Forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow, who worked on Gacy, other high-profile cases, dead at 86
By KRISTI EATON Associated Press May 18, 2014 10:00PM
FILE - In a Friday June 2, 2000 file photo, forensic anthropologist Dr. Clyde Snow, of Oklahoma, unites parts of a skull, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Snow, who worked on cases ranging from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to mass graves in Argentina, died Friday, May 16, 2014, at Norman Regional Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma, his wife, Jerry Snow told The Associated Press. He was 86. (AP Photo/Victor Ruiz C, File)
Updated: May 20, 2014 12:48PM
Clyde Snow, a renowned forensic anthropologist who worked on cases ranging from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the mass murders committed by John Gacy to the mass graves in Argentina, has died. He was 86.
He died Friday at Norman Regional Hospital in Norman, Okla., according to his wie, Jerry Snow, who said he had lung cancer and emphysema.
Mr. Snow’s work also included identifying the remains of fugitive Nazi “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele and victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
In Chicago, his first case was as an investigator for the 1979 American Airlines crash that killed all 271 people aboard.
He also examined mass grave sites in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Croatia, and often helped build criminal cases against government leaders who carried out the killings.
“Bones don’t forget,” Mr. Snow once said in an interview. “They’re there, and they have a story to tell.”
The Texas native traveled the world. aiming to give a voice to the voiceless, he once told an interviewer.
“I find it challenging,” he said. “It is fascinating work. I feel we are doing a little bit of good. It’s not the role of forensic science to put the bad guys in jail but to evenhandedly collect the evidence.”
Born Jan. 7, 1928, in Texas, Mr. Snow became interested in the human body through his physician father.
In 1960, he went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma City, studying the effects of plane crashes on human bodies so that safer planes could be designed. He helped develop a computer program to investigate plane crashes, and his work yielded insights on surviving plane crashes. Some are obvious, such as requesting a seat near an exit. Among the others: Don’t carry a ballpoint pen in your shirt pocket while flying because; in a crash, it can skewer your heart.
While working for the FAA, Mr. Snow also took on outside jobs.
He worked with the medical examiner’s office in Oklahoma City, investigating murders. His reputation for identifying skeletons grew, and police agencies and medical examiners across the country called him in. In Chicago, he helped identify serial killer Gacy’s victims.
By the time he retired from the FAA in 1980 and began working as a freelance consultant, he was widely known.
Mr. Snow investigated the deaths of many historical figures, including soldiers who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 and King Tutankhamun.
In 1978, his expertise was on display when he spoke before the House Select Committee on Assassinations about the death of President Kennedy. Less than a decade later, he was part of an international forensic team that identified the remains of Mengele, who operated the Auschwitz death camp.
In 2006, Mr. Snow testified against Saddam Hussein, who was on trial for genocide.
In 2007, he was cross-examined by Al Hassan al-Majid (Chemical Ali) and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad at the special tribunal that resulted in their conviction for the 1988 genocidal campaign waged against Kurds. Mr. Snow had been part of a team organized by the groups Physicians for Human Rights and Middle East Rights Watch who investigated a mass grave in the northern Iraqi town of Koreme, which was destroyed in 1988.
In Chicago, beside his work on major cases, he searched for buried mobsters and examined stolen Tibetan skulls.
Closer to home, Mr. Snow, who was a professor at the University of Oklahoma, assisted in identifying victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and worked with the Tulsa Race Riot Commission to create a comprehensive account of the deadly 1921 racial clash that laid ruin to the city’s black business district.
It was as a graduate anthropology student at the University of Arizona in the 1950s that Mr. Snow realized he enjoyed working with modern human remains more than ancient ones.
“We were dealing with people who’ve got names...people that we could develop some biographical information on” through medical and dental records, he told an interviewer. Besides, he added, “I think there’s a little bit of Sherlock Holmes in everybody. So we get to play detective to a limited extent.”
“All the 200 or so bones, and 32 teeth, of a skeleton,” Snow once told a class of budding forensic anthropologists at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, “each of them have a story to tell.”
Jerry Snow said her husband will be remembered most for his sense of humor and dedication to basic rights.
“That was his driving force in his life — human rights,” she said.