Known as "detectives of death," forensic pathologists can serve as living interpreters for the voices of the dead, unlocking secrets of mysterious crimes that might otherwise go unsolved. This September, in the tradition of HBO's previous "Autopsy" documentaries, AUTOPSY 5 explores the world of forensic pathology through the words and case studies of several of the country's leading autopsy experts. The America Undercover presentation debuts SATURDAY, SEPT. 19 (10:30-11:30 p.m. ET), exclusively on HBO.
Other playdates: Sept. 21 (2:05 a.m.), 24 (1:00 a.m.) and 29 (10:00 p.m.), and Oct. 7 (11:30 p.m.) and 12 (12:30 a.m.).
Among the pathologists sharing their insights is Dr. Michael Baden (the subject of the original "Autopsy: Confessions of a Medical Examiner"), a real-life "Quincy" who has conducted more than 20,000 autopsies in his 34-year career, reviewed the autopsies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman at the O.J. Simpson trial, and examined victims of the TWA Flight 800 crash. The former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, Dr. Baden was also consulted in the cases of Claus von Bulow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, John Belushi, Andy Warhol, Christian Brando, Montgomery Clift and the Romanovs.
Other prominent experts featured include pathologists Dr. Cyril Wecht and Dr. Barbara Chaitin; Dr. Martin Glicksman, an expert from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who works on the space shuttle at NASA; and other leading forensic pathologists, naturalists, botanists and law-enforcement officials.
Featuring first-person accounts by pathologists and family members, videotapes of autopsies and crime scenes, and never-before-seen photographs from doctors' case files, AUTOPSY 5: AMERICA UNDERCOVER includes such case studies as:
*The Mary Ann Powell Case - In the spring of 1996, a year and a half after a pregnant Mary Ann Powell was reported missing by her husband Warren, her body turned up in a bag embedded in an ice chunk floating in the Hudson River. Performing the autopsy, Dr. Barbara Chaitin determined that she had been strangled. Inside the bag were 90 pounds of rocks, as well as maple seed pods that Dr. Norman Weeden (an associate professor of plant genetics at Cornell) determined came from a tree at the apartment complex where the Powells lived. After Dr. Martin Glicksman discovered ribbed marks on a family boat seat matching those on the bag, Warren Powell was arrested. The professor for the criminal justice class Warren Powell had been taking at a community college remembered telling his class about a "perfect" crime: One fisherman kills another, weighs down the body, and waits for fish to devour the evidence. Warren Powell was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life.
* The Robert Curley Case - In 1991, while overseeing a chemistry lab renovation at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, contractor Robert Curley fell ill and died. The cause of death was poisoning by thallium, a lead-like chemical that is almost impossible to obtain. Traced to a thermos Curley brought to work, thallium was also found in Curley's wife and daughter. Little progress was made for three years, until the body was exhumed. Toxicologist Dr. Frederic Reiders analyzed sections of Curley's hair and determined that he was poisoned over a long period of time. The only person with access to him during this stretch was his wife, Joanne. She confessed to using old rat poison containing thallium over time, poisoning herself and her daughter to throw investigators off the trail. Her motive was $300,000 in insurance money, a sum far exceeded by the $1.2 million she received just two days before Curley died - awarded for the death of her first husband.
* The Case of the Eyeball Killer - Beginning in 1990, several prostitutes were murdered with a gruesome twist: Their eyeballs were removed. Forensic expert Charlie Linch determined the hairs found on the bodies belonged to a Caucasian; meanwhile, a drug addict said she'd witnessed one murder, and linked Charlie Albright to the crime. Matching hairs and fibers from Albright's blankets to those on the victims, Linch gathered enough evidence to convict Albright. Though never admitting guilt, Albright is said to spend his cell time drawing pictures of eyes.
As Michael Baden wrote in his 1989 best-seller "Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner," forensic pathology is "a profession that is enormously gratifying. It offers the adventure of detection, the excitement of discovery and the satisfaction of searching for the truth."
AUTOPSY 5: AMERICA UNDERCOVER is produced by Gaby Monet, whose other HBO documentaries include the four previous "Autopsy" documentaries, "Child of Rage: A Story of Abuse," "Attempted Murder: Confrontation," "The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer" (in which Dr. Baden appeared), "Confronting Evil" and "Murder 9 to 5." Arthur Ginsberg is the director and editor. Marlene Sanders is the narrator. Sheila Nevins is executive producer of the America Undercover series.