JUAREZ CSIPosted: Updated:
All the murders and crime scenes in this Mexican border city provide plenty of forensic evidence and that led a doctor at the busy Juarez crime lab to develop a new method to help identify victims.
Now comes the hard part: describing this method without getting too graphic. Basically it involves "rehydrating" a victim's remains. As Dr. Alejandro Hernandez puts it, "they're "mummyfied." It's not uncommon to see tissue in this state in the desert southwest along the border. Through trial and error the doctor perfected a solution in which he soaks the tissue to restore critical identifying evidence.
The doctor remembers the first time it worked and he saw tissue that was like cardboard transformed into normal skin texture. "I was surprised. I was pleased. But to be honest it was also scary to see a mummy returned to an almost natural state," explained the forensic expert.
The doctor began by using the solution to recover fingerprints but later expanded to include identifying marks on other areas of the body: old scars, moles, even tattoos. In one of the first cases, an arm was reydrated to display a gang tattoo and identify a misisng man police in El Paso suspected had been murdered in Juarez.
One of the most fascinating cases involved a Jane Doe. The doctor restored her entire face. An artist sketch of the woman's face was then circulated and people in the state of Hidalgo identified her as a relative who moved to Phoenix. DNA tests however were not a match. The search for this Juarez Jane Doe's real identity continues.
This is not the first time this technique has been tried. Some U.S. researchers have rehydrated remains with with limited success. One notable case a forensic professor helped solve a 60 year old mystery and identified a plane crash victim from the fingerprints of a hand found in the frozen tundera after a 1948 plane crash.
Today, Dr. Hernandez's discovery at the Juarez Crime lab is offering new hope to families whose loved ones disappeared along this stretch of border, a bustling magnet for immigrants looking for work far from home and bands of drug traffickers who in their battle for smuggling routes to the U.S. leave a trail of unidentified corpses. And then there are notorious murdered women of Juarez.
Answering the question who are these people whose remains were dumped in the desert -- is now a little easier. As doctor at the Juarez Crime lab put it "Families filing missing persons reports can now say my relative had a mole, or a scar, a birthmark...and we can look for it."