True crime meets forensic science
June 22, 2022

E2 What is Forensic Anthropology?

How forensic anthropology helped convict Grant Hayes of Laura Ackerman's murder


Dr. Ann Ross is surrounded by bones, literally. Everywhere you look in her osteology lab at North Carolina State University there are skeletal remains on metal tables laid out like jigsaw puzzles – a mosaic of hundreds of pieces that only she knows how to put together. Ross is a forensic anthropologist, often called on to help solve murder cases using forensic science. In this episode, we walk you through the definition of forensic anthropology with the disappearance of Laura Ackerman, a young mother of two boys. The frantic search for her leads across state lines from North Carolina to the gruesome discovery of her dismembered remains in a Texas creek filled with alligators. The clues point to her ex, Grant Hayes, and his current wife. When the skeletal remains arrive in Dr. Ross’ lab, the work of solving the case with forensic science begins. But solving this takes creativity. That’s where a pig carcass and a reciprocating saw from a hardware store come in handy. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Transcript

DISCLAIMER: This podcast contains frank descriptions of human remains and physical violence. Listener discretion is advised. 

 

OPEN: 

 

Dr. Ann Ross, Forensic Anthropologist, North Carolina State University: Okay. So I have various types of, and different sizes of hammers. I have a couple of axes, um, various, um, handsaws. 

 

Amanda: Forensic anthropologist Dr. Ann Ross points to the wall where a wide array of… tools hang… like they might in your garage. 

 

Ross: Um, crowbars. Cause we we've had people have a crowbar to the head--axes, hatchets, machetes. 

 

Amanda: These are some of the tools she uses to try and figure out how someone was murdered... what may have made its mark on a person’s bones.  

 

Amanda: Why is it important in some cases to go all the way to the bone that the bone becomes, the more, uh, telling part of the story. 

 

Ross: Depends on where on the body. You can see patterns of. Instruments that are used and you can see them more readily on bone in a lot of cases. 

 

Amanda: Ross is a petite woman in her 50s. She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup. When we met up, she had on blue scrubs…. and a set of skull and cross bone earrings.  

 

She is the real-life version of those scientists from crime dramas you see on TV. Shows like CSI, Bones and NCIS.  

 

And while those cases are always solved in the span of an hour minus commercial breaks, most of what they do on those shows is made up. Many of the tests they perform don’t actually exist and the technology… well let’s say it’s more Star Trek than real-world. 

 

But what forensic anthropologists like Ann Ross can do without all the holographics and TV fantasy is just as impressive. 

 

Amanda: On a metal exam table in her North Carolina State University lab… is a human skeleton laid out in meticulous order. 

 

Amanda:  Do you know anything yet in terms of race, age, anything?  

 

Ross: European American. Male. You can tell that from the pelvic bone. 

 

Amanda: Don't have an age yet.? 

 

Ross: Don't have an age yet.  

 

Amanda: Ross can read bones like a book….. And puzzles she can’t immediately solve…. they’re always on her mind. 

 

Ross: I will actually literally kind of dream about it and just kinda run things through my head. And I wake up in the morning. Oh, I should probably do this one more thing. 

 

A lot of the times we don't get the complete skeleton. So we're missing part of the story. So for example, I can tell here that we're missing quite a few. There's probably 70% of the full skeleton laid out here.  

 

Amanda: How do they store these? How do they bring these bones to you?  

 

Ross: Here's the box right here.  

 

Amanda: Oh, just a regular old box of bones. Okay.  

 

SCENE SOUND -  Opening cabinet 

 

Amanda: Ross then walks over to a storage closet in the corner of her lab and opens it. Inside are about 40 boxes. Inside each box are groups of bones categorized by where they’re found on the body. They are stored together in acid free plastic bags – longer bones are wrapped in foam sheets. 

