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Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  5,921 ratings  ·  337 reviews
From a skeleton, a skull, a mere fragment of burnt thighbone, Dr. William Maples can deduce the age, gender, and ethnicity of a murder victim, the manner in which the person was dispatched, and, ultimately, the identity of the killer.  In Dead Men Do Tell Tales, Dr. Maples revisits his strangest, most interesting, and most horrific investigations, from the baffling cases o ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 15th 1995 by Broadway Books (first published October 1st 1994)
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Petra-X is getting covered in Soufriere ash
This book could be a manual for murderers - the author discusses the details of unsolveable cases. So, to give yourself the best chance of getting away with murder: firstly, get some tools but not locally. Preferably in a place without cameras. Maybe online, if not, pay cash. Go somewhere where no-one will hear you. Wear protective clothing. Hack person you killed into pieces. Distribute them widely preferably underwater and not in garbage bags. Throw the tools into a lake. Burn the clothing.

Jun 14, 2011 added it
Shelves: anthropology, 2011
Well, I loved this book when it focused on actual cases and forensics. I HATED this book when Maples went off on tangents about how brilliant, smart and better than everyone else he was. His arrogance is grating, and I recognize his importance and contributions to the field of forensic anthropology, but you don't have to be so goddamn full of yourself. And if I hear another old-man-forensic-slash-biological-anthropologist brag about how much food he can eat while being surrounded by grisly putri ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting account of Maples' career, thoughts, & more interesting cases. He's about the same age as William M. Bass, best known for Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales. I found Bass more enjoyable to read, although no more interesting. Neither can top Mary Roach in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, but they have their moments & get into areas she didn't touch on.

Maples tends to be (write?) a bit pompous, although he has e
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
As much as I love a good forensic anthropology tale, I had trouble becoming interested in the stories while dancing around some of the most pompous, self-serving writing I've seen on the subject. Maples pats himself on the back and paints a picture of the victim's crusader for justice, when it's quite clear that ego, not empathy, is the driving force. ...more
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Like many other reviewers, I found this book to be somewhat verbose, occasionally redundant, somewhat sexist, and the author - while definitely accomplished and intelligent - arrogant (interestingly, a trait he doesn't hesitate to point to with disdain when observed in his colleagues!). In many places his narrative is histrionic and choice of words anachronistic - whether this is natural or a conscious choice is not apparent, but I found myself reaching for the dictionary on several occasions on ...more
Becky B
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Forensic science fans, Those considering forensic anthropology
Imagine that your uncle or grandfather were a forensic anthropologist who worked on famous cases like identifying the remains of the Romanov family or figuring out if President Zachary Taylor had died of arsenic poisoning, and you asked him to tell you stories every time you got together. As he told you stories about cases he's worked on, he would mix in some history, science, and descriptions of things like the labs he's worked in. Inevitably, as these storytellers do, (especially if they are e ...more
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was much better than I thought it was going to be. Co-written with Michael Browning, this was a well-written and fascinating look into the world of forensic anthropology from the point of view of skeletal remains. There are many interesting cases William Maples covers in this book, and that alone should convince a person to read it. But, what I liked best about the book was the language: sometimes graphic, sometimes poetic, but always informative and interesting. This is an author who ...more
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: death, 2020
Dead Men do Tell Tales... OF COURSE, THEY DO! Despite this being more than two decades old, it was pretty interesting. I love the tales of Africa and was dying when he was bitten by the baboon.... cringe. If this is your area, then the book is worth the read!

4 stars

Happy Reading!
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
реальна судова антропологія не завжди така захоплива, як усілякі серіали з покійниками, але доктора мейплза доволі приємно читати, та й почуття гумору в нього хороше.

Most suicides are far better thought out than most pregnancies.

