Book Review of
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist
A shocking and deeply reported account of the persistent plague of institutional racism and junk forensic science in our criminal justice system, and its devastating effect on innocent lives
After two three-year-old girls were raped and murdered in rural Mississippi, law enforcement pursued and convicted two innocent men: Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Together they spent a combined thirty years in prison before finally being exonerated in 2008. Meanwhile, the real killer remained free.
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist recounts the story of how the criminal justice system allowed this to happen, and of how two men, Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West, built successful careers on the back of that structure. For nearly two decades, Hayne, a medical examiner, performed the vast majority of Mississippi’s autopsies, while his friend Dr. West, a local dentist, pitched himself as a forensic jack-of-all-trades. Together they became the go-to experts for prosecutors and helped put countless Mississippians in prison. But then some of those convictions began to fall apart.
Here, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington tell the haunting story of how the courts and Mississippi’s death investigation system–a relic of the Jim Crow era–failed to deliver justice for its citizens. The authors argue that bad forensics, structural racism, and institutional failures are at fault, raising sobering questions about our ability and willingness to address these crucial issues.
I read The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist as part of my nonfiction book for every state challenge. It was an impulse purchase at Barnes and Noble, but I knew it would work perfectly for my Mississippi book. It was the perfect Mississippi book.
This book was so fascinating, yet so sad. It is a story that is so hard to believe happened and yet it happened. Not only did it happen, it happened in recent history. This is not a long ago type of story. This is a “it happened in my generation” story.
It covers the important topic of crime and injustice in the south and how two men manipulated the system in order to make money and further their careers.
I will admit that this was not a fast read for me. It goes into quite a bit of detail about crime against women and kids. It is a rough read, and one that I did not read right before bed. It is graphic and sad, but such an important event that not very many people know about. I highly recommend it.