A couple of years ago, hikers in Chaffee County spotted human bones in a rocky ravine. Investigators recovered the remains and combed the area for clues. Was it a homicide? They weren’t sure. So they sent the remains — and some artifacts — to an expert: forensic anthropologist Diane France with the Human Identification Lab of Colorado.
France spoke with Colorado Matters about how she studies bones and other evidence to help solve murders and locate missing people. She’s worked on all sorts of cases involving human remains including after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and even evaluating the authenticity of skeletons said to belong to a royal family murdered in tsarist Russia. In the Chaffee county case she used a belt buckle and scraps of leather found near the bones to determine that the death occurred in the mid- to late-1800s. The remains belonged to a teenage male who died from a head injury, possibly after falling from his horse.