I always make a point of telling the airline ticket agent just how many skulls I have with me in my baggage—not to shock her, but to make sure that, in case the plane crashes, investigators will know why there were more skulls than passengers aboard. This is mere profess
Mar 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is written by a forensic anthropologist about his work identifying people's remains from their skeletons, first published 1994. It's an interesting book. I was surprised how morbid it was; I was expecting CSI rather than what is almost a memoir. Maples treats his subjects thematically, rather than on a case by case basis, and includes many instances of cases where identification was impossible, or murderers never found. He likes to talk about how gruesome his work is, and can be a bit ...more
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book. I don't agree with other comments about it being arrogant and sexist. I think Maples is justifiably proud of what he does, and he gives full credit to his wife for her part in supporting him and doing her own job as media specialist. I found the case histories fascinating, and was impressed by what forensic anthropology could contribute to criminal investigations. (In fact I'm reading this book nearly twenty years after it was first published, so I guess things may b ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, library_books
I found the book overall rather disappointing. The first half consists of the author's background, followed by gory, explicit details of cremations, executions, etc. Second part was more interesting - and more what the average reader is likely expecting (looking for) - actual cases Maples has worked on from the evidence provided. Still, he came across to me as arrogant and whiny. Not particularly recommended. ...more
Oct 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, forensic
Dead Men Do Tell Tales is not the book that I expected. Imagine the stories that a forensic anthropologist would tell in a keynote: short vignettes, grisly deaths and those of the famous (e.g., Francisco Pizarro, Tsar Nikolai and his family, and President Taylor). These are amusing, entertaining, and enlightening stories, but not necessarily thought-provoking. These stories are the Indiana Jones of forensic anthropology, and I imagine William Maples' students sitting in the front row of class, f ...more
Dec 03, 2009 rated it liked it
This is the collected war stories of a forensic anthropologist, a specialist in identifying human remains based on their bones. The tales are deliciously gruesome and salaciously horrifying (though some are sad and disturbing and you feel like the bad kind of voyeur). It's not a book for the faint of heart or stomach, especially the photographs. But I found it interesting; I had no idea how much such a profession can do with so little.

It is docked a full star for the excrutiating writing, made a
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it
now i am hooked. This was such a great, easy and creative book. i was hooked after the first page.

The characters were easy to fall in love with and follow, along with the story. the author made the mental visions so easy and vivid of the surroundings and the characters actions felt so real.

i would highly recommend this author and this book.
Mike Shultz
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and brutal. This book focused more on stories and cases that the author was involved with, as opposed to trying to teach forensic science (although there was plenty of science.) Nothing dull herein. Particularly fascinating were the "Meek-Jennings" suicide case, the examination of the bones of the murdered Russian Csar and his family, and the description of the bones of Pizarro. A couple sections were brutal in their gruesome detail, although the author took pains to share his knowle ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a reading assignment in my Forensic Anthropology class last semester. At first I thought the author's tone was narcissistic. Thankfully, towards the middle and end the author wrote about more about forensic science and less about his younger years, and he included more information on the field of forensic anthropology itself. The writing itself is excellent. Dr. Maples is clearly very well educated, and his hobby of reading literature shines through in some parts. He covers war crimes, ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anthropology
This was right up my nerdy geeky alley! Not only are pictures included (which, if you're queasy, ignore), but step-by-step conclusions to some of his real life cases are explained in detail. He throws in the murderers and some really good who-dunnits, but also throws in the cases of former President Taylor (was he poisoned or did he die of natural causes?), and of course, Anastasia and the last Romonovs. Ah, if only I would have been a forensic anthropologist instead of a medical anthropologist. ...more
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dr. William Maples tell you tales of his involvement in solving horrible crimes. If you are a fan of CSI don't bother me. If you are interested in how stuff really works in all the gory detail and what it's like to be an actual forensic anthropologist this is the place. More of a series of memoirs than a scientific study, but greatly explains the science stuff as well very neatly and humorously at time.

Not for the easily queasy, but great for those seriously interested in light reading in this a
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Dr. Maples' memoir of working as a forensic anthropologist at the Identification Lab in Gainesville, Florida, right across the way from the memorial wall where he can see the names of Danny Rolling's victims daily. Here's a man after my own heart -- he even majored in English Lit, like I did -- and the writing gets more florid, purple and literary as the story moves on. His forecast of the future of forensic anthropology is daunting, to say the least, but this book should help make it clear to a ...more
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
I'm a fan of the TV show "Bones" and generally enjoy memoirs by medical doctors and such, so I was looking forward to this volume. The author writes well, and when he focuses on a deceased person, such as Pizarro or the "Elephant Man," the stories are interesting and informative. Unfortunately, he spends too much of the book talking about himself and either explicitly or implicitly relating how wonderful and amazing he is. Dude, your readers are much more likely to admire you if you let them rea ...more
Robin Hobb
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating tales of how forensic evidence can be obtained from a corpse.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Forensic anthropologist, Dr. William R. Maples has studied the bones of people killed in almost every conceivable way: "meat cleavers, machetes, ice picks, bayonets, hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, crowbars, pry bars, two-by-fours, tree limbs, jack handles...neckties, pantyhose, ropes, bootlaces, towels and chains." Even a frozen ham.

He (along with his co-author, Michael Browning) tells a vivid story and is not afraid to editorialize:

"At the center of the labyrinth of certain human personalitie
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This was not exactly what I was expecting but it was interesting all the same. There was more emphasis on the author's career than on the forensics, though there was little distinction between the two at times. I got more of a feel for the industry than their methods and after the initial surprise wore off, I was fine with that. The author was blessedly brief when discussing certain topics, such as children, but there were one or two cases discussed during that chapter.

