Frank P. Saul, an internationally respected forensic anthropologist who discovered life stories from the clues found in human remains, whether in an ancient tomb, at a modern crime scene, or scattered about after a disaster, died Saturday in his West Toledo home. He was 87.
He developed a blood infection recently, said his wife, Julie Mather Saul. Kidney and heart disease caused him to step away from his work several years ago. He last traveled to Central America, where he and his wife studied Maya burial sites, in 2009. He commanded a multi-state region of the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team for 14 years, until 2011.
“He’s been fighting for a long time,” said his wife, who often was his professional partner in forensics cases for the Lucas County coroner’s office and the medical examiner’s office in Wayne County, Michigan.
Mr. Saul became one of the earliest faculty members of the Medical College of Ohio when he was appointed in 1969 to the anatomy department. He taught for more than 20 years and served as associate dean for continuing education. He received emeritus status in 1994.
He hadn’t considered teaching in a medical school, but with his interest in bone pathology, Mr. Saul realized the benefit of being at a medical school. And he could contribute to the education of future physicians, nurses, and paramedics, his wife said.
“He was a very fine teacher,” his wife said. “He was not a dry lecturer kind of a guy. He was very informal and always used humor to get the point across. Always good stories.”
For more than a decade, the Sauls hosted high school students from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan at an annual “introduction to forensic medical sciences” day at MCO.
“Frank was a very conscientious, meticulous type of person,” said Dr. James Patrick, a friend since his arrival to the MCO pathology department in 1969. When Dr. Patrick became Lucas County coroner, he called on the Sauls’ expertise when trying to determine a cause of death — even a name — for skeletonized remains.
“He had a very broad background in anatomy and anthropology, so he was able to put things together,” he said.
Mr. Saul and his wife, serving on the disaster mortuary teams, also worked on a fatal plane crash near Monroe that killed 29, a Korean Air jet crash in Guam that killed 225, and an EgyptAir crash off Nantucket that killed 217.
“Each experience makes me appreciate the wonder of life a little more,” Mr. Saul told The Blade less than a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He and his wife were called to New York City in the aftermath, to help recover and identify remains. Nothing before had matched the scope of the scene.
“This was being in the middle of a science fiction novel,” Mr. Saul told The Blade in 2003.
Mr. Saul called the practice of interpreting lives from bones “osteobiography.” The Maya were his dissertation topic, and he analyzed remains as he worked at burial sites.
“You see something that hasn’t been seen in a couple thousand years,” his wife said. “Those are puzzles you’re working out in your head as you excavate. Everybody likes a good puzzle.”
By examining bones found in a tomb, the Sauls discovered the remains of two females. Previously only males were thought important enough to be buried in a Maya tomb.
“He wanted to learn about the people he was dealing with, whether ancient Maya or a modern case, and he had a great compassion for the people,” his wife said.
He was born Oct. 31, 1930, to Freda and Joseph Saul in New York City. He was a graduate of Brooklyn College, received a doctorate from Harvard University, and taught at Pennsylvania State University. He was in the Air Force during the Korean War and helped design protective flight clothing at the Wright Patterson aero medical laboratory near Dayton.
He and his wife received a lifetime achievement award in 2017 from the anthropology section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Surviving are his wife, Julie Mather Saul, whom he married Feb. 1, 1964; son, Joseph Saul; daughter, Jennifer Saul, and a grandson.
There will be no services. Arrangements are by Witzler-Shank Funeral Home.
The family suggests tributes to Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory for its Belize field school program at the University of Texas in Austin.