Cremated Remains (Cremains) Analysis


Dr. Snow is often contacted by attorneys to examine cremated remains (cremains). Cremation is becoming increasingly common in the United States with over 53% opting for cremation as an alternative to burial in 2018. In several states the cremation rate exceeds 75%. Since 2000 the cremation rate has more than doubled, and this trend is expected to continue.

Along with this increase in the cremation rate is litigation in which the crematory or funeral home is accused of misconduct. This alleged misconduct may result in doubt as to whether the contents of an urn are consistent with cremains, whether the contents of the urn are those of the decedent, and whether the contents may represent more than one individual. Cremation and subsequent processing reduces the bones to small fragments and ash, which present unique challenges for the forensic anthropologist.

Dr. Snow served as a forensic anthropologist at the Tri-State Crematory incident, in which a crematory operator disposed of 334 sets of human remains in mass graves, vehicles, buildings, and vaults rather than cremating them. To perpetuate the deception, the crematory operator often gave the families urns containing magnesium oxide, a principal component of cement, rather than the cremains of their loved one. In other cases, a mixture of magnesium oxide and human cremains was given to the families. Close examination of the purported cremains revealed the deception.

In most cases, positive identification cannot be established with commercial cremation. DNA does not survive typical cremation temperatures of 1400° to 1800°F. Usually analysis of the cremains can only determine whether they are consistent with the life history and accompanying materials of the decedent. Items such as medical and dental artifacts and personal and mortuary artifacts may presumptively link the cremains to the purported decedent.

Dr. Snow has taken and passed the National Funeral Directors Association’s Certified Crematory Operator Program. This program teaches crematory best practices, ethical obligations, standards of professional excellence, and compliance with state and federal statutes.


Expert Witness

Dr. Snow has testified as an expert witness in forensic anthropology in both Superior and Federal Court. His expert testimony has been critical to the outcome of several high profile criminal cases. He has testified in cases utilizing his expertise in search and recovery, biological profiles, trauma, time since death, manner of death, and identification.

Unidentified Human Remains

Many forensic identification experts estimate the number of unidentified dead in the United States to be between 40,000 and 60,000. Since 2011 Dr. Snow has been working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify missing children. He has collected biometric data on over 100 individuals and conducted over 30 exhumations.

Body Search and Recovery

Dr. Snow is an expert in body search and recovery. In his six years as the Forensic Anthropologist for the State of Georgia at Large, he conducted more that 60 human remains recoveries.