On the Trail of Solving a Mass Murder

By Sanders, Carol | Winnipeg Free Press, February 13, 2014 | Go to article overview

On the Trail of Solving a Mass Murder


Sanders, Carol, Winnipeg Free Press


Science used in unravelling atrocities

Civilians thrown from airplanes into the sea by soldiers, pregnant women killed after giving birth to babies adopted by police, 143 children gunned down by government troops, corpses burned then buried in a mass grave then dug up and reburied to hide the evidence.

These were just nightmares until investigative scientists like Luis Fondebrider proved they really happened.

"We're providing hard evidence," the forensic anthropologist from Argentina told staff and students at the University of Manitoba Wednesday. His trip to Winnipeg was sponsored by the U of M and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Fondebrider began his work in 1983 when Argentina was coming to terms with the thousands who disappeared under military rule. He founded the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology and pioneered the application of forensic science for the recovery and identification of the remains. In Argentina, bodies thrown from planes washed up on the beach and DNA linked adopted children to missing pregnant women.

In El Salvador, kids were shot en masse and hundreds of villagers' bodies were burned and buried, then dug up and buried elsewhere to hide the remains.

Fondebrider's team has since worked in more than 50 countries around the world and he's testified as an expert witness.

Most of the countries where the atrocities have taken place are poor, and most often it's the women left behind asking questions and refusing to be silent who spur the investigations, Fondebrider said. A government may deny the atrocities occurred, hide the evidence or make up a story that paints the victims as the perpetrators but science can set the record straight, said the forensic anthropologist.

He recalled Rufina Amaya, a survivor of a 1981 massacre in El Salvador that killed more than 800 people including 143 children and wiped out several villages.

"For years she was saying 'People were killed here, people were killed here.' " Nobody believed her until his team investigated and discovered a mass grave. …

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