Blood Beneath My Feet: The Journey of a Southern Death Investigator
Joseph Scott Morgan
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Have you ever been locked in a cooler with piles of decomposing humans for so long that you had to shave all the hair off your body in order to get rid of the smell? Joseph Scott Morgan did. Have you ever lit a Marlboro from the ignited gas of a bloated dead man's belly? Joseph Scott Morgan has. Have you ever wept over a dead dog while not giving a shit about the dead owner laying next him? Morgan did. Were you named after a murder victim? Joseph Scott Morgan was.
This isn't Hollywood fantasy—it's the true story of a boy born into the deprivations of a white trash trailer park who as an adult gets further involved in the desperate backdoor sagas of the "new South." No hot blondes here, just maggots, grief, and the truth about forensics and death investigation.
Joseph Scott Morgan became a death investigator with the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office in suburban New Orleans in 1987, the youngest medicolegal death investigator in the country. During the day, Morgan worked in the morgue, and at night investigated for the coroner. In 1992 Morgan became senior investigator with the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office in Atlanta. Morgan is now a college professor at North Georgia College and State University, where he teaches a death investigation course based on the national standards which he helped develop. He and his family reside in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia.
encouraging hair growth was considered heresy. My stepfather thought anyone displaying facial hair was in the same league with counterculture Bohemians—anyone from Abbie Hoffman to Leo Tolstoy. He strictly prohibited any such display in my stalwart Southern Baptist home. So when the time came for me to leave his house after high school, I took great pleasure in growing my own cookie duster. It was grand, with thick, wiry, red and brown hues. I combed my woolly appendage every morning and
den of her new home, leaving me alone to pray that my grandmother’s Jesus would show up. Slowly and methodically my identity was taken. No longer was my mother allowed to call me Joey, the name I had been known by since birth. Now I was Joe. Bruce called me Dummy or Josephine. No longer was I permitted to call my mother Mama, now it was Mom. No longer was I allowed to hug my mother in his presence, since this was inappropriate behavior. My hair had been long and blonde, now it was cut because
innocuous one. Think of it. To be described as mediocre or socially invisible is to be called an Average Joe. This is the name I have been known by at various times in my life. Others include José, Josephine (sadistic former stepfather), Dummy, Moron, Eeyore (ex-wife), Joey, and of course the ever-popular, bland Joe. My wife despises Joe. She believes it indicates an intellectual dullard. I don’t necessarily agree. What can I say? I find succinctness appealing. My wife insists on calling me by
It’s just a bizarre art. I lifted the body from the casket and placed it on the prep table while Dr. Eckert pulled small plastic cases for tissue collection from his briefcase. As I undressed the body, Dr. Eckert stripped off his shirt, which struck me that time as funny, the mimicry of it. I paused for a minute and considered us both. I sensed we had each become something other than what we proclaimed to be. We were, in essence, nothing but buzzards hovering over a carcass, doing nothing more
her sofa, dressed in her light-blue nightgown with her hands folded across her abdomen, quite dead. The officer on site related that the woman had a history of heart problems and that her death was not necessarily unexpected, but every death investigator is taught to treat each death initially as a homicide. To my shame, I did not. As soon as he had said the words “natural death,” I had joked around with him, bemoaning the fact that he and I had to work on a day when everyone else was enjoying