LSU FACES Lab Director Mary Manhein Announces Retirement

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 the country.    

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.

Ernie  Ballard 
LSU Media Relations

Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015