01/21/2015 10:07 AM
BATON ROUGE – After more than 30 years of assisting law enforcement agencies locally,
regionally and nationally, Mary H. Manhein, director of LSU Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services, or FACES, Laboratory, is retiring from LSU, effective April 30. Manhein, who also
serves as director of the Louisiana Repository for Unidentified and Missing Persons
Information Program, said it is time to turn over the reins to another generation.
“It has been the most amazing ride,” Manhein said. “In my youth, I could never have
imagined such a career.”
Over the years, Manhein has consulted on hundreds of forensic cases, including mass
disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Isaac; Shell Oil and Exxon explosions
and resultant fires; and multiple, high-profile serial killer cases, to name a few.
Her name is immediately associated with any human remains cases recovered from remote
locations across Louisiana, earning her the moniker “The Bone Lady.”
Manhein noted that the most rewarding part of her job has been working with the families
of victims and with resolving cold cases of unidentified persons.
“It is such a wonderful reward to help these families find their loved ones, to help
these families get some peace,” Manhein said. “I feel as though I have made a contribution
that means something … I’ve had so many opportunities in this world and this is just
what I can do to give back to my community.”
Plans for interim director and the search process for the next director of the FACES
Lab are still being discussed at this time.
Manhein is a Fellow in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, a former deputy
coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish and former member of the Louisiana Sentencing
Commission. She is also a member of the national disaster recovery team known as DMORT
and assisted with the recovery of the astronauts from the Columbia crash. Her forensic
anthropology case work and research have been highlighted on numerous television programs
and she has given hundreds of talks nationally. She has twice been invited to lecture
at New Scotland Yard.
In 2006, Manhein initiated a bill which ultimately became a law to create a comprehensive
database for all unidentified and missing persons within Louisiana. To date, it remains
the most comprehensive state database of its kind in the entire U.S. and has been
successful in solving local cold cases and others from across the country.
Manhein noted that much of the success of the database is based on the DNA assistance
the FACES Lab receives from the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory. The DNA profiles
developed by The Crime Lab are then uploaded by the State Police into the national,
Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, database for comparison with cases from across
Manhein’s research has included publishing standards for facial tissue depths to assist
with creating three-dimensional facial reconstructions for unidentified people; excavation
of Civil War battle sites such as Port Hudson; archaeological work at the State Capitol
grounds; salvage archaeology at historic cemeteries such as New Orleans’ oldest formal
cemetery, Colonial St. Peter Street; NSF-funded research with Xin Li of LSU’s Center
for Computer Technology on algorithms for computer restoration of fragmented skulls;
and many other projects.
Through LSU Press, she has published three non-fiction books on her work, including
“The Bone Lady,” “Trail of Bones” and “Bone Remains.” She has also delved into the
world of fiction with “Floating Souls: The Canal Murders,” the first in a series of
novels set in New Orleans. Added to these is a non-fiction manuscript she is co-authoring
with Jessica Schexnayder, one of her undergraduate students, on endangered historic
cemeteries in Louisiana’s coastal regions.
Manhein said that one of the most enjoyable parts of her career has been teaching
thousands of LSU students about anthropology.
Manhein has been the recipient of various teaching awards throughout her years at LSU and has served as thesis advisor for close to 60 master’s students in anthropology. Additionally, she has been a co-advisor for 20 master’s degree in natural science students. Her future plans include writing, traveling, visiting family and contemplating a new career.
Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015