Take it … from a Forensic Dentist
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.
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?
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?
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