February 28, 2006

Unnatural Death

Just so you don't think I sit around, night and day staring at television like a lobotomy victim, I've been known to read a book every now and then.

Last week, I finished Unnatural Death:Confessions of a Medical Examiner by Michael Baden. You might recognize that name from the HBO program Autopsy. That's his show.

Before shows like Law & Order and CSI grabbed hold of the imaginations of television audiences, people satisfied their crime scene curiosity with books written by experts in the field of criminal investigation. Profilers, detectives, forensic anthropologists and pathologists alike wrote books for audiences that were just dying to know what happens during a criminal investigation.

In the book he shares some interesting cases.

The most important case he discusses is the Kennedy Assassination but Kennedy's story is too involved to neatly sum up for the sake of this post.

He talks about the Preppie murder case where he found the evidence that supported Chambers claim of accidental death by rough sex play.

He talks about the sad case of Marybeth Tinning, who kept giving birth to and then murdering her babies - killing 9 children in total before authorities started an official investigation.

He shares the information he found during an investigation he conducted for Attica investigators after the prison riots (which began on my fourth birthday in 1971), that helped to establish who killed who.

He talks about the politics of being a Medical Investigator in New York City from 1978 to 1979 and how he sued Mayor Koch for wrongful dismissal (leaving out that he didn't win the suit).

And much to my delight, he talks about his experience as an expert witness for the defense at the very famous Claus von Bulow trial. (Did he or didn't give his wife an injection of insulin? According to Baden, the medical evidence did not support the prosecution's theory that Claus was responsible).

Baden gives you enough information to support his claims for each case. And in some cases, to question the meaning of truth and what truth means to different people.

Unnatural Death also argues in favor of employing more qualified personnel to conduct proper medical examinations. According to Baden, one of the biggest hinderances to successfully finding the truth of a criminal case is the sloppy work of an inexperienced or unqualified medical examiner. That was 20 years ago. I'm not sure what the situation is now.

It's a good read.

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