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Authors: Cat Warren

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There were exceptions to the shepherd-Labrador dominance for particular project needs. In 1971, when D. B. Cooper hijacked a plane and parachuted down over Washington, disappearing with two hundred thousand dollars in ransom money and inspiring a rash of copycat hijackings, SwRI and the military labs came in with a solution. A soigné woman with a lapdog draped over her arm would walk through an airport terminal and boarding areas. She would pass close to the waiting passengers. If the dog smelled a handgun, it would scratch at the woman's arm. Polonis recalled trying Lhasa Apsos, miniature greyhounds, and whippets, among other small breeds. The whippets, he said, outsniffed them all.

Some of the other small breeds didn't work out as well. Happily, not all of the institute's failed experiments ended with a barbecue. William Johnston brought one of the lapdog dropouts, a Maltese puppy too pug-nosed to sniff properly, home to his wife, Joan, and their children in Virginia. Puffin lived with the family until she died at the ripe old age of thirteen.

•  •  •

The next time you visit a zoo or a natural history museum and survey the extraordinary diversity of the organisms on our planet, pause for a second to remind yourself that all this variation—the elephant tusks and peacock tails and human neocortices—was made possible, in part, by error.

—Steven Johnson,
Where Good Ideas Come From
, 2010

Good ideas can occur separately and seemingly in isolation, like the summer popcorn storms in North Carolina that arrive in late afternoon to water the vegetable garden. What good ideas and rainstorms both need are the right atmosphere and some basic ingredients. So it was that around the same time, several researchers, trainers, and agencies
appeared to independently arrive at the idea of the “body dog”: using dogs to find victims of homicide, disaster, accident, or war. That idea was a natural outgrowth from other ideas but also from errors and dead ends, such as the pig experiments.

One of the earliest efforts came in July 1970, when the Lancashire Constabulary in England started training dogs to recover the dead. Its training program, using pig meat as a substitute for human tissue, lasted eighteen months. It worked, according to the few accounts available, although the history of the program is spotty. An English handler and his dog were deployed in the Sinai after the disastrous Yom Kippur War in 1973. Tasked with recovering the Israeli dead, that team reportedly recovered 147 bodies, and an Israeli dog-and-handler team hurriedly trained for the task found the body of Anwar Sadat's brother, a pilot.

Within two years of that project, Nick Montanarelli had launched the first U.S. body-recovery dog study out of the U.S. Army Land Warfare Laboratory. The study wasn't an idle, let's-see-what-we-can-dream-up experiment. Nick was a practical guy, already thinking beyond the Vietnam War. Dogs, he thought, might have been useful in two domestic disasters: Hurricane Camille in 1969 had killed 259 people as it ripped through Cuba, up the Mississippi Delta, and flooded Virginia. The hurricane's actual wind speed was never known, as it destroyed all the recording instruments. In 1972, a dam in South Dakota's Black Hills broke, sending water cascading down a creek into Rapid City. Two hundred thirty-seven people died in a matter of hours, many buried under mud or swept away. Nick also had been talking to handlers and trainers in Canada, where the search-and-rescue dogs weren't doing a good job of recovering the dead in avalanches.

Finding appropriate training material for body-recovery dogs was a challenge. Nick's position in the military, with its long history of honoring deceased servicemen, kept him from using human tissue for training. Nonetheless, he wanted to get as close as he could to the
real deal. He visited morgues and talked to morticians. He talked with military people who had been around lots of bodies. His solution was a combination of sweaty soldier uniforms and monkey meat (or as the report called it, “macerated subhuman”) with some other chemicals added. It was a potent mixture, Nick recalled. The dogs found it. The four German shepherds in the study learned to work in fields, in buildings, in rubble, with a 92 percent accuracy rate in the final tests. Nick signed off on the study in May 1973, and the dogs went on standby for disasters.

It's difficult to trace the exact relationship of who did what and when because of gaps in the record. People die. Memories fade. Some of the work was classified. But at the time Nick finished his report, Southwest Research Institute, too, was studying whether dogs could help find the dead.