 

Each box is carefully labeled first with a case number, then with an ethnicity, age, and some details about the person if they have them. For example one box reads: “European-American male, 28 years, GSW to head.” That stands for gunshot wound. Another one reads: “Hispanic male, 41 years, no skull.” And another: “European-American female, 41 years, 22 years in lake, eroded, very fragile.” 

 

Amanda: So these are your active cases,  

 

Ross: Active and cold cases that we're still working on. 

 

Amanda: Some of them are not identified? 

 

Ross: Some of them are not. Some of them are in the process. 

 

Amanda: Each set of remains represents a mystery, a puzzle to be solved, the story of a real person who walked the earth…and Ross wants to figure out what led to their deaths. 

 

Ross: I feel it's my responsibility, cause I have these specific skills. I think it would be selfish if I would keep it to myself. 

 

Amanda: Ross believes a specific mark on a bone – it doesn’t lie. It tells an indelible story about what happened. 

 

From WRAL Studios, this is What Remains,​ stories of connecting unidentified human remains to the missing and the murdered. I’m Amanda Lamb. 

 

In this episode – how Dr. Ann Ross deciphered the story of one bone and solved a case right out of the movies. 

 

BREAK 

SEGMENT 1 

 

Amanda: Laura Ackerson’s friend and business partner had been trying to reach her for days--calls, emails, texts – they all went unanswered. 

 

On July 18, 2011 the friend reported Laura missing to police in Kinston, North Carolina. 

 

I covered the story for WRAL-TV 

 

WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE  

David Crabtree: Amanda Lamb was in Kinston today and joins us now with how people are reacting to this disappearance.  

 

Amanda: David people I talked to say Laura Jean Ackerson would never leave her two sons... 

 

Amanda: Laura was 27 and mother to two boys - one and two years old. She had just moved into a new apartment, trying to restart her life after years of an on and off relationship with the boys’ father, Grant Hayes. They had finally ended the relationship for good.  

 

Laura and Grant were now in the middle of a bitter custody battle over their sons.  

 

Just a few days after her disappearance, Laura’s car turned up… not far from Grant’s home. Using his cell phone records, detectives traced where he’d been around the time of Laura’s disappearance. They saw he'd traveled to Richmond, Texas, an 18 hour drive from his home. They learned that Grant's wife Amanda had family there. So, North Carolina detectives follow their hunch to Texas - to the home of Amanda Hayes' sister, Karen Berry. As soon as they knocked on the door, they knew they had  something.  

 

Here’s prosecutor Boz Zellinger: 

 

Boz Zellinger, Prosecutor, Wake County, NC: The interesting thing was before they even talked to her, Um, Karen Berry said, I like to sit down and pray first. And I think our detectives kind of nudged each other, that something significant had happened there. 

 

Amanda: Karen told them Grant and Amanda had shown up with very short notice. They were driving a U-Haul truck with several coolers in the back.  

 

She said at one point during the visit Amanda confessed to having had an altercation with Laura: that Laura had been hurt. 

 

Then she asked some pretty strange questions about the septic tank and alligators in the creek across the street. Amanda then asked to borrow Karen’s boat to go out on the water at night with Grant.  

 

After hearing this, investigators brought in a dive team: 

 

Zellinger: Um, they are used to doing what's called black water dives where you can't see anything. And so they basically go out in sort of concentric circles from the point that they leave the shore, um, attempting to see if they can find anything. And, and it sounds gruesome, but the way that they're able to sort of find the body is when the body is placed in water and starts to decompose the fats sort of float on top of the water. You know, when they see this sort of sheen on the water, it's indicative of the fats on top of the water, and it's just a horrific place for her body to be left. 

 

Amanda: Divers entered the murky water knowing visibility was minimal, that they could easily get tangled up in the dense vegetation or come face to face with one of the alligators they knew was always lurking nearby. 

 

Zelinger: I remember the Houston dive team was the one who actually uncovered her body from that creek and found different parts of her body. And immediately from the get go, the priority was to, you know, find everything that we could. 

