The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence. Discretion is advised.
One summer day in 1999 in New Hampshire, two men spotted a duffel bag bobbing in a river. They fished the bag out of the water and unzipped it. Inside they found a human torso.
Authorities transported the torso—still in the duffel bag—to the autopsy suite of Dr. Thomas Andrew, chief medical examiner for the state of New Hampshire.
Andrew says that after unzipping that duffel bag, he examined the torso—clearly a woman’s—for six hours, taking in its carnage. He determined the cause of death was stabbing because her internal injuries were consistent with a knife attack. He counted the numerous stab wounds. He noticed identifiable striations on the cut ends of her bones. He concluded that her dismemberment had happened postmortem
Andrew says he reached for his Mikrosil silicone-casting material. He picked up a wooden stick—similar to a tongue depressor—and, on a card, mixed the silicone with hardener. Once the two were thoroughly mixed, he spread the goo over the stub bone ends of both arms, both legs and the neck, which had been cut through to decapitate the woman.
After approximately 15 minutes, which allowed the silicon to dry and harden, Andrew peeled off the Mikrosil, thus preserving the tool mark so that it could be compared to any cutting tool that might be discovered during the investigation.
Six weeks later, a person of interest led police to a wooded area a couple of miles from the river. There, two legs and a head were recovered. The arms were never located.
Andrew then did castings of the ends of the recovered legs and head. “It was a perfect match to the fresh autopsy specimens,” he says. More importantly, the DNA from the torso and extremities matched. “So we knew it was the same person.”
The autopsy team, the investigative team and the criminologists in the crime lab worked together to develop a solid case against the suspect. Evidence included a miter saw in his possession that perfectly matched the tool marks on the bones.
The suspect claimed he had met the woman at a bar, after which they had gone back to his place and had sex. He said he woke the next morning to find her dead in his bed from multiple stab wounds. He panicked, dismembered her and distributed her body parts in various places.
Andrew says the jury didn’t buy the accused man’s story; they found him responsible for stabbing and dismembering the woman.
“It might seem a little tangential, but there’s a point to this,” Andrew says. Over his 20 years of working as a forensic pathologist, he says he’s observed that many men and women working in his field have a strong spiritual life of faith.
“And I think that’s because of what we see on a day to day basis. We see the fragility, the evanescence, of this gift we have called life,” he says.
Andrew retired from the state of New Hampshire in 2017 and just completed his first year of seminary.
“I’ve autopsied thousands of people who woke up that morning not realizing by a long shot that that was going to be their last day on earth,” Andrew says. “I think they would have lived that day a little differently had they known that, whether they had died of a heart attack or a car crash or being murdered by somebody. But it can all be over in an instant. That’s the big takeaway. Drink in every one of life’s blessings.