Although forensic anthropology has been around in some form or another since the 1200s, it wasn’t until the scientific developments of the nineteenth and twentieth century that it really came into its own. “Although there were famous grisly murders of the nineteenth century solved through examination of bones and body fragments, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the relationship between anthropology and the police was formally acknowledged,” writes PBS. In this decade–on this day in 1937, to be exact–William Ross Maples was born. His subsequent career as a forensic anthropologist helped to bring that field to prominence by helping to bring justice and peace to families as well as clear up some high-profile historical crimes.
Maples was involved in more than 1,200 forensic anthropology cases during his career, according to the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida. Because he was an expert in analyzing human skeletal material, he worked on a number of cases that had historical value: For instance, he led the team that identified the remains of the Romanov family and Czar Nicholas II. He worked on the remains of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. But he also worked on cases that had current import–most prominently, the cold case of the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Here are a few of the cases where Maples’s touch was helpful:
The Romanov Family
Maples had been interested in the fate of the Romanovs since he was a child, writes author Robert K. Massier. In 1992, he and a team of colleagues–among them Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist who would lead the Medgar Evers investigation–headed to Russia to examine some remains that had been discovered there. The team confirmed that the remains were the Romanovs–minus Romanov daughter Anastasia and heir Alexei. DNA testing later confirmed…