 

WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE 

Ken Smith: Dive teams here in Fort Bend County Texas cleared the scene here at the creek shortly after the remains were identified as Laura Ackerson 

 

Amanda: They found several items including a torso, leg bones, and ultimately a head. They were pretty sure it was Laura, but scientists in Texas confirmed it by comparing her dental records to the skull found in the swamp. 

 

Grant and Amanda Hayes were arrested and charged with first degree murder in connection with Laura’s death.  

 

WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE 

David Crabtree: Grant Hayes and his wife are right now in the Wake County Jail, Amanda Lamb is outside the jail with a look at what led to the arrests. Amanda? 

 

Amanda: David the couple was arrested early this morning in Kinston. We can only imagine that their day was spent talking to investigators about what happened to Laura Ackerson.  

 

Amanda: Investigators believe the couple lured Laura to their Raleigh apartment with the ruse of discussing the boys’ custody agreement. Then something happened to Laura--exactly what happened depends on who you talk to. What we do know is that she died in that apartment.  

 

WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE 

It’s believed the actual homicide occurred in North Carolina where the suspects evidently purchased some ice chests, dismembered the body, placed it in an ice chest, acquired a U-Haul trailer, put the ice chests in the trailer, transported it across several states to Fort Bend County where they tossed her remains in Oyster Creek. 

 

 

Amanda: It’s worth noting here that before the remains were thrown into the water, they apparently tried to dissolve them in a trashcan full of acid. But that kind of thing – it really only works in movies. Apparently Grant and Amanda then hoped the alligators would get rid of the rest of the evidence.  

 

Amanda: So, while the case may seem pretty straight forward, at this point it’s all circumstantial. Investigators find evidence of a cleanup in the apartment with bleach, but there’s no blood. And no one saw them move or dump the body parts. And the worst part – the two suspects are not talking. 

 

On top of that, they couldn’t figure out for sure what Laura died from. The medical examiner had found a puncture wound in Laura’s neck, which could have been caused by a knife. She also noted crushed cartilage in her neck that could be an indication of strangulation, OR it could have been an injury caused during an initial autopsy in Texas. Her official ruling was “undetermined homicidal violence.” 

 

It’s the kind of case a defense attorney would LOVE to shred to bits in a courtroom.  

 

So, prosecutors needed another way to connect the dots for the jury. 

 

They asked for Dr. Ann Ross to help. 

 

Ross: Well, the first remains that I got the first time they came in a box and little vials, and then that's how the M.E. in Galveston sent it to us. And they didn't tell us, which were the sides that they cut and which was the side that was done perimortem.  

 

Amanda: So you had no idea what cuts were made by them and what cuts were made by the killer?.  

 

Ross: No, no. So that was really not an easy thing to do.  

 

Amanda: It was going to be nearly impossible, but prosecutors wanted Ross to figure out how Laura was dismembered. 

 

This would be key to making the case for murder against Grant and Amanda. Without some definitive forensic evidence linking them to the crime, it was going to be an uphill battle for prosecutors to sell this bizarre story to a jury.  

 

Ross: My first assessment was not great. 

 

Amanda: Ross felt like she was coming up empty. She wasn’t able to connect a specific knife found in the Hayes’s apartment with the puncture wound in Laura’s neck. 

 

What she was seeing on Laura’s other bones looked like they could possibly be hand saw marks--which really didn’t make any sense. It would be very difficult to cut through someone’s body with a handsaw. Maybe someone tried to use a handsaw at first. Or, another possibility was that these particular marks were made during the initial autopsies in Texas. 

 

Ross:  I also wonder if my initial assessment was not correct because all I got was tiny little fragments in little vials. I didn't get the whole bone  

 

Amanda: As weeks turned into months, investigators decided to search the creek again.  

 

This time, they found a shin bone. It was a full, intact bone.  

 

And suddenly, things started to make sense. 

