Scientology Crime Syndicate

Monday, October 23, 2000
Teeth often the surest way to identify bodies, suspects
By DAVID HENCH, Portland (Maine) Press Herald Writer

As they unearthed the remains of women murdered decades earlier by James Hicks, crime scene investigators turned to a team of dental experts - dentists and technicians from around the state - to positively identify the victims.

Teeth are the most durable part of the human body. The enamel is 98 percent inorganic and less susceptible to decay than soft tissue or even bone. And like a fingerprint, no two sets of teeth are identical. Unlike fingerprints, almost everyone who has visited a dentist has a record of their teeth.

That's why investigators turned to dental records after Hicks confessed to murdering three missing Maine women. Hicks, who was facing a long sentence in a Texas prison for another violent crime, agreed to lead police to the bodies with the understanding that he would be imprisoned in Maine.

A handful of dentists in Maine make forensic dentistry their avocation, using the unique configuration in the human mouth to identify bodies and crime suspects.

"It's putting the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the mystery,'' said Dr. Thomas Richardson, a Portland dentist who heads one of three forensic dentistry team in the state.

Of the three means of positive identification - fingerprints, DNA and teeth - a person's dental configuration is often the quickest and easiest method, says Dr. Margaret Greenwald, Maine's chief medical examiner.

"We try to do that as quickly as possible,'' Greenwald said. "There are a lot of people out there that are concerned about making sure that the remains of a person is who we believe it to be: for the family, for the detectives that are trying to determine what happened to the person and for the public who are concerned about what may be happening.''

Long after people are dead, their teeth can communicate important information about their identity and even some of the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Teeth also can be the key to solving violent criminal cases where a suspect or a victim has left a bite mark.

In cases like that involving Hicks' victims, members of the forensic team match past X-rays and dental charts against teeth found with remains.

Dentists were actually at the scene for the recent exhumations because they can recognize small pieces of dental material that could be important in an identification.

"You're hopefully given a known - X-rays of who they think this person may be - then it becomes simply a matching game,'' said Dr. Bruce Gallup, an Auburn dentist whose interest in dental forensics dates back to his years as a paramedic firefighter in Indiana.

Like other members of the team he helped form, Gallup has trained at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

"You use your dental skills, but in a totally different light - and it's very rewarding,'' he said.

The forensic teams also have trained to make identifications in a disaster, such as a plane crash in which dozens or even hundreds of victims might need to be identified.

"With the Hicks case, you have three people and you're pretty sure who they are and it's a matter of making a visual match,'' Richardson said. "When you have a plane crash, it's a different ballgame.''

In a major disaster, the group would use portable X-ray equipment and dental mapping techniques to develop profiles of the victims. In some cases, those profiles can be compared to prior dental records that have been scanned into a computer, allowing experts to make matches or at least narrow the possibilities.

Because teeth are incredibly resilient even in intense heat, remains can be identified even when victims are burned beyond recognition. While extreme heat sometimes causes a tooth to explode, large molars often survive. In some cases identification can be made based on the twist of the root remaining inside the jaw, Richardson said.

Another facet of forensic dentistry is gleaning information from bite marks.

In 1997, Richardson was called in after John L'Heureux of Sanford was arrested for the murders of his stepdaughter and former landlady in Augusta. Police believed a red mark on his arm was a bite and could be important to the case.

Richardson rushed to the Kennebec County Jail. Investigators, he said, have no more than 72 hours before bite marks lose their evidentiary value.

A colleague of Richardson's made a cast of the 16-year-old murder victim's upper and lower jaw. Richardson began denoting the peaks of the teeth on a transparent sheet which he then laid against L'Heureux's arm, alongside a tattoo of a skull. The map of the girl's teeth matched perfectly against the short red lines forming a semicircle on the forearm.

Richardson could tell from the bite not only that L'Heureux's stepdaughter had bitten his arm, but that his arm had been wrapped around her from behind, pulling back sharply.

Richardson, who worked as a dentist in the Alaskan bush and earned a law degree from the University of Arizona, has also helped develop information about murder suspects based on the bite mark on a victim.

Forensic dentistry shares similarities with the more common form of dentistry. Both start as mysteries, solved through analysis and experience.

"It's always an investigation,'' Richardson said. "A person comes in with a toothache and you need to find out what the problem is and how to cure it.''


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