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Research on the remains of the H.L. Hunley submarine crewmen, including Frank G. Collins of Fredericksburg, proved conventional wisdom to be wrong. By Scott Boyd
Date published: 1/7/2006
Owsley showed pictures of the cemetery where Gosnell's grave was opened with the family's permission. Owsley recalled that as he crawled over the opened casket to cut Gosnell's trouser leg to get a sample of bone marrow from the man's thigh bone, the lid fell on him, pushing him partly into the casket with the body. Owsley said this was quite an experience. But he did retrieve the sample he wanted.
Unfortunately, there was no DNA match, and researchers concluded that Gosnell's father may have had more than one wife over his lifetime and this might have created the apparent break in the family tree's maternal line with the Collins family.
So far only one of the eight Hunley crewmen, Joseph Ridgaway of Maryland, has a living descendant today who can be proved through DNA testing.
The eeriest sight in Owsley's presentation were the photos of the reconstructed faces of the Hunley crewmen. Owsley explained the enormous amount of scientific work that went into the sculptures. "Facial reconstruction is a very venturesome kind of thing," Owsley commented, and he praised the work of forensic sculptor Sharon Long, who worked with him to bring the faces of the crewmen to life.
In addition to his Civil War work, Owsley has helped the FBI identify human remains in some famous modern crime scenes, such as the burned-out Branch Davidian religious compound in Waco, Texas; victims' body parts associated with cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer in Milwaukee, Wis.; the mass graves of victims of ethnic violence in Croatia; and bodies of Pentagon workers and airline passengers killed by the terrorists who crashed an airliner into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Someone has said Doug's number is on speed dial at the FBI," joked Friends of Wilderness Battlefield Education Director Dale Brown as he introduced Owsley.
SCOTT BOYD is a freelance writer living in Spotsylvania County.