William R. Maples

Born: August 7, 1937, Dallas, Texas

Died: February 27, 1997 (aged 59) Gainesville, Florida, U.S.

Nationality: United States

William Ross Maples, Ph.D. (1937–1997) was an American forensic anthropologist who worked at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory. His area of expertise was the examination of bones. He worked on several high-profile criminal investigations, including those involving Francisco Pizarro, the Romanov family, Joseph Merrick (the “Elephant Man”), President Zachary Taylor, and Medgar Evers. His thoughts were frequently useful in resolving issues that could otherwise have remained unanswered.

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Unusual and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist is his first book (co-authored by Michael Browning). From the beginning of his interest in anthropology to some of his high-profile forensic cases, the book tells the story of his career.

Personal life

Maples’ personal life began in 1958 when he married Margaret Kelly. Lisa and Cynthia were their two children. Maples earned his doctorate in 1967 from the University of Texas in Austin. He died of a malignant brain tumor on February 27, 1997, at his home in Gainesville, Florida.

Honors and Certification

  • The College of Arts and Sciences awarded him the Distinguished Teacher Certificate in 1973.
  • From 1978 to 1997, he was a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.
  • From 1982 to 1989, he was a member of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology’s Board of Directors.
  • From 1984 to 1987, he served as Treasurer of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.
  • From 1987 to 1989, he served as President of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.
  • Instructor Certification, State of Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, 1987-1992.
  • From 1976 to 1979, he served on the Historic Sites and Properties Advisory Council, which he was nominated to by the Secretary of State.
  • From 1987 until 1995, he was a trustee of the Forensic Science Foundation.
  • From 1988 until 1991, he served as Treasurer of the Forensic Sciences Foundation.
  • From 1988 until 1995, he was the chairman of the Forensic Sciences Foundation’s Research Committee.
  • From 1991 to 1994, he served as Vice-Chairman of the Forensic Sciences Foundation.
  • From 1981 through 1992, he was a deputy sheriff in Alachua County, Florida.
  • From 1980 until 1997, he was a member of the University of Florida President’s Council as a Sustaining Member.
  • The American Academy of Forensic Sciences presented him with a Merit Award in 1984.
  • In January 1985, the City of Lima, Peru, awarded him a certificate of honor for investigation on the remains of Don Francisco Pizarro, Lima’s founder.
  • Chapter V, Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency, Distinguished Service Award for Criminal Justice, 1992.
  • Gainesville, Florida Police Department Homicide Task Force (investigation of 1990 Gainesville student homicides), 1993. Investigative Star from Gainesville, Florida Police Department Homicide Task Force (investigation of 1990 Gainesville student homicides).
  • Gainesville Police Department Awards Ceremony, March 29, 1995, Special Awards/Recognition
  • T. Dale Stewart Award, 1996 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Nashville, TN.
  • Florida Blue Key Distinguished Faculty Award, University of Florida Homecoming, October 1996.


  • Research Assistant, Research Scientist, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, 1959-1963.
  • Manager of the Darajani Primate Research Station at Darajani, Kenya, East Africa, from 1962 to 1963.
  • Teaching Assistant at the University of Texas from 1963 to 1964.
  • Manager of the Southwest Primate Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa, from 1964 to 1966.
  • Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Western Michigan University from 1966 until 1968.
  • UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Assistant Professor of Anthropology, 1968-1972; Tenured, 1972.; Associate Professor of Anthropology, 1972-1978.; Professor of Anthropology, 1978-1994.; Distinguished Service Professor, 1994-1997.
  • Associate Curator of Physical Anthropology, 1972-1978.; Curator of Physical Anthropology, 1978-1997.; Chairman, Department of Social Sciences, 1973-1980.; Head, State Medical Museum, 1981-1986.; Curator-in-Charge, C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory, 1986-1996.; Distinguished Service Professor, 1994-1996. FLORIDA MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (Formerly the Florida State Museum): Associate Curator of Physical Anthropology, 1972
  • From 1987 to 1997, he was a member of the New York State Police Forensic Sciences Unit.

