On the Case

Kathy Reichs, the forensic expert who helped inspire the TV show “Bones,” talks about homicides, DNA and her latest novel

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

When she's not working for North Carolina's chief medical examiner in Charlotte, and for Quebec's central crime lab in Montreal, she writes bestselling crime novels featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. The character inspired the television show "Bones," about a female forensic specialist at the "Jeffersonian," a fictional Washington, D.C. museum not unlike the Smithsonian. Reichs' tenth novel, Bones to Ashes, appears this month. A Chicago native with a doctorate in anthropology, Reichs is married to Paul Reichs, a lawyer, with whom she has three grown children.

From This Story

What attracted you to the field of forensic anthropology?

I was doing archaeology, and the police started bringing me cases. If there was a local bones specialist at a university, often law enforcement would take skeletal remains there. As I started doing it, I liked that it was very relevant.

How closely do you work with criminal investigators?

Not everything that comes in is a homicide. It could be an old person who wandered off, died in the woods and the body is found years later. If it's a homicide, we work with the investigators at the outset. I might tell them, "You're looking for a middle-aged black male." They'll go off and get missing persons lists, and they might bring back some possible names and profiles. They'll try to get medical records, dental records. If it's a homicide, then we might also talk about trauma. If someone is prosecuted, then I'll testify.

You work on crime victims. Do you think about them a lot?

You have to remain objective, of course. My colleague Clyde Snow has said, "If you have to cry, you cry at night at home. While you're doing your job, you do your job." The cases that stay in your mind are the ones that haven't been resolved.

You testified in Tanzania at the United Nations Tribunal on Genocide in Rwanda.

What I did there was similar to what I had done for the military lab for many years, which was to review positive IDs of [dead] soldiers. I was at the tribunal under witness protection; they told me they had lost some witnesses.

Do you worry about your safety?

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus