Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Original Appearance of Seamus Muldoon

Seamus Muldoon was a product of Jack Gordon's fertile mind. Way back on Labor Day Weekend in 2000 I sat down with Jack at his property on Luke Road in Costilla County near Fort Garland, Colorado and shot this video footage.  Now there is no denying that he had a curious appearance, what with the "aw shucks" grin, the shaggy beard, unruly white hair and bushy eyebrows, but the playful spirit and at least half the wit of Seamus Muldoon comes through, despite the poor video and sound quality (my apologies on that count). 

Little did I know at the time that this would turn out to be the only recorded video memory we have of Jack.  But this is noteworthy for being the first public manifestation of the character Seamus Muldoon.  His final words on this video are fitting for the manner of his curious disappearance eight years later.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


    In 2002, skeletal remains were found in Boulder County Colorado. Initial characterization of those remains was consistent with a young adult male, perhaps 17-20 years old at the time of death.  Those remains have recently been identified by DNA testing as Cristobal James Flores (Longmont Colo Times-Call March 26, 2014)

     Young Mr. Flores had gone missing from his family's home in Aurora (eastern suburban Denver area) way back in September 2001. There is not a lot of information about his disappearance, but his curious "reappearance" thirteen years later via DNA has some interesting aspects.

     How do investigators identify a particular set of remains as being a particular individual? This field is sort of a merger between pathology and anthropology, under the rubric of forensics.  I would say that the distinction between a forensic pathologist and a forensic anthropologist is mainly a matter of how long the victim has been dead.
Here is a nice elementary review related to identification of MIAs from the Vietnam War.  Here is an example of the steps taken to identify remains in a general investigation.

So what can we determine about a set of skeletal remains?

Skeletal remains can range from a single small bone fragment to nearly complete skeletons. Initial forensic analysis focuses on identifying the remains as human or non-human. The more complete the remains, the easier it is to make this distinction.  Even with single bones however, both macroscopic and microscopic features can be analyzed to make this determination.  Although other large mammals such as elk or bear can have bones that are similar in size to a human, generally a determination can be made with confidence.
Here are some of the features used for macroscopic (anatomic) determination:
and here is an abstract link to a publication describing microscopic (histologic) determination.

The location where skeletal remains were found can be used to help make an identification, in a general sense.  Obviously, the likelihood of skeletal remains found relatively close to the last known location of the missing person will have a higher likelihood of being that person than remains found halfway around the world. Equally obviously, this does not prove identity. Items found in the vicinity of the remains (clothing, personal items, etc) can also give clues to the identity.

 -AGE (at the time of death)
While determination of individual characteristics does not allow specific identification of an individual, it can allow the forensic investigator to narrow the possibilities. If your missing elderly Aunt Edna was not 6'3" tall and male, she can be eliminated from consideration when the discovered remains have those characteristics.

There are two main techniques utilized by forensic investigators to confirm an individual identity, dental comparison and DNA profiling. Both of these techniques require an unknown sample to be matched with a known sample.  In the case of dental records, this control sample is usually written dental records and previous X-rays, that can then be matched to specific findings in the teeth of the unidentified remains.
In the case of DNA testing, the control sample can be from the personal effects of the missing person (hair from a hairbrush, dried saliva from a toothbrush, etc.) or from first-degree blood relatives (parents, siblings, offspring). 

I will talk more about DNA testing on a future post.