 

Amanda: What was it looking at that that made you say this is different?  

 

Ross: Um, first of all, because I had, uh, the context, right. And I also had the entire bone that I could clearly see that it was not produced at autopsy. And, um, and the striations looked different. 

 

Amanda: Around this same time, investigators discovered that Amanda’s adult daughter from a previous relationship had seen a manual for an electric saw in the apartment after Laura’s disappearance. And there was a receipt for the saw...this discovery led them to a Walmart in Raleigh where they find store surveillance video that was recorded shortly after Laura’s death. 

 

Zellinger: They're able to see this sort of chilling video of Grant Hayes, shopping for a saw that, um, is just mind boggling that someone could do that. And so at that point, you know, you feel like you have pretty good circumstantial evidence. 

 

Amanda: So Ross gets an idea, an idea that changes the course of the case, that takes it from a circumstantial to something more. An idea that was a little out of the box.  

 

Ross: Well, the plan was to get a pig. And then Detective Faulk went and bought the same reciprocating saw that they had a receipt for the same pack of blades. Because they had two sets of blades.  

 

Amanda: Ross tells Zellinger she wants to use the same electric saw that Grant purchased at the Walmart on a pig and then compare it to the marks on Laura’s bones. 

 

This type of saw is called a “reciprocating saw,” it’s the kind with a long thin blade that goes back and forth really, really fast. When you look up “reciprocating saw” online it’s called  “the ultimate demolition tool.” 

 

Zellinger: And so she said, yeah, we need to go buy a pig. And so then the question is. Like, what kind of pig do we get? Like, is it something where we go to the farmer's market to get, you know, or to a hunter or whatever, to try to find the pig. 

 

Amanda: Pigs are good stand-ins for humans because they are pretty easy to get and work with. Ross was actually already using pigs as proxies for humans to study decomposition. So why not use a pig in Laura’s case? 

 

Zellinger: And so we finally get the pig. I remember, so we had everything done and they went out to do the cuttings of the pig with the saw.  

 

Amanda: But Ross, this tough-as-nails no-nonsense, just-the-facts scientist, she can’t cut into the pig herself. She’s too much of an animal lover.  

 

Ross: No, I mean, it still gives me the heebie jeebies. 

 

Amanda: So, her three graduate students slice into the 400 pound pig’s femurs with various blades to simulate what they believed happened to Laura.  

 

Zellinger: By using the different speeds of the saw to try to figure out, you know, take all the variables off the table and be able to compare them microscopically. 

 

Amanda: Once they return with the pig legs to the lab, they remove the flesh and examine the marks left on the bones. 

 

Ross: At first you just kind of look at the patterns and see if you can tell anything and then you start comparing it to Ackerson. You know, area by area and see if you can find a match. 

 

Amanda: So using a digital microscope, Ross compares the slices in the pig’s bones to the slices in Laura’s. They’re looking at the two side-by-side. 

 

Ross: And then, all of a sudden, like I squealed I was like, whoa. And then there were some grad students in here and they all came like hovering over my shoulder and they were like, oh whoa. And then we all like saw it. And then that's when I was like very agitated and I called Boz. 

 

Amanda: There on the screen…. The cuts are a match. The marks on the pig bone look exactly the same as those on Laura’s shin bone.  

 

They now had physical evidence tying Grant Hayes to Laura Ackerson’s dismembered body through this saw. 

 

Amanda: I mean, basically, that was the key. Yeah. In this case, right?  

 

Ross: Yeah. I didn't know at the time what a big deal it was. 

 

Amanda: After the break, how Ann's pig science plays out at trial, and we talk with Grant Hayes. 

 

BREAK 

SEGMENT 2 

 

Amanda: In today’s world of forensic science, the evidence they uncover is only as good as their ability to communicate what they’ve found to a jury. 

 

This is a big part of what scientists who do forensic work spend their time doing – teaching people about what they did and what they found. 