Maples can get a bit prea
May 27, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read, and I enjoyed the forensic cases that it covered. There was a pretty good variety of current and historical true crime, and the author clearly did a lot of groundbreaking and important work. Unfortunately, the author really made the book much less of a good read than it could be because of his tone. He just seemed super arrogant throughout, and the tone he used was often frustrating. I mean, obviously, he is good at his job given that he's been involved in so many f ...more
Chaitalee Ghosalkar
Apr 23, 2020 rated it liked it
If you ask me who should read this book, I won't bat an eyelid before saying 'murderers in the making.' Yes, you read it right.

William R. Maples, an anthropologist from Florida gives an account of the cases he has handled over the years as a forensic anthropologist. He has picked his most notable cases and provided a detailed account of all that it takes to identify the victim and essentially a murderer. Use any method of killing-stabbing, burning, shooting, etc. rest assured that the forensic a
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Maples does a fantastic job of taking the reader though a dark and mysterious world of hidden clues and interesting developments, to reveal truths of deaths that that may have never been known. Investigative forensics seems to be a severely unappreciated field, as Maples describes the struggles and victories of what all the career has to offer.
I am so much more appreciative of the work that goes on behind-the-scenes as the intricacies and finesse of what all is required of the field is describe
George K. Ilsley
Not for the faint-hearted, this book details a long career as a forensic anthropologist. Bones and skeletons, even in pieces, can still tell a story. This author, though, is very impressed with himself, and cannot refrain from telling the reader many times how he is so smart and skilled.

I suspect that a lot of work in this field has now been overtaken by advances in DNA identification.

There is much territory covered here — everything from serial killers in Florida to identifying the remains of
Nov 24, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 I chose to read this book because I am watching the TV series Bones, in which the main character is a forensic anthropologist. This book was very interesting and charmingly told. Though the subject matter is murder, the approach is very human. The author died in 1997, which seems a shame given his ability to articulate complex scientific topics clearly. Our society lacks knowledge or respect for science all too often - this kind of spokesperson is helpful to us all.
I loved this book and it made me even more interested in the science of death and forensic anthropology. Dr Maples is a dear man, you can tell that in every word you read and by the respect he pays to the dead. Overall, this is a fascinating account of a long and richly full career and, indeed, life.

May he rest in eternal peace.
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“Interstate highways are the veins and arteries by which crime circulates in America. Serial killers seem to float through them like blood cells, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Crimes committed along interstate highways ought to be considered extraterritorially, apart from the normal rules of geography, and separate from a state's good name. These huge highways form a kind of fifty-first state of their own, a state whose flower is the deadly nightshade and whose state bird is the vulture.” 6 likes
“The instruments of murder are as manifold as the unlimited human imagination. Apart from the obvious—shotguns, rifles, pistols, knives, hatchets and axes—I have seen meat cleavers, machetes, ice picks, bayonets, hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, crowbars, pry bars, two-by-fours, tree limbs, jack handles (which are not “tire irons;” nobody carries tire irons anymore), building blocks, crutches, artificial legs, brass bedposts, pipes, bricks, belts, neckties, pantyhose, ropes, bootlaces, towels and chains—all these things and more, used by human beings to dispatch their fellow human beings into eternity. I have never seen a butler use a candelabrum. I have never seen anyone use a candelabrum! Such recherché elegance is apparently confined to England. I did see a pair of sneakers used to kill a woman, and they left distinctive tread marks where the murderer stepped on her throat and crushed the life from her. I have not seen an icicle used to stab someone, though it is said to be the perfect weapon, because it melts afterward. But I do know of a case in which a man was bludgeoned to death with a frozen ham. Murderers generally do not enjoy heavy lifting—though of course they end up doing quite a bit of it after the fact, when it is necessary to dispose of the body—so the weapons they use tend to be light and maneuverable. You would be surprised how frequently glass bottles are used to beat people to death. Unlike the “candy-glass” props used in the movies, real glass bottles stand up very well to blows. Long-necked beer bottles, along with the heavy old Coca-Cola and Pepsi bottles, make formidable weapons, powerful enough to leave a dent in a wooden two-by-four without breaking. I recall one case in which a woman was beaten to death with a Pepsi bottle, and the distinctive spiral fluting of the bottle was still visible on the broken margins of her skull. The proverbial “lead pipe” is a thing of the past, as a murder weapon. Lead is no longer used to make pipes.” 2 likes
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