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Branch Davidian David Koresh is Dead

Take it … from a Forensic Dentist

By Darrell K. Pruitt; DDSpruitt

For those who might be interested, these two plaster models are proof David Koresh died in the Mt. Carmel disaster.

Please allow me to offer I have been a forensic dentist since shortly after graduating from dental school in 1982. I have helped ID victims of two plane wrecks at DFW – Delta 191 in 1985 and Delta 1141 in ’88. I also helped identify the victims of Mount Carmel in 1993.

Some may choose to stop reading now, because I see no need to refrain from describing forensics to this crowd. After all, one sees it on TV these days. For those who stay, it is my wish that you find this adventure interesting.

The Branch Davidian Disaster

At the time of the Branch Davidian disaster, Tarrant County (Fort Worth) had a contract with McLendon County (Waco) for autopsy services. Along with 49 other dentists, I volunteered to help with the ID chores. I spent 8 days at the county morgue sorting through badly burnt and rapidly decaying cadavers of men, women and far too many children. There were so many fragments of ammunition that exploded from the heat, that one could hardly see the skeletons in x-rays of the body bags.

There was a lot of .223 (AR-15) and 7.62 mm (AK – 47) ammunition, both unfired bullets and their exploded casings. I also saw 9 mm and .45 cal. (handgun) ammunition. In addition, I saw the empty casing of a spent 50 mm (not caliber) round. That could also be called a 2 inch artillery shell. It was not fired during the skirmish. It was probably a military souvenir. I witnessed it because it was “melted” into a mass of comingled, badly burnt bodies. Those on site near Waco simply loaded the mass of ammunition and flesh into the body bag in one piece.

Even though the Davidians were not armed with a 50 mm gun, I read a report that there were two .50 cal. semi-automatic sniper guns side-by-side and pointed at the front doors, with ammunition. One thing I immediately found curious about the body-bag x-rays were the numerous “Y” shaped metal pieces, about 3/16″ long. In some bags they were everywhere, while they weren’t present in others. Any guesses? I’ll tell you later.

Plaster ModelsKoresh's_models 

The plaster model on the left is from an impression of Koresh’s teeth post mortem, 33 years of age. The model on the right was from when he was 15 years old. Is it the same person? Notice the inclinations of the front teeth. His lateral incisors are positioned a little more palatally than the centrals in both models. It may be difficult for the layperson to recognize, but there is a stainless steel crown on Koresh’s left second molar that was there when he was 15. Note the consistency of missing teeth. Notice the consistent shapes of teeth. Once a team member opened the right bag, it was an immediate positive ID.

The fresh extraction socket of the bicuspid on Koresh’s right was because the tooth was extracted post mortem for DNA analysis – not to ID Koresh, but to ID the 60 or so kids who were in the compound that burned to the ground. By the way. We could smell the accelerant. It was Coleman fuel, and it was spread from the inside of the compound. From what I saw and sensed, it is my opinion that government forces did not start the fires.

What else can we tell from the models? The gums and soft tissue had been burnt away, leaving only the bone around the teeth. If one looks closely, one can see a fracture line on his right central incisor. It was where the top of the front tooth was fractured off when Koresh fell forward and struck his mouth on a hard object, possibly the floor. The piece of the tooth was found among the fragments scooped up in the body bag. It was super-glued back in place before the impression was taken.

So How Did Koresh Die?

The back half of Koresh’s skull was missing when the bag was opened, but in the bag were found some skull fragments which were burned and others barely scorched. This tells us it wasn’t the fire that killed him. There was a hole in the middle of the forehead almost 1/4 inch in diameter, with a “starburst” – like scoring of the bone radiating from the edges of the wound. This was later determined to be caused by a .223 bullet. The radiating “starburst” means that the barrel of the gun was contacting Koresh’s head when the bullet was fired. Any ideas yet? Was it a self-inflicted wound?

