mann worked at the time.

"With the human remains, they wondered if there was only one or more than one," Mann said. "It took us about a month to lay the remains out and try to identify them. We documented they had one individual."

Forensic anthropologists then used the smashed teeth's root structure to positively identify Hicks so the remains could be returned to his family for burial.

Mann became involved in the Francois case when the medical examiner in New York requested assistance.

"She realized she had six legs and said she needed help," he said.

In what was dubbed the House of Horrors, detectives found three bodies in a crawlspace under the house. In the attic, they made a more gruesome discovery.

"He would take their bodies to the attic, dismember them and put them in containers," he said. "There were bones all over the place. There was decomposition everywhere."

It took them a week to reunite the body parts that had been scattered across the attic.

"They were white females, all about the same age, about the same size," he said. The victims' similarities made it more difficult to separate the remains.

Mann, who studied with Body Farm founder Bill Bass, has worked to recover remains during more than 35 missions to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Latvia, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Hungary. He has written several books, including "Forensic Detective: How I Cracked the World's Toughest Cases."

Huckabee said it is important for Indiana State to host such seminars.

"It gives us the opportunity to share our university with practitioners who actually do criminal justice work on a daily basis," he said. "We can provide them an environment where they can focus on the activity at hand without the distractions of their workplace."

He also pointed out the benefit for those who attend and work at ISU.

"It gives our faculty and students an opportunity to interact with working professionals and to learn from them," he said.

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Contact: Robert Huckabee, Indiana State University, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, at 812-237-2195 or rhuckabee@indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jennifer.sicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/694991095_kBRUC-L.jpg

Cutline: Dr. Robert Mann, forensic anthropologist and director of JPAC's Forensic Science Academy, speaks during a Forensic Seminar at Indiana State University. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Story Highlights

A forensic anthropologist with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii discussed investigating serial killer cases to mass graves during a one-day Forensic Seminar at Indiana State University on Oct. 27.

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