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'CSI' consultant shares the secrets of his job

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | 10:18 p.m. CST; updated 4:43 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

FULTON — “A hanging?”

“With a knife?”

Those guesses rang out in Cutlip Auditorium at William Woods University on Tuesday night. But all of them were the wrong answers to the question asked by the lecturer.

“It was actually a tiger,” said forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Telgenhoff, returning to the slide of the animal on his power point presentation. Just 30 seconds before, the picture projected on the screen had been of a hole in the wind pipe of a man. The hole, Telgenhoff revealed, was the result of a tiger bite.

This wasn’t the most shocking photograph shown at the presentation. Telgenhoff showed the audience other gruesome cases he’s worked on during his career as a forensic pathologist and consultant for the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Making off-handed jokes and sarcastic comments as he flipped through the slides, he showed the audience examples of an Ecstasy overdose, a bloody murder scene, a hanging suicide and a decaying body in a trash can.

“If gross, gory things bother you, leave now,” Telgenhoff said.

Some of the cases presented by Telgenhoff sound similar to cases explored on the television show "CSI," as well they should. Telgenhoff has served as a forensic consultant to the creator of "CSI," Anthony Zuiker, since the show’s beginning.

“He came over to the area where I was working on the bodies, and he was insatiable,” Telgenhoff said of Zuiker, who visited him at the morgue to do research for the show.

Six months later, Zuiker had sold the first 13 episodes of "CSI" to a TV network for $1 million, and Telgenhoff became a consultant to the new drama. When he got the position, though, he said he was left with one question.

“Who would wanna watch a show about my job?” Telgenhoff said, chuckling.

Telgenhoff said he enjoys his second job as consultant, which requires him to work closely with his counterpart on the show, actor Robert David Hall.

Every now and then, Telgenhoff said he gets remarkable cases such as the “body in a trash can case” featured in one episode of "CSI."

“There’s been a book written about it, and I’ve got a chapter in it,” Telgenhoff said.

Still, even though his case inspired that particular episode of "CSI," the jobs of the people portrayed are very different. Telgenhoff pointed out during his lecture that what is shown on crime dramas and what people actually do in real life doesn’t match up at all.

For starters, he said, it’s not easy to become a crime scene investigator.

“You have to learn every disease known to man,” Telgenhoff said. “It’s a lot of stuff to know, but if I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Besides the nine years of schooling required to become a forensic pathologist (four in college, four in medical school and an extra year of training), there are other job expectations as well, ones that cannot be taught in books. Telgenhoff said his job involves having a stomach of steel and a resistance to political pressure.

“It’s something I have to fight every day,” he said.

Despite the requirements, Telgenhoff said he enjoys his job. Still, he warned the audience against aspiring to a life in criminal forensics.

“I like what I do,” he said. “(But) people like me are rare.”


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