SIU Department of Anthropology among first to investigate body found in woods north of Carbondale

By Kallie Cox, Staff Reporter

After hunters found bones in the woods north of Carbondale city limits, police called a different kind of detective.

(See more: Human bones found in woods North of Carbondale)

Shortly after arriving on the scene, the police called Susan Ford, a recently retired faculty member of SIU’s Department of Anthropology, to help investigate the remains.


Ford was also interim provost until her retirement in June 2017.

Ford brought along two graduate students studying anthropology, Kaleigh Best and Jessica Spencer, to identify the remains.

Ford said the graduate students and herself identified the remains as human, mapped and recorded their findings, took photographs, and assisted in the recovery of the remains.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, is currently investigating the remains.

Paul Welch, interim chair and associate professor of anthropology, said local law enforcement has enlisted the help of the department many times when investigating skeletal remains.

“The question is sometimes whether bones are from humans or some other animal,” Welch said. “More recently, forensic anthropologists have been called in to record remains still in place, as well as recover and analyze them.”

Welch said most of this work has been carried out by the Complex for Forensic Anthropology Research at SIU.


This research complex offers trainings to law enforcement and provides identification and recovery services to various medical and law enforcement agencies.

“CFAR offers training for law-enforcement agencies and personnel, and provides consulting services such as assessment of age, sex, height, identification of skeletal trauma, estimation of time since death, and other information that assists law enforcement agencies in possible criminal investigations,” Welch said.

Ford said many police departments are well trained in how to deal with a crime scene when the flesh remains on the body, but when the remains become skeletonized the crime scene becomes more like an archaeological site.

“Sometimes the bones get moved around by scavengers and things like that,” Ford said. “It becomes more like an archaeological site than it does like a recent crime scene and an archaeologist and an anthropologist have a greater tool set in how to excavate remains that are so scattered and disoriented.”

Dr. Gretchen Dabbs, an associate professor of anthropology at the university, has conducted trainings with local police departments and coroners throughout the state, and has helped to train cadaver sniffing dogs as a part of CFAR.

Ford said the SIU Anthropology Department considers itself good friends and good partners with the locals and police.  

“We have been called out on cases, we have been called out to consult,” Ford said. “Dr. Dabbs work with local area coroners throughout the state, has just enhanced that relationship.”

Staff reporter Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieC45439038.

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