 

Ross:I actually really enjoy testifying. I know that might seem weird, but I really enjoy it. I see it as a conversation. I see it as an opportunity for me to talk to the jury. And talk to them like I'm in a classroom, right? Because a lot of these times, a lot of the times, it's the first time they’ve ever heard of any of these things. 

 

Amanda: And here again, it’s really important to note that juries today, they watch a lot of TV, shows streamed online and movies, and they’re prone to something called the CSI Effect. 

 

That’s when they see made-up scientific techniques used on crime shows and develop unrealistic expectations of what can be done by real-life scientists. So, Ross and her colleagues have to spend a lot of time explaining what’s possible and what’s not possible, and walking jurors through their process step by step so they can understand what’s real and what’s made up for TV. 

 

Ross:  I know a lot of times they're like, because of the shows that you see, you know, I don't have a hologram to tell me what happened. 

 

Amanda: And so when Ross is called to the stand in Laura Ackerson’s case, she brings with her a full-size hanging skeleton. 

 

TRIAL ARCHIVE  

Ross: My name is Ann Ross. 

 

Becky Holt, Prosecutor: And how are you employed? 

 

Ross: I’m employed as a professor at North Carolina State University. 

 

Holt: What subject do you teach at North Carolina State University? 

 

Ross: I teach forensic anthropology.  

 

Amanda: Ross stands in front of the jury in a gray blouse buttoned up to the neck and a fitted, charcoal gray suit jacket. It’s a big contrast from her lab wear. 

 

TRIAL ARCHIVE  

Ross: 2:16 Both of her arms were removed at the upper site, or upper aspect of the humerus which is right here. Her head was also taken off at the fifth cervical vertebrae which is the fifth neck bone on the way down around this area right here. 2:36 

 

Amanda: As she explains her analysis she points to places on the skeleton prop to illustrate… 

 

TRIAL ARCHIVE 

Holt: And what is state’s exhibit 509? 

 

Ross: It is a report of my trauma examination of the set of remains pertaining to Ms. Ackerson.  

 

 

Zellinger: It indicated that she had been stabbed, um, and it was different in nature than the cuttings that were used, to destroy her body. 

 

Amanda: Here’s Former Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger again. 

 

Zellinger: You know, all that combined put a pretty clear picture in the jury’s mind. And when they saw the saw in the trial, um, it became less about what had happened, and more about who had, who had done what? 

 

Amanda: He really admires what Ross is able to do on the stand in a case like this. 

 

Zellinger: She's an amazing scientist, but she also is able to talk to a jury and sort of a reasonable way so that people can understand the science behind, um, what happened and, you know, in today's society, everybody watches CSI. Um, all these shows on TV and as a general practice, prosecutors tell juries and jury selection that's Hollywood technology that doesn't exist. But, um, with Dr. Ross, sometimes she makes that sort of magic happen in your courtroom where she's able to sort of prove things that, um, you might have otherwise just sort of guess about. 

 

Amanda: Ross spent HOURS on the stand in the Ackerson case methodically describing in plain language her approach. The pig… 

 

Ross: We used pigs as a human model or a human proxy.  

 

Amanda: The comparison of the cut marks…  

 

Ross: The procedure that we went through was to use all the blades that were given to us to make these cuts ... 

 

Amanda: And how they matched… 

 

Ross: The second comparison that we did with the WoodFast saw blade, that was 94061, using speed five was consistent and matched the saw marks evident on Laura Ackerson’s remains. 

 

Amanda: On September 16, 2013, it took about an hour an forty-five minutes for a jury to convict Grant Hayes of first degree murder. The judge then sentenced him to life in prison.  

 

WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE 

Debra Morga: WRAL’s Amanda Lamb was in the courtroom when the verdict came down. Amanda did Hayes have any visible reaction to the verdict? 

