The Search for Etan Patz

FBI and NYPD investigators are excavating the basement at 127 Prince Street in SoHo for the remains of six-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking to his bus stop in  1979—the first time he was allowed to walk alone.

Etan was the first missing child to be pictured on a milk carton, and the day of his disappearance, May 25, became National Missing Children’s Day.

This article in the Times looks at the science behind the new search and includes some quotes from Dr. Michael Baden, medical examiner for the City at the time of Etan’s disappearance:

What may have survived after all these years and the effects of the moisture of the soil and the bacteria from decomposition?

“There probably would still be bone,” Dr. [Michael] Baden said. “The permanent teeth that we have, more so than baby teeth, last for decades. Longer than that. It’s easy to get DNA from teeth and long bones.” 

[…]

There could still be hair. “That definitely would provide DNA,” Dr. Baden said. Any blood spilled would have long decomposed, he said, but investigators will surely be looking for signs of insect activity.

“Maggots can have the DNA of an individual,” from feeding on a body, Dr. Baden said. The pupae cases left behind from hatching flies could contain the body’s DNA, he said.

See also:

Image: Etan Patz in 1978. Photograph by his father, Stanley K. Patz. Via Wikipedia.

Today’s Links

Here you go. The first one is really important:

  • Morbid Anatomy Library needs your help after severe water sprinkler damage following a fire in their Brooklyn building. They are accepting donations of money, time, talent, books, and artifacts.
  • Titanic vs. Lusitania: Who Survived and Why?”: Smithsonian takes a look at the two maritime disasters (from 1912 and 1915, respectively). Interesting: “The passengers of the Lusitania had less than 20 minutes before their ship sank, and in such a life-and-death situation, social scientists say, ‘self-interested reactions predominate.’ It didn’t matter what the captain ordered. […] The Titanic, though, sank slowly enough for social norms to hold sway.”
  • This is very sad: “Taiwan Woman Commits Suicide While on Facebook" (via Order of the Good Death on, well, Facebook): “Lin’s last Facebook entries show her chatting with nine friends, alerting them to her gradual asphyxiation. One picture uploaded from her mobile phone depicts a charcoal barbecue burning next to two stuffed animals.”
  • Related: “On the Challenges of Studying Suicide" (via Maria Popova/Brain Picker on Twitter)
  • Fascinating post over on Life and Six Months about handling the preserved, tattooed skin of a long-dead person: “What appears here as ‘goose-flesh’—a skin sensation associated with both surface feelings of cold and visceral fear or horror —is frozen in the moment of death through the speedy preservation of the excised fragment. What I am actually seeing and feeling as I examine this skin is the presence of a very familiar living skin-sensation—except in this case it is caused by rigor mortis of the arrector pili muscles in the dermis. My own skin prickles at the thought. This specimen was likely removed in haste, soon after death and under rudimentary surgical conditions.”

Today’s Links

Thought I’d start doing link-roundup posts somewhere on the spectrum between occasional and frequent. This is the kind of stuff I already post on Facebook and Twitter, so if you like this sort of thing, consider liking and/or following me over theres.

Here you go:

  • Summer was the most dangerous time for Tudors (BBC News): Fun ways to die in Tudor England! Best sentence: “Dr Gunn’s previous study highlighted a number of strange ways that people died, in accidents involving archery, dancing bears and early handguns.”
  • Police plea on macabre book find (BBC News): A 300-year-old ledger bound in human skin, found in the middle of a road in Leeds. “In the 18th and 19th Centuries it was common to bind accounts of murder trials in the killer’s skin —known as anthropodermic bibliopegy.”
  • NPR did a story on what can happen to our Facebook and Flickr accounts when we go to the Big Cloud in the Sky.
  • If you aren’t already following Caitlin Doughty on Twitter or Facebook, you should be.
In the email announcing the Bacon Coffin, Justin and Dave added, “Don’t you judge us, after baconlube [bacon flavored personal lubricant], we all knew it was just going to keep getting weirder. And yeah, your [sic] right we’re probably going to hell for this one.”
Mail Online: Pony-Tailed 130-Year-Old Mummy Surprises Grave Robbers with an Image That Will Haunt Them for Life

These mummy pictures make me kind of sad for him. At least his hair is awesome.