The record of what happened next is clear. To make the leap from speculative military research in Texas and Maryland to paws-on-the-ground cadaver-dog work took not a major hurricane or flood, as Nick might have predicted, but a brutal murder in New York's southern Adirondacks. Mary Rose Turner, a mother of five suffering from depression and insomnia, left her house in the wee hours of April 26, 1973. Her walk led her past Bohling's Shell station in rural Syracuse, where a man named Bernard Hatch was working the graveyard shift.

Later that morning, a witness saw a car dragging what he thought was a “six-foot-long white object.” It bothered him, so he didn't let it rest. He brought the New York State Police to Potato Hill Road in Steuben, New York, to investigate. The tissue and blood trail was more than nine miles long. Police found the rest of Mary Turner three days later in a shallow grave. Her body had been mutilated not only by the dragging but by dismemberment.

Evidence slowly and inexorably piled up against Bernie Hatch. A grand jury indicted him of Turner's murder on October 17, 1973. That wasn't the end of it. Just a month and a half after his indictment, hunters found the skeletal remains of Linda Cady, twenty-two, and her
daughter, Lisa Ann, three, in shallow graves. It was two and a half years after their disappearance. They were just a few hundred yards from Mary Turner's grave.

The relationship among the victims, the location, and Hatch appeared more than coincidental. Cady and Hatch had dated for many months, with Cady joyfully noting in her diary that Hatch had given her a diamond ring. Authorities begin to suspect the area off Potato Hill Road was a burial ground, and they realized that Hatch was connected not only to Cady and her daughter but to another missing woman and her children. In mid-December, as searchers scoured the area, they found children's charred clothing not far from Turner's grave. The family identified the clothes as belonging to the three young sons of Lorraine Zinicola, who had also dated Hatch. She and her sons had been missing since September 1971.

The New York State Police put out the call, and on December 21, 1973, William H. Johnston flew in from the Military Animal Science program at Southwestern Research Institute in San Antonio to the little town of Steuben. He looked at the terrain and search conditions with the state police. Could the military dogs they were training to find buried bodies be used to find other possible victims of the now-indicted Bernie Hatch?

Investigators turned to a handler living 125 miles away: the New York State Trooper Ralph D. Suffolk Jr., aka Jim, who had a stellar reputation as a bloodhound handler. He and one of his dogs, Colonel of Redstone, were already renowned from having run a long trail that helped police locate three robbers a few years before—a conviction that was upheld in New York criminal court in 1969. This had been a first for tracking and trailing dogs in New York. The only legal precedent in New York for using a canine to help convict someone had not ended so well. In 1917, the New York State Supreme Court overturned the sentence of a woman convicted of arson based on a German shepherd's nose. That dog, the court declared, simply showed off for houseguests.

Jim Suffolk's bloodhounds didn't show off for guests. They tracked people almost daily. To Suffolk's great credit, he admitted under oath that bloodhounds were not infallible. His honesty garnered him more credibility.

The scientists at SwRI had wanted to use dogs to work domestic crime scenes, and Suffolk was the ideal man to take the lead. For this job, his trusty bloodhounds wouldn't do the trick. Though they were ideal for tracking the living, he needed dogs trained to locate the dead.

Suffolk flew to San Antonio in early May 1974 to start working with a newly invented category of search dog: the body-recovery dog, or body dog for short. Suffolk made training and handling suggestions; SwRI researchers made other recommendations; and Suffolk returned to upstate New York with two dogs. Pearl, a sweet-looking, white-blond Lab, was the furthest thing from a classified military project one might imagine. She was five years old in 1974 when she landed in Oneida County to take up the hunt for a possible serial killer's victims. Every snapshot of her has her mouth open, gazing lovingly at either Jim or whoever was behind the camera. Maybe that someone might slip her a cookie? Pearl had been shipped from place to place to train for narcotics, bombs, and land mines. Her last trained specialty was buried bodies.

Her sidekick, Baron Von Ricktagfan, a muscular black-and-tan shepherd, had already trained as a military scout dog in Fort Benning. Baron had a snarky edge to him, Jim Suffolk recalled. He could also do the work.

