The development of science and technology over the last several decades has made crime investigation easier. Agencies like FBI today can identify the true assailant more authentically and quickly with the help of forensic science. It appears that explosive advancements in the area of forensic science have totally changed the way crime investigators approach case enquiry. Prior to the broader development of forensic science, investigation officers were forced to rely increasingly on situational evidences and physical torture to prove the involvement of a suspect in crime. Under such circumstances, fundamental human rights were often violated and many innocent people were convicted. Forensic odontology (or forensic dentistry) is a key branch of forensic science that was developed in an attempt to prove a suspect’s involvement in crime in the absence of precise material evidences. Applying this branch of forensic science, a bite mark remained on the victim’s body may be enough to determine whether the suspect is the assailant. In addition to proving criminal cases, forensic odontology has a wide range of scope including assessment of abuse incidents, identification of mass fatalities, and age estimation. This paper will explore how forensic odontology assisted investigation agencies to identify the serial killer Ted Bundy and his involvement in a series of homicides, rapes, and assaults.
Ted Bundy: A Serial Killer
Theodore Robert Bundy, commonly known as Ted Bundy, was an American serial killer who was executed for murdering numerous girls and young women. In the investigation, it was identified that Bundy committed most of the homicides during the 1970s. After a decade of denials, Bundy confessed in the court just before his execution that he was responsible for the 30 homicides in seven states during the period 1974-1978. However, the true count of victims murdered by Bundy still remains unknown. Criminologists say that the true count of victims could be much higher. Being regarded as ‘handsome and charismatic’ by his female victims, Bundy exploited these characteristics to gain the trust of victims (“Ted Bundy - Most Prolific Serial Killer”). Normally, Bundy had approached his young female victims in public places before he assaulted, raped, and murdered them at more secluded locations. It is shocking to know that Bundy often revisited his crime scenes for hours and engaged in sexual acts with the victims’ corpses. In some cases, he decapitated the victims and kept the decapitated heads in his flat for a long period of time. Although Bundy was suspected of a number unsolved homicide in different states across US and subsequently incarcerated in 1975, he escaped from the prison twice and committed further violence including three homicides. Finally, Bundy was recaptured in 1978 and sentenced to death. On 24th January 1989, Bundy was executed by electrocution. According to the biographer Ann Rule, Ted Bundy was “sadistic sociopath who took pleasure from another human's pain and the control he had over his victims, to the point of death, and even after” (qtd in Doidge, p.na).
Forensic odontology, sometimes referred to as forensic dentistry, is a branch of forensic science that deals with the examination and evaluation of dental evidence for the ultimate purpose of presenting it in a court of law in the best interest of justice. More precisely, forensic odontology applies the dental knowledge in criminal proceedings so as to prove the involvement of a convict in a crime scientifically. Under this branch of forensic science, a forensic dentist compares the record of the suspect’s dentition with the bite mark found on the victim’s body so as to scientifically identify whether or not the suspect is the real assailant. Although this branch of forensic science operates in the best interests of justice, it has a broader scope as forensic odontology can be applied to identify human remains and to collect evidence for dental malpractice. It has been proven that forensic odontology is really helpful to determine age, race, occupation, and socioeconomic status of unidentified human beings by closely examining and evaluating the unique features observed on dental radiographs (Al-Sarhani). While analyzing the crime investigation history of the United States, it seems that the application of forensic odontology or simply dental knowledge has assisted investigation agencies in the country to authentically prove the involvement of a convict in the crime.
How forensic odontology trapped Ted Bundy?
A witness named Nita Neary reported the murder of two young girls (Lisa Levy and Martha Bowman) at the night of 15th January 1978. Both Levy and Bowman were brutally attacked with a wooden club. The witness reported that she saw a man wearing a blue knit cap in the crime scene. She added that the man was running out of the premises of Levy and Bowman. According to the investigators, this murder was a ‘violent, brutal attack’. The post-mortem report indicated that Levy was raped, strangled, and hit on the head whereas Bowman was brutally hit on the head and strangled. As there were no solid evidences found at the crime scene, investigators assumed that the murderer had wiped the room clean to destroy evidences. Since Bundy was already known for his cleverness and accuracy in murdering young women without remaining any evidence, investigators suspected that Levy and Bowman were the latest victims of Bundy. However, there was no solid evidence to justify their assumptions, which would not be valid in a court of law.
