Forensic entomology dubbed scariest job of 2010

People scare local entomologist, not bugs
 
They live in a world of creepy-crawlies, collecting the flies, maggots and beetles that live off the dead. 
 

Because it’s such a macabre profession, forensic entomology this Halloween season has been dubbed the scariest job of 2010 by Careercast.com, a job-search website. In winning that dubious distinction, it edged out jobs such as communications tower technician, bomb squad technician, crime scene decontamination technician and medical test subject.

Not surprisingly, John Wallace disagrees.

The Millersville University professor is one of 15 forensic entomologists in the world certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomology.

“To me, there are many scarier jobs,” said Wallace, 49. “Bomb squad? Climbing a communications tower? I can’t see doing that. You can tempt fate only so often. What’s my risk? The person is already deceased.”

Wallace agrees that some aspects of his job might creep people out, especially those with a fear of insects. Forensic entomologists simply can’t afford that phobia because bugs are their bread and butter.

So to speak.

Still, it’s not every day a reporter hears someone ask an assistant, “Have you seen my jars of maggots?”

He didn’t find his maggots, but he does have a display case of insects, including blowflies, rogue and carrion beetles and other bugs that speed or hinder decomposition.

Because of popular TV shows focusing on crime-scene investigations, it’s often forgotten that forensic entomology has more uses than just determining how long a person has been dead.

Wallace once helped a veterinarian expose a false claim by a client who said his dog contracted maggots at the doctor’s clinic by determining the age of the maggots.

His expertise also is useful in cases of elder abuse and food contamination.

Wallace has one student working on wildlife entomology, which can be used to help in cases of poaching or other conservation crimes.

“She developed a technique to isolate wildlife DNA in maggot tissue,” Wallace said.

Still, there is no denying that forensic entomology can play an important role in solving murders, and Wallace has been part of that process.

In 2007, he helped the Innocence Project with a criminal appeal involving Kennedy Brewer, who was accused in Mississippi of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl. The primary evidence against Brewer, who had been sentenced to death, were 19 sets of bite marks on the child’s body that the prosecution claimed were Brewer’s.

The defense, however, maintained that the bites were made by crayfish in the creek where the body had lain for three days.

Wallace traveled to the crime scene, collected three dozen crayfish and brought them back to his Millersville laboratory. There he kept them in a tank along with a dead pig.

He concluded that the marks left by the crayfish exactly matched the pattern of bites on the body. The evidence exonerated not just Brewer, but also Levon Brooks, who had been sentenced to life in prison after similar evidence had helped prosecutors convict him of a different homicide. Police later arrested Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed to both killings.

“So Kennedy Brewer was freed, and Levon Brooks was freed,” Wallace said. “They were wrongly convicted. That, for me, was a red-letter day.”

Closer to home, Wallace helped prosecutors during the trial of Micah Stewart, accused of the 2004 murder of his girlfriend, Courtney Fry. Visiting the morgue where her skeletal remains had been taken after being discovered in a Manor Township field in January 2005, he collected black soldier flies.

“Looking at the life cycle of that fly and the temperature data, I came up with a time interval of when those flies appeared on her body,” Wallace said. “That gave police a rough idea of how long she had been there.”

More recently, he examined pupa cases of flies found on the remains of Jonathan Moyer, who had been murdered by convicted killer Felina Billetdeaux in 2005 in a Brownstown apartment. His body was hidden in a closet for about a month before being buried by Billetdeaux and another woman, Steva Hagelgans.

Wallace said there were no live flies on Moyer, but a lot of pupa cases.

“At one point in this tiny apartment, thousands of flies had emerged while these two women were living there,” he said. “To me, that’s scary.”

Wallace admitted there is a ghoulish aspect to his job.

“I have seen some of the worst of humanity, and those images stay with you,” he said. “So some might say that’s pretty scary. But I just collect insects.”

Who has the scariest job?

After forensic entomologist, the top 10 scariest jobs of 2010, according to Careercast.com are:

2. Miner — The fear of confined spaces is one of the most common phobias, and there are few worse places for a person suffering from claustrophobia to be than a narrow mine shaft deep underground.

3. Broadcast tower technician — The tallest broadcast tower is the KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota at a whopping 2,063 feet high. And whenever routine maintenance needs to be performed on this massive structure, a broadcast tower technician goes all the way to the very top.

4. Bomb squad technician — While police departments are increasingly employing robots for bomb disposal, there are still plenty of instances where humans are needed to get the job done.

5. Field epidemiologist — Protected by little more than a hazmat suit, field epidemiologists get up close and personal with germs, blood, needles and dead bodies on a daily basis — not to mention the risk they run of contracting a deadly disease themselves.

6. Crime and trauma scene decontamination — Unless you’ve got the stomach for regular exposure to blood and dead bodies, this might not be the job for you.

7. Pharmaceutical test subject — Many people carve out lucrative professions as human guinea pigs, enduring injections, blood draws, dangerous side effects and the risk of permanent injury or even death on a regular basis.

8. Bush pilot — Some studies put the chances of an Alaskan bush pilot dying in a crash at one in eight during a 30-year career.

9. Cryonics technician — Cryonics is controversial among scientists, but no matter what your opinion is of the practice, there’s no denying that any profession which involves removing the heads of people who’ve just died and preserving them at -200 degrees Fahrenheit is a little bit scary.

10. Comedian — For anyone gripped by a fear of public humiliation, having to stand in front of a large crowd and tell jokes to a potentially hostile audience can be a traumatic experience.

Forensic Entolmology is the science of determining a time frame and/or circumstance from the empirical evidence of insect activity on or around the site in question. A time of death can be reasonably determined by factoring in ambient temperature , availability of corpse to insects, and the progress of blowfly larvae through their life cycle on that corpse.

Approximately fourteen days is necessary for a blowfly to go from egg to adult.

 

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One response to this post.

  1. Sorry the real answer is Pest Control technician, lol. There are some jobs they couldn’t pay me enough money for and I agree a few are in that list… Happy Halloween all! Boo

    Reply

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