I have carried out 23,000 autopsies & investigated deaths from Marilyn to 9/11 – but these are cases that still haunt me | The Sun

I have carried out 23,000 autopsies & investigated deaths from Marilyn to 9/11 – but these are cases that still haunt me | The Sun

December 26, 2022

A FORENSIC pathologist who has performed 23,000 autopsies has revealed the cases that to this day still haunt him.

Death is a part of the workday of Dr Richard Shepherd, 69, who has worked on some of the biggest tragedies in living memory.

And now he has shared a fascinating insight into his everyday life and says it is "much more than dissecting things and counting bruises."

Described as a "detective" of forensic pathology, Dr Shepherd, has helped to solve countless mysterious and unexplained deaths often leading police in a different direction than the one it was heading to.

Throughout his professional career, he has come across the crimes of twisted serial killers, celebrity deaths and the catastrophic impact of natural disasters.

And while some of his most high-profile cases include the 9/11 attacks, the 7/7 tube bombings, the deaths of Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe and the Hungerford massacre, Dr Shepherd says the cases that haunt him to this day are "probably not the ones you’re thinking of."


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Dr Shepherd told The Sun Online that one of the cases he has worked on and still carries with him today is the death of teenager Alana who died of epilepsy.

He said: “It’s always the tragic deaths, the ones that you feel it’s harder for everyone to come to terms with.

"Alana went to bed one night fit and healthy teenager and in the morning she was dead.

"We know about cot deaths in children but there is also sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

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"Her parents needed to understand why their daughter had died."

Another case he recalls is the horrific death of two teenagers who went camping with a portable BBQ and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cops who found the body of 16-year-old Amelia in a sleeping bag with no injuries or marks were suspecting a murder-suicide by her boyfriend Jay whose body was later found at the back of the campsite.

Dr Shephard's findings revealed Amelia's blood saturation of CO was at 58 per cent and was the cause of her death.

“That’s the tragedies of young lives lost and ended," he says.

Dr Shepherd explains that sometimes bizarre circumstances might mislead police- and that's where he jumps in.

He explained: "There is this thing when people can get very cold they can often remove their clothes, it’s called paradoxical undressing.

"It’s a bizarre event that happens, people can be found in their houses naked and the police say there’s been a sexual assault and it’s awful.

"No, it’s hypothermia.

"They just got very very cold and this is a well-known complication but  I’ve seen a lot of sceptical police faces."

At the beginning of his second book The seven ages of death, he describes how the tragic death of six-month-old Fergusson Bell at the hands of his parents, affected professionals including himself.

Even though he told police officers the autopsy was being done in the "spirit of human compassion and scientific discovery," he admitted seeing the body of a dead baby can not leave anyone unfazed. 

He writes: " When we walked in to find the baby laying on a hard surface, dwarfed by the table, the trolleys, the fridges, when we saw rounded cheeks and tiny fingers, in that stark, shiny, metallic place…well for a moment, even the prepared mind must go through contortions to rationalise this sight. It lasted only a moment."

Apart from a terrible nappy rash, the six-month had no signs of neglect.

Upon examination, Dr Shepherd discovered the baby had fatty liver disease, a common occurrence in alcoholics.

Following an investigation, it was revealed the boy's parents were supporters of alternative medicine and fed their son fruit, cider vinegar, honey and molasses- consequently killing him as his body could not process them.

As a father himself he admitted he always found it harder working with child victims when his kids were growing up.

"To do your best job you have to be able to step back away from the personal and the professional has to do their job.

"It’s actually coming back to the personal that can be hardest," he says.

Giving an insight into a normal work day for him, Dr Shepherd explains the post-mortem process starts by searching for "things that shouldn't be present" such as hairs, fibres and other marks before looking into all the injuries, cuts, stab wounds, and gunshot wounds that are then photographed and documented.

He continued: “When we finish the outside we start looking inside. We look at all of the internal organs, the brain, the skull, the mouth, the bones, and the chest.

"The beauty, the excitement and the fascination with this job is that every case is different.

"Every case is unique and every case has some excitement.

"Sometimes you go 'oh look this person has only got one kidney' or 'oh this person has suffered this strange and unusual disease.'

"It’s a real privilege to be able to do this. From the moment I first dissected a human body I was training as a student I was fascinated by how all fits together and it connects and everyone is pretty much the same."

He considers speaking to a victim's family a crucial part of his job and always tries to make sure the relatives get the answers they need.

He continued: "It’s not just dissecting things and counting bruises and working out why people died.

"It’s the afterwards management and discussion with the families.

"I think it’s very important they get time, they get understanding, they get an explanation of what caused the death, whether it’s a natural death, an accident or a murder- all sorts of deaths."

However, despite his passion for forensic pathology, the harrowing scenes he's encountered throughout his career have taken a toll on his mental health.

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He is also quite open about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and urges other professionals to seek help.

Dr Shepherd's latest book Unnatural Causes is currently available on Amazon and all good bookshops.

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