The Search for Dr. Josef Mengele
At the end of WWII, one of the most notorious fugitives from justice was the chief medical officer at the Auschwitz death camp, Dr. Josef Mengele. He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of the camp’s inmates. Many of them, including young children, had died as a direct result of his barbarous experiments.
Rumors abounded as to his eventual fate, but the facts appeared to be that he had evaded capture in Germany for four years before fleeing to Argentina. In the mid 1980s, when international efforts were being made to track him down in his South American hideout, reports were received that Mengele was buried in a Brazilian village in a grave bearing the name Wolfgang Gerhard. The occupant of the grave, whatever his real identity, was listed as having drowned in 1979 at the age of sixty-seven.
The grave was opened and the body removed in June 1985, and all the techniques available were used to try to provide a positive identification. The problem was that the only known personal information about Mengele was contained in his S.S. personnel file. This didn't provide much detail, giving only basic information such as Mengele’s head circumference and overall height. When forensic anthropologists examined the bones from the grave they found that the occupant was Caucasian, judging by the shape of the eye sockets and nose. The pelvic bones suggested the body had been male, and the characteristics of the arm bones indicated he had been right-handed. Judging by the wear of the teeth, the man had been between sixty and seventy years when he had died.
At that time, the only further techniques that could be made to establish the body’s identity involved comparing X-rays of the teeth with Mengele’s dental chart from 1938, and attempting to match the skull with an old photograph of Mengele. The results indicated the corpse was almost certainly that of the missing criminal, but without positive proof, some doubt remained.
It was only in 1992, when DNA samples from the corpse were compared with samples provided by Mengele’s living relatives in Germany, that a positive identity was received. The corpse was indeed Mengele’s and though he had managed to escape from justice for the remainder of his life, the search was over at last.
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