Jim Suffolk and his two new body dogs hit the woods of Oneida County, New York, starting in the patch of land where several of the victims had been found. They searched for additional shallow graves for the next seven months, until snow and ice in November stopped them. The search included four thousand acres of land, most of it pinewoods planted in the 1930s. They spent eighty-three days in the woods.

The search was interrupted occasionally for more pressing police business, including Pearl's search for bombs in the Oneida County airport before Vice President Gerald Ford landed there. Pearl found nothing except the training material planted by the Secret Service to make sure she knew her bomb business. Jim and his dogs also went out to a sewage treatment plant in nearby Onondaga County after a sewage worker admitted to raping and burying a Syracuse University student there two years earlier. Both dogs alerted on the same spot. The Syracuse police brought in a bulldozer and found Karen Levy buried a few feet down. Afterward, Suffolk studied his records and the terrain. The dogs were about fifteen feet off, on the downhill slope, probably because of an underground creek. He thought he should have insisted on continuing to work up the hill even after the dogs alerted. This is the kind of knowledge that would help forensic anthropologists understand the patterns of cadaver-dog alerts around clandestine burials.

Bernie Hatch, despite being suspected of killing a total of seven women and children, was convicted only of Turner's murder after a seventy-day trial, the most expensive in the history of Oneida County. He is still in prison in Auburn and says he is innocent. Jim and his two body dogs, despite months of careful effort, never did locate additional buried victims. Lorraine Zinicola and her three young sons were never found.

While Jim Suffolk and his dogs didn't find more bodies in connection with the Hatch case, his contribution to the history of working dogs was significant: the first fully recorded occasion when body dogs were used in the United States.

That was only the beginning for Jim Suffolk, who worked with Pearl and Baron for years. He used “the real stuff” to keep their training up: Bodies lying out in the woods tend to produce good training material. Jim retired from the state police in 1986 and is now in his early eighties. Despite recently losing a leg to circulation problems, and repeated shoulder surgeries as a result of holding on to harnessed
bloodhounds running up and down hills in the Adirondacks, he is a local town justice. He and his wife, Sally, live in a house overlooking Canadarago Lake.

I couldn't resist asking Suffolk the obvious question: Did he consider using bloodhounds? I knew he would admit that shepherds and Labradors were better suited for cadaver work.

“Use the bloodhounds for cadaver?” he responded with horror. “Heck no! That was a colossal waste of a nose.” On the other hand, he admitted upon reflection, while he believes bloodhounds have the Cadillac of noses, they aren't great at hopping around and getting into tight corners. Then his voice got wistful. “I've always wondered if I could train a cadaver cat.”

The army and SwRI researchers, ever optimistic and open-minded, had already been there and tried that. Cats didn't care to communicate with the researchers about whether bombs were close by. “Cats were excluded from the final programs because of their demonstrated refusal to cooperate consistently in joint ventures with man.”

•  •  •

I wasn't qualified until I said the two magic words, “Andy Rebmann,” and they said, “My God, you trained with Andy Rebmann? You can search.”

—Edward David, deputy chief medical examiner, Maine, 2011

It would be inaccurate to say that the cadaver-dog world was empty and void before Andy Rebmann arrived on the scene. Other people came before him: Nick Montanarelli, the researchers at SwRI, and, of course, Jim Suffolk. That same decade, William D. Tolhurst, a famous bloodhound trainer and handler in New York, noted in his memoir that he started training his bloodhound, Tona, in 1977 as both a “mantrailer” and a body dog. Other handlers and trainers are probably lost in the spotty records.

The world of the body dog was, though, still somewhat formless.

Andy was at a cop conference in the mid-1970s when Jim Suffolk gave a presentation on body dogs. Andy, fascinated, approached Jim afterward. The two men must have made a distinctly odd couple. Jim Suffolk looked like a burly James Garner, with an even more heroic chin. He filled out his immaculate state trooper's khakis. He had a full head of dark wavy hair, usually confined under his trooper's hat. Because he was at a conference, Andy might have been in uniform and not wearing his trademark faded baseball cap pushed up at an angle, exposing his large eyes, mobile mouth, slabs of facial plane, and magnificent ears. He probably was smoking a Pall Mall.

BOOK: What the Dog Knows
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