With the help of an experienced dentist Souviron, the investigation team obtained several photographs of Bundy’s upper and lower teeth and gums. As there was an uneven pattern identified with his dental impression, it was easy for Souviron to make a match (Axelrod and Antinozzi 165). Bundy sought the assistance of a lawyer to defend the arguments of Souviron, who took a strong stand against Bundy in the court. The lawyer requested the court not to consider the bite mark evidence, because the warrant could not be justified from a legal viewpoint. The judge accepted the argument. As mentioned above, the tissue collected from the Levy’s buttock has been totally destroyed by the time of the trial. However, the photographs taken by the investigation officer still remained. Souviron described the features of the bite mark as the court examined the photographs. Souviron could convince the court how the bite marks outlined on the photographs matched the dental impression of Bundy. In addition, he could effectively outline “the structure of the unique alignment, the chips, the size of the teeth, and the sharpness factors of the bicuspids, lateral, and incisor teeth” (“The famous bite-mark case”). He portrayed the offender’s teeth structure and the photographs of the bite mark on a huge board in an enlarged manner so as to facilitate the comparison and to assist the jury to obtain a clear picture of the match.
Souviron explained to the court that the offender had bitten Levy twice on her buttock. According to him, Bundy had bitten her first and turned sideways before biting her again. To support his point, Souviron indicated that in the second bite, the attacker’s upper teeth had been in the same position but the lower teeth had left two separate rings on her buttock. Souviron asserted before the court that he had done a number of experiments using model teeth so as to support the standardization of his analysis (The famous bite-mark case). Although Bundy’s lawyer made an attempt to invalidate the bite mark evidence by arguing that the ruler in the photographs had been lost, Souviron could successfully defend this claim because the ruler was still in the photo making it clear that it had existed once. So as to ensure the authenticity of the bite mark evidence produced, the State of Florida requested Lowell Levine, a chief forensic dentist from New York City’s Medical Examiner, to appear before the court and to describe the bite mark (Raab).“He testified that the victim, Lisa Levy had to be lying passive for the marks to be left same position as they were found on the photograph” (The famous bite-mark case). This testimony was considered strong evidence in favor of the prosecution and caused Bundy to receive a death sentence. While analyzing the legal history of Florida, it seems that Bundy’s case was the first time a court relied on bite mark testimony to declare judgment.
The case analysis makes it clear that Bundy could have easily escaped from the hands of law if the forensic odontology was not applied to prove his involvement in the crime. It is obvious that no evidences were strong enough to prove Bundy’s involvement in the homicide except the bite mark evidence. In addition, in the absence of such strong scientific evidence, it would have been very difficult for the court to determine whether or not Bundy had actually committed the offense alleged. Hence, forensic odontology helped the investigation officers to trap the most dreadful serial killer in America. In addition to Bundy’s case, the branch of forensic odontology has assisted investigation agencies many times to identify actual assailants, particularly rapists, in a conclusive manner. The science of forensic dentistry has developed notably over the years, and currently it plays a pivotal role in crime investigations.
Al-Sarhani, Mansour. “Implementation of forensic dentistry in criminal investigations: Review Article”. European Scientific Journal. (August 2014). 10, (24): 1857 – 788.
Axelrod, Alan and Antinozzi, Guy. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Forensics. Penguin, 2007. Print.
Doidge, Christina. Profile of Serial Killers. US: Christina Doidge, 2012. Print.
“The famous bite-mark case”. Web. 1st April 2016. https://sites.google.com/site/tedbundythelastbitemark/the-famous-bitemark-case
Mosby, Elsevier. Forensic Nursing. Elsevier Mosby, 2006. Print.
Raab, Selwyn. “Tooth mark of suspect key in murder of guard”. The New York Times. August 13, 1981.
“Ted Bundy - Most Prolific Serial Killer/Necrophile of 70s (Crime Documentary)”. YouTube Video. Web. 1st April 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKQEFmaETLo