Medical Examiners only rarely come to public attention. Sometimes it’s because of the celebrities they’ve autopsied like Los Angeles ME Thomas Noguchi who supervised or performed autopsies on Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood and Robert F. Kennedy. Elliot Gross was a different story. The character of Kurt Magnus, the fictional Medical Examiner of New York City in Causes Unknown, wouldn’t have come into existence without the example of Elliot Gross. Of course, when he was hired, he was riding high --“indisputably one of the world’s most experienced and lauded medical examiners,” as one magazine put it. As the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City in the 1980s, Gross presided over the largest and busiest forensic unit in the world, supervising the investigation of 25,000 deaths and performing 8000 autopsies a year. This is how Philadelphia Magazine described him in the late Nineties: “Here’s Elliot Gross. Sixty-six years old, short barrel-shaped body, big mostly bald head. A tiny, odd-looking man. Hunched over, dressed in a blood-splattered plastic apron and blue scrubs, white surgical gloves gone crimson, a clear plastic shield covering the huge glasses on his large face.”
In 1985, Gross was dragged into the court of public opinion by The New York Times, which ran a series of articles accusing him of falsifying autopsy reports, ignoring evidence, misstating the cause of death and giving misleading testimony in court. “It was just schlock work,” said a defense expert of Gross’ performance. Think about the implications: In any case where foul play is suspected, the autopsy report becomes a crucial piece of evidence: compromise the autopsy report, omit a pertinent finding or alter it, and a killer might go free or conversely – say when a suicide or death by natural causes is ruled a homicide – an innocent person might go to prison.
“Life is no dream! Beware and beware and beware!”
-- Garcia Lorca
Autopsies carried by New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner are being falsified and crimes covered up. By the stroke of a pen homicides become transformed into accidental deaths. The death of a Wall Street trader named Alan Friedlander , officially ascribed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, arouses the suspicion of his brother Michael but Michael’s a maverick, the black sheep of his family, so he finds it difficult to get anyone to believe him. His doubts about the police version are shared by a young part-time pathologist who doesn’t know enough to shut up about her findings – or know enough to steer clear of Michael. There are powerful interests in the city that they are taking on, blindly, unaware of what they’re getting into. But there’s one factor that no one has taken into account in their calculations: a shape-shifting psychopathic killer.
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