Guardians of the Dead podcast: True stories and fascinating cases from a working forensic pathologist
Professor Roger Byard has opened up his case files and trawled back through his personal recollections for a new podcast from The Advertiser and the University of Adelaide, Guardians of the Dead, which sheds a light on the macabre but fascinating world of forensic pathology.
“I say that pathologists are almost the guardians of the dead, because we are the last doctor to look after this person and this is a person,” Professor Byard, Chair of Pathology at the University of Adelaide, said.
“Father, mother, brother, whatever. They’re part of a family and there are people who will miss this person for a long time so we have tremendous responsibility in this.
“Particularly for parents who’ve lost a child or a baby, they want to talk to me… they just want to eyeball the person who looked after their baby.
“And so I can look at them and just say ‘this is not (just) a case. This is your dead child. And we can’t imagine what you’re going through, because we’re so saddened by it.
“But we treated your little boy or little girl with every respect and I looked after her while she was with us. They need to know that this is just not a medico-legal process that doesn’t care.”
Through the course of the series, Professor Byard recalls his work on the ground in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings, the 2004 Thai tsunami and on the world-headline-grabbing Snowtown serial murders of the 1990s.
He also explores the ways modern forensic technologies are being used to solve historical mysteries and how what happens in the mortuary can help shape public policy to prevent people from dying in the first place.
“I say that pathologists are almost the guardians of the dead, because we are the last doctor to look after this person and this is a person,” Professor Byard, Chair of Pathology at the University of Adelaide
He says he hopes the podcast will help do what society conditions us not to do - talk openly about death. About how easily a life can be taken away, by design or by accident. And how hard it can be to explain exactly how it happened and why. He also speaks candidly about what it means to live a life so completely surrounded by death.
“I was involved with the Sally Clark case in the UK. She was a lawyer who was actually imprisoned for allegedly murdering two of her children. And I was involved in the court of appeal and the conviction was quashed.
“I heard it on the news that morning and actually got tears in my eyes. I hadn’t realised how immersed in the case I’d been. I was looking at just the technical aspects to it but underneath there’s the emotion, because, you know, even pathologists are human beings.”
What is forensic pathology? What happens at a crime scene, in the morgue and in court? Prof Byard debunks some of the biggest myths about this fascinating science and explains why one particular case - the murder of 15-year-old Adelaide girl Samantha O’Reilly, has stuck with him for almost 20 years.
Wherever tragedy strikes, forensic pathologists follow, tasked with the important work of disaster victim identification - often in the most trying and confronting circumstances. Prof Byard was on the ground in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings and 2004 Thai Tsunami and reveals how, even in the midst of so much death, he witnessed one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen in his life.
EPISODE 3: Never trust a camel: Death by animal
All kinds of animals can kill people, from leeches, roosters and sheep, to fish, monkeys and camels. In this episode, Roger discusses the many bizarre ways people have been killed by animals and how animals can help solve a mysterious death but also complicate a criminal investigation. Audio coming October 8
EPISODE 4: Snowtown: Crime scene in a barrel
Two weeks into his new career as a forensic pathologist, Roger Byard got a phone call that would not only have a profound impact on his own life and career, but also on the tiny SA town of Snowtown and the whole of South Australia. In this episode, Roger details the forensic aspects of the Snowtown investigation, the unique challenges the gruesome killings presented and his prevailing memories of one of the world’s most shocking acts of evil. Audio coming October 11
EPISODE 5: Bushrangers. Real folk heroes or just thugs?
In modern Australia, Bushrangers are generally held up as folk heroes, fighting for the oppressed 19th century working classes – but is this true? Taking examples such as Ned Kelly, Ben Hall and Captain Moonlight, Prof Byard explains how modern forensic techniques and cutting edge technologies have helped historians see these bush bandits in a whole new light. He also explains why having a Ned Kelly tattoo could be bad for your health. Audio coming October 15
EPISODE 6: Bizarre ways to die - Part 1
We’re all going to die but how we check out may be totally out of left field. In this episode, Prof Byard explores some of the more unusual cases he’s seen in nearly four decades as a forensic pathologist - from accidental death by sexual asphyxia to misadventures at work. Audio coming October 18
EPISODE 7: Death by herbal tea: How ‘natural’ remedies can kill
More and more people in the West are turning to herbal therapies for relief from disease or for general wellbeing, but as Prof Byard explains, even herbal remedies can kill. He details several cases from Australia and around the world where people have died by consuming and preparations they thought were ‘natural’ but were anything but and makes a case for stronger regulation of what’s become a multi-billion dollar industry. Audio coming October 22
EPISODE 8: Bizarre ways to die - Part 2
People don’t normally think of clothing or fish hooks as being potentially lethal but, as Prof Byard explains in the first part of this two part episode, just about anything can kill you. In this episode, Roger describes several of the strange, unexpected cases he has encountered on the autopsy table. Audio coming October 25
Manager - News and Media
University of Adelaide
Mob: +61(0)466 460 959