CSI Emory: Forensic pathologist 'leaves no stone unturned'

By Sally Wolff-King | Emory Health | April 30, 2013

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Forensic pathologist Randy Hanzlick deals with his share of attention-grabbing deaths as director of the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office, but his day-to-day work involves homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths. Photo by Jack Kearse.

Randy Hanzlick found his calling, thanks to a good teacher. When he was a young pathology resident at Ohio State, he encountered Nobuhisa Baba, who ran the university hospital's autopsy service and was a forensic pathologist for the coroner. Baba immersed the young resident in the daily life of a forensic pathologist, and Hanzlick has never looked back.

Today Hanzlick serves as an Emory pathology professor and directs the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office. He has written books on investigating death and the role of forensic pathology in criminal cases and helped develop guidelines for his chosen profession. In 2009, the American Academy of Forensic Science presented him with a Distinguished Fellow Award, and he has received both the Lifetime Service Award and the President's Award from the National Association of Medical Examiners.

Although television and film have popularized and romanticized his profession, Hanzlick believes that his calling can help bring justice to the deceased and give them a final measure of dignity. High impact cases—those that evoke public interest or are challenging to figure out—seem to surface every few years. Hanzlick has worked, for example, on understanding the death of a young girl with multiple extremity fractures apparently incurred during an attempted exorcism and  a dismemberment case in which the perpetrator attempted to get rid of body parts in a kitchen garbage disposal.

But Hanzlick's day-to-day work involves fewer of these attention-grabbing deaths and more of the regular homicides, suicides, accidental, and unexpected natural deaths that cross his door.

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