Collecting Evidence

Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat and a team of forensic anthropology graduates collect evidence at a crime scene prior to their work on the local Patsy Hudson case. (Submitted photo) 

MANSFIELD — Dennis Dirkmaat, the professor from Mercyhurst University who collected evidence from human remains on Sunday, Feb. 7, said Monday the remains appear to belong to missing woman Patsy Hudson.

“(But) scientifically, it’s not proven at this point,” Dirkmaat said.

The professor and his team of Forensic and Biological Anthropology Master’s students are working to prove that suspicion.

Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat

Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat has experience in over 300 forensic anthropology and archaeology cases and is a professor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Dirkmaat has extensive experience in similar cases around the country, yet this one is unique.

“It’s extraordinary, this individual worked with the police,” Dirkmaat said of one of the suspects in the case, either Walter Renz or Linda Buckner. “The police arrested somebody and they provided information and we were able to locate the remains over the course of two days.

“So obviously police have ideas — they’re leaning on Patsy. Our job is to confirm that it is that person. It may take ultimately a DNA sample."

Patsy Hudson

Patsy Hudson was reported missing Dec. 22, 2015, but police believe her last contact was on July 4, 2015. 

Over a span of two days, Dirkmaat said he and his students processed four different locations in Richland County. In this particular case, the Richland County Coroner asked for help in analyzing skeletal remains, he said.

Dirkmaat declined to comment on how many and which bones were recovered from each scene.

The Richland County Coroner did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.

“In this case, the person (Patsy Hudson) has been missing since July. Basically, that’s what we’d expect to find,” Dirkmaat said of the bones being analyzed at Mercyhurst University.

Processing a Crime Scene

Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat and his team of Mercyhurst graduate students process forensic evidence at a crime scene prior to their involvement in the Patsy Hudson case. (Submitted photo)

He said the forensic anthropology analysis will determine the age, sex, height and race of the remains. The process usually takes around one month to complete.

“When we get material like this, we X-ray, photograph and document everything. So we try to find out how long they’ve been out there. If they’ve been missing since July, do the bones indicate that’s a reasonable estimate?” he explained. “Then we look for signs of trauma — gun wounds or a hatchet or anything.”

“We go through that process for every single case.”

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He said the team is in the process of cleaning the bones so they can be examined for trauma.

The Mercyhurst University Archaeological Institute has four faculty members and around 17 graduate students.

“We want to make sure we catch everything,” Dirkmaat said.

According to Mercyhurst’s faculty bio, Dirkmaat has been involved in more than 300 forensic anthropology cases for nearly 30 coroners in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. He also has experience working for the FBI.

Dirkmaat served as a primary forensic anthropologist during the Pittsburg USAir Flight 427 crash in 1994, the Guam KAL Flight 801 crash in 1997 and the Rhode Island Egypt Air 990 crash in 1999. He served as the primary scientific advisor to Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller during the recovery and identification of 44 United Flight 93 victims, one of the planes hijacked by four al-Qaeda terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dirkmaat works as a consultant through United Nations for companies involved in recovering remains and identification of victims of plane crashes around the world. He is also a member of the national Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team.

Dirkmaat, who graduated with a PhD from Pittsburgh University in 1989, said he learned quickly the importance of detaching himself from emotions at crime scenes.

“If someone was chopped up with an ax and there was lots of blood … We have to separate ourselves from that," Dirkmaat said. "Our job is not to mourn the victims of the dead — that’s someone else’s job. The best thing we can do is remove that type of thinking.”

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