Although forensic anthropology has been in some form or another since the 1200s, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that it truly came into its own. “Although famous nineteenth-century brutal murders were solved through investigation of bones and body fragments,” adds PBS, “the tie between anthropology and the police was not publicly acknowledged until the 1930s.” William Ross Maples was born in this decade, on this day in 1937, to be specific. His later career as a forensic anthropologist contributed to the field’s rise to prominence by helping in the resolution of high-profile historical crimes as well as bringing justice and peace to families.

Dr. Maples worked as a consultant to governments and law enforcement agencies, including the New York State Police and the United States Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, which examines the remains of military personnel. He was a longtime professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Dr. Maples was involved in several high-profile cases, including the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Dr. Lowell Levine, a forensic dentist and director of the New York State Police’s medical investigations unit, said of Dr. Maples, “He was one of the few forensic anthropologists who could understand the concerns of the court system.”

According to his wife, Dr. Maples got interested in the dead as a young boy after seeing autopsy images of Bonnie and Clyde Parker from a neighbor who was a deputy sheriff. His interest in anthropology began in college when he was unable to enroll in a biology course and instead enrolled in an anthropological course, according to his wife.

Dr. Maples founder “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” with journalist Michael Browning (Doubleday, 1994). Dr. Maples’ cases were discussed in each chapter. He was also vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences for a year.

He couldn’t take on one more case because of a brain tumor he was diagnosed with two years ago. “One thing we talked about a few times but never got to do was analyze skeleton bones in a couple of tombs purported to be Christopher Columbus,” Dr. Levine stated. “Arrangements had been made for Maples to examine the remains to determine who was the genuine Christopher Columbus.” Dr. Maples is survived by his wife and two daughters, Lisa L. Maples and Cynthia L. Myers, both of Panama City, Fla., as well as six grandchildren.

According to the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida, Maples was involved in over 1,200 forensic anthropology cases over his career. He worked on several cases of historical significance since he was an expert in examining human skeleton material: For example, he led the team that discovered the Romanov family’s and Czar Nicholas II’s remains. He worked on the remains of Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador. But he also worked on situations that were still relevant today, such as the cold case of civil rights leader Medgar Evers’ murder. His unmet objective, according to his colleagues, was to study many skeletons believed to be the remains of Christopher Columbus in Europe.

Here are a few of the cases where Maples’s touch was helpful:

The Romanov Family

According to author Robert K. Massier, Maples had been interested in the Romanovs’ destiny since he was a child. In 1992, he and a group of colleagues traveled to Russia to examine some remains that had been discovered there, including Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist who later lead the Medgar Evers inquiry. The remains were verified to be those of the Romanovs, except Romanov daughter Anastasia and heir Alexei. Their work was eventually confirmed by DNA testing.

Zachary Taylor

In July 1850, the former President of the United States passed away. He was exhumed 140 years later to disprove rumors that he was murdered because of his anti-slavery attitude. Taylor had died suddenly, leading some to assume that he had been poisoned, including humanities professor Clara Rising. According to Michael Marriott of The New York Times, she claimed after his body was exhumed, “Right after his death, everything he had worked against came forth and was passed by both chambers of Congress.” After examining the body with coroner Richard Greathouse, Maples concluded that Taylor had not been poisoned. Gastroenteritis was listed as his cause of death.

Taylor’s remains were the first to be examined, though not the first to be exhumed. In the 1960s, JFK’s coffin was exhumed and transported from one burial place to another. Despite the unfavorable reaction to Taylor’s exhumation, Maples believes it is critical to undergo arsenic testing and put the rumors to rest. “If there was even a slight possibility that one of our presidents was murdered, it would have changed history,” he said.

Medgar Evers

Maples was a member of the team that investigated the remains of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who was murdered in 1963. Using forensic evidence from Evers’ body, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was finally found guilty of shooting Evers in his driveway.

For Maples’ obituary in The New York Times in 1997, forensic dentist Lowell Levine said, “He was one of the few forensic anthropologists who could understand the needs of the court system.” “He could lead and conduct investigations, pointing to key evidence to be presented in the trial.”

According to David M. Herszenhorn of the New York Times, he didn’t get the chance to perform his dream investigation, which included examining various skeletons stored in Europe as possible candidates for being the remains of Christopher Columbus.

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