Dr. Henry C. Lee:
Cold Case Investigations in Taiwan
In 1996 Dr. Henry Lee, the famous crime scene reconstruction expert and celebrity hired-gun expert in the fields of blood spatter analysis, hair and fiber identification, latent fingerprint identification, DNA, footwear impression analysis, firearms identification, and other fields in forensic science, founded the Henry C. Lee Institute at New Haven University in Connecticut. (For more on Dr. Lee’s career and cases, see Chapter 16 in Forensics Under Fire.) Every year the Institute sponsors seminars in advanced crime scene reconstruction as well as a crime scene symposium attended by a thousand detectives across the country. Dr. Lee, through his institute, has advanced the cause of forensic science in the United States. There is no question that in America, crime scenes are generally not handled well.
In November 2007, Dr. Lee’s new organization, the Henry C. Lee Forensic Science Foundation, headquartered in Taiwan, sponsored, in Taipei, its first International Conference in Physical Evidence. The goal of the organization is to upgrade forensic science in Taiwan. At the conference, attended by 100 coroners and other forensic scientists, Dr. Lee announced the formation of a Cold Case Center. Relying on the help of retired criminal justice professors, police detectives and forensic scientists, unsolved cases in Taiwan will be re-opened to provide a measure of justice to the families of homicide victims.
Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan:
Thailand’s Celebrity Forensic Pathologist
Thailand’s most famous forensic scientist, Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan, known in her country as Dr. Porntip, graduated in the late 1970s from the medical school at Bankok’s Mahidol University. In 2002 she became Deputy Director of Thailand’s Justice Ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, an agency she co-founded. Her public criticism of police corruption and investigative incompetence, revealed in autopsies that contrasted with the government’s theory of death in a series of high-profile cases, made her a familiar face in the media. Her book, Investigation of Corpses sold 100,000 copies in Thailand. Flamboyant in dresstight black jeans, hip T-shirts and white rubber bootsand outrageous in appearance with her punk-rock, spiked multi-colored hair, the fifty-two-year-old Dr. Porntip seems to enjoy calling attention to herself. Also known in Thailand as “Dr. Death,” Dr. Porntip, married to a Bankok bank manager, has a fifteen-year-old daughter.
In 1999 Dr. Porntip angered police authorities when she disagreed with their conclusion that a wealthy politician had committed suicide. The man’s relatives, certain that he had been murdered, asked Dr. Porntip to look into the case. Based on her autopsy and evidence at the death scene including blood spatter patterns, the position of the body and the position of the gun, Dr. Porntip found that the man had been hit in the head with a blunt object then shot. The police re-opened the case and the victim’s brother was charged with the murder. The police resented Dr. Porntip’s intervention in the case (in Thailand the police have almost total control over every aspect of a criminal investigation) and death threats followed. Dr. Porntip hired a private bodyguard.
In 2004 Dr. Porntip made a name for herself internationally following her work, as leader of a team of forensic scientists from around the world, identifying victims of the tsunami. She lived for weeks in a bus at Yan Yao Temple, the makeshift morgue in Phangnga Province, the hardest hit area. A year later Dr. Porntip and a delegation of the Thai officials traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to forge a partnership with Sorenson Genomics, one of the few private crime labs internationally accredited for verifying human identity. Although 5,300 tsunami victims had been identified, 2,000 were still unidentified and another 10,000 missing. The trip had been paid for by James LeVoy, the founder of Sorenson Genomics. It was Dr. Porntip’s goal to convince the Thai government that the 2,000 victims be retested by LeVoy’s company. She also wanted to organize a team of Thai scientists to return to Utah for advanced training in DNA analysis. None of the crime labs in Thailand had international DNA accreditation.
Another one of Dr. Porntip’s causes was the formation of a Thai national missing persons bureau and DNA data bank. Every year in Thailand hundreds of people are reported missing, many of whom have been abducted and murdered by the police. At present there are, independent of the tsunami, about 10,000 people who are missing. Dr. Chumsak Pruksapong, head of the Justice Ministry, has said, “In Thailand, we think that government officials, sometimes the police, are the culprits abducting people.”
In 2006 Dr. Porntip made headlines when she found that a man found dead in his home with five bullet wounds had not, as the police had ruled, committed suicide. She appeared regularly on television ridiculing the way the police had handled the case. The police accused her of headline grabbing and sued her for defamation. A judge tossed out the suit.
In Thailand Dr. Porntip’s critics, some of whom are not sympathetic to the police, criticize her for spending so much time cultivating her celebrity status. Given her candor and public persona, it’s no wonder she is a media darling. For example, she has been widely quoted as follows: “When I look at a dead body, I feel happy and get excited. I love doing an autopsy. Besides, working with people always creates problems and conflicts. Working with the dead is easy.”