More clues: The body of Steve Schneider, Koresh’s second in command, was found not far from Koresh’s. Schneider had a hole in the roof of his mouth caused by a 9 mm bullet. For those who don’t know, the .223 round is a rifle bullet, while the 9 mm is likely a handgun. So here is the theory: Schneider did Koresh in the hallway with an AR – 15 that was found close by, and then did himself with his pistol. Anybody have any guesses about the thousands of pieces of metal shaped like “Y”s that littered the body bags?

Zipper Teeth

It is my understanding that this spring a dental forensics course will be offered at the Southwest Dental Conference in Dallas, and it is open to everyone. If forensics interests you, there could come a time when your community might desperately need your help, especially if you are trained in the techniques of identifying victims in a mass disaster. I attended the course two years ago. It was fascinating.


In closing, let me leave you with this: I remember late in the evening following a long, hard day at the morgue, I witnessed something that struck me as so ironic that I impulsively giggled out loud. In one of the body bags was a military-style vest designed for carrying ammunition and tools of warfare The label on the inside of the collar read “David Koresh Survival Gear.” David Koresh marketed his own signature line of survival Gear. Get it?

Managing Editor’s Note: We may occasionally publish an article that, while off ME-P topic, may be of interest to our readers. We trust this is one such publication.


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4 Responses

    [Focus On Darrell Pruitt]

    (Panhandle, Texas) Darrell Pruitt, a 1973 graduate of PHS, he has led an interesting life since leaving Panhandle. He began his career as a dentist in 1982, and had been in private dental practice on the east side of Fort Worth for less than 3 years when he began to get restless.

    In the mood to explore other opportunities in dentistry, he read a request from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner that was published in the monthly newsletter of the Fort Worth District Dental Society. The ME was seeking dentist volunteers to help prepare the county for local disasters which could result in multiple fatalities requiring identification – even though there had never been such an incident in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Since Dr. Pruitt had taken a forensics course in dental school (and maybe because he was the only one to respond to their request for help), he was immediately welcomed as a volunteer member of the Tarrant County Medical Examiners and given an official laminated picture ID, along with an unceremonious handshake and ―welcome aboard. He had no idea he would soon be working one of the worst plane crashes in Texas.

    About six months later on a rainy Saturday in August, he was called at home and told to get to the airport as quickly as possible. Less than an hour before, wind shear caused Delta 191 to crash on the east side of DFW Airport. ―There has been an airplane crash at DFW and there are confirmed fatalities, he was told. ―Bring your ID and wear old shoes.

    Upon arrival at the airport, after quick inspection by a guard, he was immediately directed to a control station where his identity was confirmed by another airport security officer. He was then issued a color coded ID that identifying him as a Tarrant County ME member, and told to wait for the next van.

    Once properly documented, he boarded an airport shuttle with a dozen other people who were also deep in thought. It was an eerie ride with mostly fire-fighters and police officers. No more doctors and nurses were arriving at the crash site by the time he arrived. They were no longer needed.

    As the shuttle approached the site, he started seeing random, unidentifiable small pieces of debris scattered on the tarmac and the adjacent sodden field. Suddenly, there appeared a mostly intact massive jet engine sitting right where it stopped tumbling. Then he noticed what would become the iconic tail section of the L-1011 that had separated from the rest of the airplane. Almost all of the survivors had been rescued from the tail. A few survivors had simply released their seat belts and walked away even before the first responders arrived.

    As the shuttle slowed to a stop, the smell of spilt aviation fuel filled his senses. That would become an odor that to this day still triggers memories of the burned airplane and victims from Delta 191, and three years later, Delta 1141.

    By 1993, the number of Tarrant County ME dentist volunteers had grown from one in 1985 to a well organized and efficient team of 50, including several veterans of the Delta 1141 forensic event. Dr. Rodney Crow, who was in charge of dental forensics at the Tarrant County Morgue and Darrell were the only dentists who had worked both DFW plane crashes.

