Forensic Odontology Brought To The Forefront By One Famous Bite
Ted Bundy is one of the most prolific serial killers in history. His killing spree started in Washington and along the west coast then through Colorado and the mountains. He escaped from jail and made his way to Florida where he changed his name and tried to fit in with the college crowd at Florida State University.
It was in Florida where he was convicted of murder in 1979. What most people don’t know, however, is that Bundy’s teeth is what lead to his murder conviction.
On January 15, 1978, Bundy broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University. He assaulted four women; two died from the vicious attack. He was ultimately captured and prosecuted for the murder of the two Chi Omega sorority sisters: Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy. The most compelling piece of evidence against him was a bite mark left on Levy’s left buttock.
Bundy left a perfect bite mark impression and thus, forensic odontology became the forefront for forensic evidence.
Forensic Odontology has been used in cases dating all the way back to the 17th century during the Salem witch trials. It wasn’t until the landmark case of Doyle v. State in 1954 that bite marks could be used as evidence to convict. Doyle was prosecuted for burglary in Texas and the main piece of evidence was a bite mark found on a piece of cheese left at the crime scene. Doyle was asked to bite into a similar piece of cheese for a comparison.
A dentist compared the two bite marks and testified that they were identical. Since then, forensic ondontologists have been used not only to compare bite marks, but also for the following: Identifying human remains, estimating age of remains if they haven’t been identified, and testifying in court for criminal and/or civil cases.
Forensic odontologists are dentists with further training in forensic sciences (list of schools). They are trained to analyze bite marks in criminal cases such as assault or murder and/or civil cases involving medical malpractice. Often, a Forensic Odontologist will be called upon to identify human remains. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, forensic odontologists from around the country gathered into New York City to help identify the massive amount of casualties. A bachelor’s degree in forensic science is not necessary to be a forensic odontologist; a professional degree in dentistry (DDS, DMD) is required as well as a subsequent certification in forensic odontology.
As with most sciences, forensic odontology does have its share of critics. For example, a man in Arizona was wrongly convicted based on bite mark evidence at his trial. He was later released when the DNA (saliva) from the bite mark excluded him. Other detractors state that bite mark impressions can change due to age, loss of teeth, and other variables.
For the most part, however, prosecutors have won many cases based on bite mark analysis. In fact, when Bundy tried to appeal his conviction based on faulty evidence (the bite mark) the appeals court upheld his conviction stating that Bundy’s teeth impression was so unique, that no one other than Bundy could have left the bite mark on the body of Lisa Levy. Ultimately, after two failed appeals, Bundy was finally electrocuted on January 24, 1989.
Forensics is an interesting line of work. For more information on forensic-related careers, check out this articles.