Top crime writers’ morgue will help dentists

Some of the world’s leading crime writers are lending their support to a major fundraising drive by a leading forensic centre at the University of Dundee.

Professor Sue Black and colleagues in the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at Dundee – who feature in the new series of BBC2’s History Cold Case– are building a new morgue than will allow them to adopt the Thiel method of embalming.

This will enable dentists and other clinicians as well students and medical researchers to access a more realistic method of testing techniques, practising procedures and developing new equipment and approaches.

The university has committed £1 million to the project but another £1 million needs to be raised.

Bestselling author Val McDermid has been signing up her crime writing colleagues across the world to join the fundraising campaign, and first to confirm their support are Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Stuart MacBride. More will be announced in the coming weeks.

‘We will be the first university in the UK to exclusively use Thiel embalming and it is an area where, working together with other colleagues in the university, we can make real breakthroughs and change the face of scientific, medical and dental research and training,’ said Professor Black.

The link-up between the morgue project and the crime writers has come about through the friendship between Val McDermid and Professor Black.

Grisly technical detail
‘I’ve known Sue for years and she has helped me tremendously with a lot of the sort of grisly technical detail that goes into my books,’ said Val.

‘When she told me about the project for the new mortuary, I thought this was a chance for myself and other writers to give something back to a community that is of tremendous value to us.

‘All crime writers rely on the help of professionals like Sue to make sure we get the details right.

Giving a bit of help back in return is the least we can do.’


Stuart MacBride said: ‘I’ve been very lucky to pick the brains of some of the UK’s top forensic experts: their support and advice has been invaluable in making sure that what goes on in the books is as close to what really happens as possible.

‘It’s not often that crime writers get to give something back to that community – other than buying them drinks, of course – so I’m delighted to be involved in helping Sue raise money for a new mortuary. And the fact that it’ll help develop the next generation of experts who’ll then help out the next generation of crime writers is a huge bonus, too.’

Tess Gerritsen said: ‘I write merely fiction, but these scientists work in the very real world of death investigation, a field that is sadly underfunded. How wonderful that that my fictional detectives can now help support the true detectives.’

Professor Black is delighted to have the crime writers on board for her fundraising project.

‘This is an amazing group of people, who are among the most popular novelists in the world,’ said Professor Black.

‘The work I have done with Val has always been very interesting and I am always happy to have been able to help. To receive such enthusiastic support from Val and her fellow writers is tremendously gratifying and I cannot thank them enough for lending their support to this project.’

Professor Black and Val McDermid appeared together at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose this weekend, talking about their work together.

Professor Black is director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University. CAHID is an internationally leading centre in the fields of human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction and the study of the human body.


Professor Black and other members of the CAHID team feature in the major BBC2 series, History Cold Case, which showcases their expertise across the field of human identification.


The second series of the programme begins on BBC2 on Thursday 23 June with Episode 1: THE BODIES IN THE WELL.

The CAHID team have developed ground-breaking techniques in areas such as hand identification, which has directly led to the successful prosecution of a number of paedophiles identified from images of their hands found in obscene photographs and films.

The Centre also runs a major training programme in Disaster Victim Identification, which has trained police offers in practical techniques in human identification, enabling them to be deployed to help identify victims of mass fatalities anywhere in the world.

For more on the Million For A Morgue campaign, see

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