There is a graveyard in Tempe where the headstones read John or Jane Doe. This is where the remains of many unidentified people are buried.
But the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office sees them first, and goes to great lengths to identify bodies.
These long term cold cases just eat at me,” said forensic anthropologist Dr. Laura Fulginiti. “This was an individual found in the Superstition Mountains in 1992. He was shot twice in the back of the head.”
Dr. Fulginiti looks for the story hidden in the bones and creates a biological profile.
“My mission is to bridge the gap between the unidentified and the missing, dentally,” said her colleague, Dr. John Piakis.
Dr. Piakis is the forensic odontologist who adds to the story by taking x-rays of teeth and comparing them to dental information in a national data base.
“Since it’s the most resilient structure in the human body,” Dr. Piakis said. “We do get a high success rate as long as we get our anti-mortem records, the x-rays before death.”
The science combined with good police work gets an idea of age, gender, race and other information.
Christen Eggers coordinates the effort with police to try and solve the mysteries.
“We have over 2000 missing persons in Arizona and about 1300 unidentfied people,” Eggers said. “Some of these missing persons are going to be unidentified individuals.”
The numbers have led agencies to work together on Missing in Arizona Day. It will be a chance for families with missing relatives to provide more information.
“Families can come, check on their missing person’s report,” said Eggers. “They can bring photographs, dental information, anything regarding the missing person so we can get that into the data bases.
The event is on October 24th from 10 to 4 at ASU’s West Campus.
Families can possibly find closure, and the Medical Examiner’s Office can finish a story that in some cases began decades ago.
“When I hear that I have a 5-10 white male who has a bad back and a limp,” said Dr. Fulginiti. “I will say, ‘I know who that guy is. I have him in my lab and I would like to reunite him with his family.’”