 

Amanda: He really didn’t Debra which was very interesting because throughout the trial he was very animated, smiling, chatting with his attorneys, even laughing at times. But today he was very solemn and the judge cautioned everyone to keep their emotions in check. Right after the verdict was read he was sentenced he was brought here to Central Prison. 

 

Amanda: In a separate trial a few months later, Amanda Hayes was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to up to 16 years in prison. She then got an additional 20 more years in Texas for disposing of Laura’s body in Oyster Creek. 

 

Ross was a key scientific expert in both Amanda and Grant’s North Carolina trials. 

 

Amanda: How does it feel when you do solve a case like the Ackerson case?  

 

Ross: I feel bad for her kids. Right. Cause her kids now have nobody. No dad, no mom. It's a horrible of a thing, so I'm glad it solved and I'm glad the perpetrator's in jail, but it doesn't bring her back. Right. So it's kinda bittersweet. And I would say, I mean, I won't rejoice for it.  

 

Amanda: As much as science deals with hard facts and measurements and that kind of thing, what scientists are often asked to do in court is provide their own analysis – an interpretation of those facts. 

 

Grant Hayes is challenging his conviction, in part, on the basis that the scientific testimony was all wrong. 

 

Seven years after his trial, I spoke to Laura's convicted killer from the Harnett Correctional Institution in Lillington, North Carolina. Grant had a LOT to say. 

 

Grant Hayes, convicted of Killing Laura Ackerson: No murder happened. Amanda is not guilty of murder. And I told you that before her trial, No one murdered Laura, Laura was not murdered. Laura was the aggressor. Amanda was defending herself. She was defending our daughter and Laura lost her life. That is not murder. Murder requires malice, malice, and intent. 

 

Amanda: He says what happened to Laura - what actually killed her - was an accident. But he wasn’t in the room when it happened, only his wife Amanda was there. He thinks that maybe Laura fell and hit her head he can’t be sure. 

 

And so he's challenging Ann Ross' testimony and the testimony of the medical examiner that outlined the possible causes of Laura’s death. 

 

Hayes: What caused her death is a mystery to me, but I know that I found her laying on her back. So she fell, uh, the, the, and, and she had a bruise on her head indicating that she had fallen  

 

Amanda: Since his conviction in 2013, Grant has filed a number of appeals and has very specific concerns about the case against him, claiming that there was an overall conspiracy by investigators, court officials and witnesses to frame him for Laura’s murder. But he does make a disturbing admission. 

 

Hayes: I bought a saw and I helped Amanda, but I didn't cut Laura's body up. Not that it matters because I participated and I'm just as culpable for that as she is, but that's not something one person can do. You can't cut through a body with a straight saw without cutting the floor up. 

 

Amanda: Right. So you, you, you guys did it together is what you're saying? That it wasn't a one person operation? 

 

Hayes: Well, I had to pick the body up off the floor so she could cut body parts off of it. You can't cut through a, uh, a stiff corpse. Uh, we were talking about a day-old body. 

 

Amanda: Nothing quite prepared me to hear him describe how Laura was dismembered. It's hard to listen to. A man describing helping his wife cut up the dead body of the mother of his children.   

 

And I asked him about it, over and over, trying to wrap my head around the emotional blinders it would take to do something like this. His only answer was that he didn’t feel like he had any other choice. 

 

So, now put yourself in the jury box, hearing these gruesome details. 

 

Horrific as that scene is, the jury was not supposed to consider the dismemberment as a factor in Grant’s guilt or innocence. He wasn’t charged with anything relating to what happened after Laura’s death, he was only charged with her murder.  

 

Grant disagrees with the scientific interpretation the experts made on the stand… But ultimately it’s the jury’s job to sort through everything they hear, and make a decision about who to believe and what version of events they think makes the most sense. 

 

And in this case, the jury sided with the prosecution, with Ross’ testimony among all the others. 

 

Murder cases involving complex scientific evidence are rarely simplified as they appear  on TV. 

