Ask any forensic anthropologist with a zest for their profession who they consider to be one of the most accomplished and influential figures within their discipline, and we’re sure that a great majority will only have one name on their lips: Dr. Clyde Snow. Born at the tail-end of the roaring twenties in Fort Worth, Texas, his ascent to becoming a catalytic powerhouse that transformed his field is a testament to true genius at work.
Dr. Snow is recognised as the guiding hand in identifying the skeletal remains of some prominent figures — from the universally reviled to the most admired — and rightfully gained eminence for his work in forensic anthropology as a direct result. We’ve compiled some of Snow’s most fascinating confirmations here, along with the back-stories for each figure.
From his ambitious search for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Bolivia to his excavation of the bones at the site of Custer’s Last Stand, Dr. Snow is the closest we’ll get to a real-life Indiana Jones.
1. John F. Kennedy
The highly-popular 35th President of the United States met an untimely and unfortunate end when he was assasinated by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963. The circumstances surrounding the incident have since been mired in controversy and conspiracy since the initial government investigation into the assassination occurred (known simply as the Warren Commission after the judge who presided over it).
During these sessions, Dr. Clyde Snow was called as a witness for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSA) to authenticate autopsy X-rays as belonging to JFK, since there was doubt the images released to the public were genuine. Along with Dr. Ellis R. Kerley, Snow determined that the skull and torso radiographs taken at autopsy matched the available antemortem films they had available in a “wealth of intricate morphological detail.”
2. John Wayne Gacy’s Victims
One of the most nefarious serial killers of the last century, John Wayne Gacy was responsible for the assault and murders of thirty-three boys and young men. The disappearance of fifteen-year-old Robert Priest in 1978 eventuated Gacy’s arrest, and his subsequent confession led to the remains of his victims being discovered by investigators at his residence (8213 Summerdale Avenue, according to the record, for anyone with a sufficiently morbid curiosity).
A team of anthropologists began to sort and separate the bones found at the house; these were examined for any distinguishing morphological features that could identify the victims. Dr. Snow produced a chart for every skull found which included 35 reference points that were designed to be compared against missing-person reports.
3. Josef Mengele
Finding and identifying the remains of the infamous Nazi war criminal, Josef Mengele (oft-referred to as the Angel of Death) was a diplomatic issue for the United States in the mid-eighties. Identifying the remains of a cadaver buried in the Our Lady of the Rosary cemetery in Embu, Brazil, became an international endeavour which assembled six forensic scientists leading teams from Germany, Israel and Brazil.
Dr. Snow was one of the prominent figures (considered a pioneer in his field at that point) appointed to the task. His team burrowed out the remains of a right-handed Caucasian male between sixty and seventy-years-old; estimates from metric analysis came within half a centimeter to Mengele’s documented height.
A shattered skull and dental X-rays conclusively proved that the remains belonged to Mengele, and Snow’s work had helpted to close the book on one of the most evil doctors the world had ever seen.
Your Turn: Is there a case we’ve missed that you think we should have mentioned here? Are you a big fan of Dr. Snow and want to share some additional stories here? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.