Zombie gran: 95-year-old Chinese woman terrifies neighbours by climbing out of her coffin six days after she 'died'

I feel completely trashy posting something from The Mirror, but what the hey.

A doctor at the hospital was quoted as saying: “Thanks to the local tradition of parking the coffin in the house for several days, she could be saved.

But, despite ‘cheating’ death, the same local tradition has left Mrs Xiufeng with nothing as, according to tradition, after a person dies, all their belongings must be burnt.

io9: Who is buried in the Hoover Dam?

Hint: No one, probably. But Montana’s Fort Peck Dam contains six bodies.

Have missing Civil War sailors in your family tree? The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is looking for your help identifying these two fellas:


These are facial reconstructions from skeletons found in the wreck of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, which sank in 1862.
I heard about this on NPR. Listen to the story. There are so many interesting things about this, including the fact that they were able to recover any remains at all from a 150-year-old shipwreck, including some soft tissue.
Top image: Crewmen of the USS Monitor pictured in July 1862. Library of Congress, via NPR.Bottom two images: Louisiana State University, via NPR.

Have missing Civil War sailors in your family tree? The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is looking for your help identifying these two fellas:

These are facial reconstructions from skeletons found in the wreck of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, which sank in 1862.

I heard about this on NPR. Listen to the story. There are so many interesting things about this, including the fact that they were able to recover any remains at all from a 150-year-old shipwreck, including some soft tissue.

Top image: Crewmen of the USS Monitor pictured in July 1862. Library of Congress, via NPR.
Bottom two images: Louisiana State University, via NPR.

CBS News: 73-Year-Old Twins Found Dead and Alone Together

Another strange, sad story:

When they were young, Patricia and Joan Miller sang and danced for Bing Crosby, troops and their friends. […] Never married and without children or pets, the Miller sisters withdrew into four-bedroom home in California’s South Lake Tahoe, where they were found dead last week at the age of 73. One was in a downstairs bedroom and the other was in the hallway just outside.

Via two of my favorite Facebook feeds: The Order of the Good Death and Obit of the Day.

Dublin patron saint's heart stolen from Christ Church Cathedral

From the BBC:

The dean of Christ Church Cathedral and the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, the Rev Dermot Dunne, said he was “devastated” by the theft of the 12th Century relic.

"It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father, St Laurence O’Toole," he added.

Kentucky Family Sues Cemetery Owners For Dropping Dead Mother's Casket

A Frankfort family is suing cemetery owners after they say workers dropped their mother twice during her burial, causing her body to roll out of its casket.

Man lies dead for three years before discovery

Yet another story of a long-undiscovered dead person. Sad.

Less sad: Pigeons broke in and turned on his radio, which alerted neighbors (and the police).

I like pigeons.

(via The Order of the Good Death on Facebook)

ofpaperandponies asked: That story of Joyce Carol Vincent in interesting on their own, but it also provides an interesting perspective on the recent death of David Carter. Well, recent discovery. He committed suicide four years ago in West Allis, WI. The cases are rather dichotomous in the end, but the reactions of those around the cases are so similar on the familial front, yet on the community front, they're so different. No one seems to care here, even though he was supposedly a "good and honest person" in life.

I’m really glad you brought this up.

Interestingly, I found the article about Joyce Carol Vincent about five minutes before I stumbled on the story of David Carter (via this Jezebel post, which characterized the discovery of the body as someone’s “worst day at work ever”—I’m not sure how I feel about that).

For those who haven’t heard this story: Here’s a more detailed article about David Carter.


Photo by Angela Peterson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Joyce Carol Vincent: How could this young woman lie dead and undiscovered for almost three years?

From The Guardian:

On 25 January 2006, officials from a north London housing association repossessing a bedsit in Wood Green owing to rent arrears made a grim discovery. Lying on the sofa was the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman who had been dead for almost three years. In a corner of the room the television set was still on, tuned to BBC1, and a small pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor. Washing up was heaped in the kitchen sink and a mountain of post lay behind the front door. Food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates.

Read the article.

Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.

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