    On April 19, 1993, the Branch Davidian compound burned in Waco, leaving 81 dead. Darrell was one of the first called in to help with the identification, and was given time to prepare his schedule around the volunteer help. The victims had been smoldering under the charred ruins of the compound for days, and the length of time that would be needed to make positive identities was understandably open-ended. In addition to Dr. Crow, those in charge of preparations did an excellent job organizing an ID system and thinking it through carefully before gathering the other volunteers together for instructions at our jobs for the next week or so. They were also cautioned about the media reps camped outside the morgue. The only time in his life that he had to dodge reporters, the hassle be-came increasingly worse as the days passed without identifying Koresh. While it was interesting being on the protected side of a media blitz, what made the experience special in a world-class way was the caliber of experts Washington sent to help the state of Texas.

    Naturally, the FBI had a presence in the morgue – mostly around physical evidence-gathering – including fingerprints of victims. Darrell became acquainted with a sharp FBI agent named Dr. Joseph DiZinno who practiced dentistry before joining the FBI in 1986. It was Dr. DiZinno’s enthusiasm for determining positive identification that vastly improved Darrell’s attitude toward a job he had grown tired of.

    In 2006, 13 years following Mt. Carmel, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller announced the appointment of Dr. DiZinno to be the head of the FBI forensics lab. The anthropology team sent to Tarrant County by the Smithsonian Institute was equally as impressive. It was led by Douglas Owsley, who is currently the division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Darrell cherishes the few short minutes he spent with him, learning about ethnic differences in bones and teeth in that brief time. Like DiZinno, Owsley is tops in a very competitive field. When asked how he could tolerate the sorrow of death, specifically referring to Mt. Carmel where so many were children, Owsley responded “I have an ability to numb things out. You have a job to do, you approach it objectively. But when you look at these smiling pictures of the people you’re trying to identify, and then you look at the things you have in front of you….”

    For 15 years Darrell was a co-leader of Manos Cariñosas – a healthcare mission team he co-founded in 1991. Every spring they set up and operated a medical-dental clinic for one week in a city in Central and South America. He is also quite an accomplished artist, capturing the likeness of many local people in his drawings, which we may feature in an upcoming edition.

    Hope Hetico RN MHA
    [Managing Editor]


  2. Koresh

    I just visited the Medical Executive-Post and was surprised to see that my article “Branch Davidian David Koresh is Dead” has popped up into one of their dozen most popular articles.


    This is unexpected because I haven’t mentioned Koresh anywhere in months.

    This means that more than just a few people somewhere have suddenly found interest in Koresh. What do you think is happening? Do you think we’ll ever find out?

    I find this interesting.

    D. Kellus Pruitt DDS


  3. Annual interest in Koresh

    Here’s something interesting. My ME-P describing my forensic encounter with Mount Carmel, “Branch Davidian David Koresh is Dead,” has suddenly shot up to the 5th most popular post.


    The anniversary must be coming around.

    D. Kellus Pruitt DDS


  4. Today I received a request for an interview about David Koresh
    Dr. Pruitt,

    Thanks for taking my call. Like I said, I’m working on a new documentary about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Your postings online have been very helpful resources – informative and enlightening. The goal of our program is to introduce the story to a new, younger audience, and we would love to interview you for it. Would you consider granting us an interview?

    This documentary will be broadcast on REELZ Channel in Fall 2017. Here is a sample clip from our Natalie Holloway episode: https://amsfiles.app.box.com/s/nlv9odmhodp0jnm6r0hyfnkua5c42jgo

    The interview will itself take about one hour. I can send you the questions in advance. My goal is to conduct interviews May 15-18; however, we’re local to DFW and flexible on days and locations. I am happy to tell you more about the documentary. What is a good day/time and number to reach you at?

    Thank you for considering our project!

    Jessica Schoenbaechler via DKP
    I think I’ll do it.


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