Forensic Anthropologist Steven Symes provides lecture on criminal case experience at MTSU

Photo and story by Emily Blalock / Contributing Writer

Forensic Anthropologist Steven Symes, who is known for his discovery of a strategy for studying saw marks and bone trauma, was invited to give a lecture in the Student Union Ballroom Monday as the 2018 lecturer for MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education.

Hugh Berryman, a certified forensic anthropologist and the director of FIRE, started the event, entitled “Guns, Knives, Clubs and Dismembered Bodies: Just Another Day for a Forensic Anthropologist,” by introducing Symes.

Berryman said that Symes, who has over 30 years of experience working criminal cases, was “the first scientist in the world to disprove the commonly held tenant that saw marks always cut away their own evidence.”

“(Symes) discovered a strategy whereby microscopic evidence on bones can reveal the type of saw used to dismember bodies,” Berryman said.

Symes’s expertise in bone trauma has been used in cases both in the United States and abroad, and his analysis has been used for nearly 200 dismemberment cases.

Although he is now a highly experienced forensic anthropologist and certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, Symes discussed one of the early cases in his career in which he had far less experience.

In 1995, Symes’s expertise was used in the trial that convicted Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo to life in prison.

“It’s a case I did a long time ago, but it has some learning curves that still go with it,” Symes said. “I was a young anthropologist, younger than now. When I was asked to come sit in the courtroom, they set me right next to the mother of the first victim. That was scary and sobering.”

Symes’s lecture included descriptions of newspaper articles that circulated when authorities were looking for suspects in the Bernardo case, as well as coverage of the trial.

“I’ve actually worked with a few serial killers in Canada, but Paul Bernardo was one of the scarier ones that I’ve worked with,” he said.

He ended the lecture by giving the audience a chance to ask questions.

Symes’s lecture was the 23rd presentation in the William M. Bass Legends in Forensic Science Lectureship series. The next event in the series will be held in fall 2019.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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