 

Ross: She did have a stab wound uh, under her it's directly under her, um, mandible, her jaw. Right. Did that kill her? Who knows? Um, was she strangled? Who knows? Um, so it's very difficult once you reached a state of decomposition like that, to actually assess if these things were the actual cause of death.  

 

Amanda: But we do know she was dismembered.  

 

Ross: We do know that she was dismembered and obviously it was done to hinder her identification. 

 

Amanda: (Ross B 6:33-6:49): Even though science is definitive that sometimes, um, it can be interpreted differently. In other words, he's interpreting it differently than the experts.  

 

Ross: Right. And he actually hasn't seen the marks himself. Right.  

 

Amanda: Grant has pored over every finding the scientists made in his court file, including Ross’. He’s combed through the autopsy reports, from Texas and in North Carolina. He’s read and re-read the trial transcript. He admits the evidence of dismemberment is strong, but disagrees with any conclusion that Laura was murdered. 

 

Amanda (Ross B 7:26-6:52): I mean, can science be wrong ever?  

 

Ross: Yes. Yes, it can.  

 

Amanda: Have you ever been wrong?  

 

Ross: Well, I think I was wrong in my initial assessment of the handsaw. Um, so that's why it's very, um, you have to be very careful on your interpretations and not to overextend yourself. Um, I do see that has happened in a couple of cases I've testified for on the defense side, which I don't normally do where experts come in and it's pure quackery. 

 

Amanda: There have been examples of state labs reporting blood evidence incorrectly and scientists testifying way beyond their expertise or ability based on the actual evidence. But over the years, more protections have been put in place to prevent these kinds of things from happening…. For Ross, keeping as much to the science as possible – it’s a basic ethical tenant of her work. 

 

Ross: So one of my main pet peeves is bringing in junk science. So-called experts when they're old, they will overextend themselves in areas that are not their purview.  

 

Amanda: And you try not to do that.  

 

Ross: I, yes, for sure. Um, I will actually go on or on the side of caution to try not to over-interpret things.  

 

Amanda: All this stuff that Ross does, it’s hard work, sometimes emotionally grueling. Seeing dead people all the time, trying to figure out what horrible thing happened to them… She’s had to learn how to separate her emotions from the science, to concentrate on the facts of the case, and not let her heart get in the way of her mission.  

 

She says, this trait, this ability to laser focus on the science now comes to her naturally. 

 

Ross: I'm trying to think of, you know, what does emotion mean? Right. So to me, I try to be unbiased and just kind of, you know, you deal with that afterwards, not during the investigations. You set that aside, you have to compartmentalize. So I will reminisce on it after I'm done working. But during the case, you just kind of try to throw everything that you have at it.  

 

Amanda: She says ironically, a group of people she has learned the most from over the years… are funeral directors. 

 

Ross: Because they realized the importance of not only taking care of the living, but you have to take care of your deceased. And one of the major things that we say, you know, show us how you treat your dead, that will show us who you are as a people. 

 

Amanda: And cracking these puzzles, figuring out what happened to end a person’s life, and then trying to hold the guilty party responsible for that, this is the way SHE can pay her respects to those dead – to make us as people better in life by treating the dead with the utmost respect. 

 

Amanda: On the next episode of What Remains we walk through a body farm. 

 

Katie Zejdlik, Western Carolina University: There appears to be approximately a dozen individuals still out here in the facility laying on the surface, decomposing. Um, none of them are wearing clothes. Most of the people out, they have lost all their organ tissue and their fluids, and they have some dried out skin and are turning into skeletons. 

 

Amanda: This episode of What Remains was written by me, Amanda Lamb, and produced by Anita Normanly. Our executive producer was Wilson Sayre who also edited the episode with mixing from Marc Maximov. What Remains was directed by Shelly Leslie. Please subscribe to our podcast on whatever app you use. That makes it easier for us to get you the latest episode. Thanks so much for listening.