2012-01-03 / World

Vital or vile? Coroner posts facial photos

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The corpses’ faces are mostly bloated, their skin pale and discolored. One man’s lips are stiffened into a grim frown and he stares with half-open eyes. Another man appears to be sleeping, his color natural enough that he almost looks alive.

Forensic investigator Michael Simley knows some people will find the photographs unsettling, but he said he decided to post them online for an important reason: the bodies are unidentified. All were found in Wisconsin’s most populous area, Milwaukee County, and have been without names for years — decades, in some cases — and Simley said he’s desperate to find answers.

“We’re not doing these people justice to let them go unidentified. These are family members, friends, people who are missed,” Simley said. “Everyone deserves to be recognized as who they were in life. Being buried as a Jane or John Doe doesn’t sit well with me.”

Investigators nationwide use a variety of tools when asking for the public’s help identifying corpses. Many release sketches or 3-D clay models, along with photos of tattoos, clothing or jewelry of the deceased. But a handful are now taking the more extreme step of releasing photographs of faces.

The practice has helped Las Vegas’ coroner identify dozens of bodies. Other medical examiners seem hesitant to embrace it but are generally supportive of their colleagues’ intentions.

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