Humans of SWFL

These Bones Can Talk: Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Heather Walsh-Hanney

Heather Walsh-Hanney was a graduate student worked as a lab tech for the University of Florida’s forensic anthropologist for 13 years. When her mentor Dr. William Maples sat her down he warned her she can contract HIV, hepatitis A, B, and C, and incurable bacterial infections. None of it deterred her, and she assisted Dr. Maples in solving numerous amount of cases.

Now, decades later, DOCTOR Heather Walsh-Haney is the master with her own set of students at Florida Gulf Coast University. Looking at bones with scars to put away criminals behind bars.

That includes taking her graduate students with her. A practice Dr. Maples believed was the best way to train aspiring anthropologists.

Other practices Dr. Heather Walsh-Hanney has turned into a tradition is not charging law enforcement for their services. All costs are paid for by FGCU and to make things easier for them, the university even purchased a vehicle just for them. Graduate students are allowed to touch the remains under her supervision and observe her from the beginning of the case with the discovery of the remains all the way to her testifying in court.

And the class sticks together through thick and thin. Some of the 110 cases Dr. Walsh-Hanney and her handles can last about 15 minutes. Often times, these cases are determining if the remains are human. Other cases can last years.

Her testimonies and work have attracted some of the most passionate graduate students at FGCU. Many are eager to tell the stories of the voiceless and to bring families and communities of the deceased justice and closure.

Dr. Walsh-Hanney shares the dream that her mentor Dr. Maples had, to have a forensic anthropologist assist every law enforcement department in America. That way, justice can be served better and for Dr. Walsh-Hanney’s criminal cases will go from 110 to just 10.

With the passion and determination this reporter has seen from Dr. Walsh-Hanney and her students, that dream may one day become a reality.

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