Special Reports

ONLY ON ABC 7: Juarez's 'Dr. Frankenstein' discovers way to identify mummified bodies

Groundbreaking process helps solve crimes

Juarez Medical Examiner restores...

EL PASO, Texas - Juarez may no longer be the murder capital of the world, but criminals are still busy burying bodies in the desert.

Some of the shallow graves discovered so far this year date back a few months, others years.

One Juarez doctor has invented a process, which was recently patented, that can help identify bodies that have mummified or decomposed beyond recognition.

Dr. Alejandro Hernandez Cardenas' procedure is gaining worldwide attention.  But it is his success in Juarez that is the most fulfilling for him.  Sometimes his work can help bring justice for the victim or closure for a family who's loved one simply disappeared.

There is a saying:  Necessity is the mother of invention.

At the height of the Juarez cartel violence around 2013, Cárdenas was overwhelmed with unidentified bodies at the city's forensic science lab.

Many of the bodies had been buried in the desert so long they had mummified or decomposed beyond recognition.

The painful reality of families never knowing what  happened to their loved one motivated Cardenas to invent a method that seemingly breathes new life into corpses.  It's a method that would earn him the nickname Dr. Frankenstein.

"There are two separate processes, one is to rehydrate mummified bodies and the other is to reverse decomposition in bodies that arrive here," Cardenas said.

Both involve soaking the bodies in a secret chemical  solution developed by the doctor.

"I place the body  in the water, they tend to float, but it allows me to pull the harness out, the corpse is in the water, I prepare my formula and pour it into the tub. The first 24 hours I leave it inside the tub face down because when the body floats not all the body parts are in contact with water, I am more interested in the face and hands," Cardenas said.

The process takes days.

The flesh of a woman's forehead after her body had been rehydrated, which was once unrecognizable, begins to reveal clues. One can see the tattoo of an eyebrow and signs of a deadly struggle.

"This is a result of a blow and this wound was also caused by the same set of blows," Cardenas said.

The doctor said there is a perception in criminology that as time passes the truth flees.  His invention is creating a new timeline.

"This tattoo along with the estimate of her age and height allowed us to search photos of missing young women and helped us identify her," Cardenas said.

Dr. Arturo Aleman who works with Candenas and described the rehydration procedure as astonishing.

"(The body) It recovers the natural color of the skin that usually after the mummification was gray or brown. A leather like appearance," Aleman said. "But after the rehydration process, the corpse looks like it was alive a few days ago."

It took Cardenas nearly two years of experimentation on his own time to perfect the process.  Even today he pays for the chemicals he uses out of his own pocket.

"Back then when I began these investigations I had two daughters and it affected me a lot, imagining what it would feel if one of my daughters disappeared," Cardenas said.

Helping families to give their loved ones a proper burial is one reason the doctor continues his work. Giving the victims justice is another.

"If there is a suspect having the cause of death can help determine the relationship between the victim and suspect, you can state or declare the cause of death and take it to trial with the hope that the judge will find him guilty,"  Cardenas said.

The doctor has performed the rehydration process on more than  800 corpses. Each one with a story to tell.

"A lot of people think medical examiners become unfeeling, that we don't care, that it doesn't hurt us.  That is not true, we become more sensitive and aware because we see evil and violence. We are witnesses to what can happen," Cardenas said.

The doctor has traveled to several countries to speak about his rehydration process. This November, for the first time, he has been invited to attend and lecture at a conference in the United States about his work.


comments powered by Disqus