What the Dead Know: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator (Hardcover)
A riveting, deeply personal memoir of more than twenty years of death-scene investigations by New York City death investigator Barbara Butcher.
Barbara Butcher was early in her recovery from alcoholism when she found an unexpected lifeline: a job at the Medical Examiner’s Office in New York City. The second woman ever hired for the role of Death Investigator in Manhattan, she was the first to last more than three months. The work was gritty, demanding, morbid, and sometimes dangerous—she loved it.
Butcher (yes, that is her real name, and she has heard all the jokes) spent day in and day out investigating double homicides, gruesome suicides, and most heartbreaking of all, underage rape victims who had also been murdered. In What the Dead Know, she writes with the kind of New York attitude and bravado you might expect from decades in the field, investigating more than 5,500 death scenes, 680 of which were homicides. In the opening chapter, she describes how just from sheer luck of having her arm in cast, she avoided a boobytrapped suicide. Later in her career, she describes working the nation’s largest mass murder, the attack on 9/11, where she and her colleagues initially relied on family members’ descriptions to help distinguish among the 21,900 body parts of the victims.
This is the fascinating and stunning real-life story of a woman who, in dealing with death every day, learned surprising lessons about life—and how some of those lessons saved her from becoming a statistic herself. Fans of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, and true crime won’t be able to put it down.
About the Author
Barbara Butcher, MPH, was Chief of Staff and Director of the Forensic Sciences Training Program at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner. She was responsible for overall agency management, strategy, and inter-agency relations. She lives in New York City.
“Butcher’s remarkably candid and sensitive memoir reveals how she learned to navigate a heart-wrenching line of work and to overcome her own demons.”
— Tom Nolan
"An unprecedented gutsy view of the Rue Morgue in New York City, told by one of its greatest characters. Barbara Butcher stares life and death in the face and doesn’t avert her gaze. She’s the real deal. Her stories and insights are breathtakingly honest, compassionate, and raw. What the Dead Know is impossible to put down. A must read, it's destined to be a classic."
— Patricia Cornwell
“What the Dead Know is wise and deep and completely unputdownable. Barbara Butcher's memoir is about finding home within yourself. It’s fantastic."
— Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Left Undone
“Butcher chronicles her career path and her journey to sobriety in unflinching detail, while her voice remains deliberate and measured, occasionally slipping into what sounds like a half-smirk when cracking a joke….She has a way with words, telling stories that are at turns hilarious, thought-provoking and, as might be expected, disturbing. This is a story of trauma, yes, but it’s also a glimpse into the dark side of a city that most never see up close.”
— New York Times Book Review
"Barbara Butcher’s compelling memoir gives readers a glimpse into the truly shocking things that happen behind the scene of the crime. It’s surprising, insightful, and perfect for fans of true crime, or for anyone who wants to understand what it’s really like to be a medical examiner."
— Karin Slaughter, New York Times and Internationally Bestselling Author
“A propulsive memoir; equal parts stories of how one lives and dies in NYC and Butcher’s personal journey of self-discovery and recovery, coming to know, trust herself. Deftly well crafted, What The Dead Know tells a powerful story of what it is to be human, ever curious, and compelled to bear witness to the world around us.”
— A.M. Homes, author of The Unfolding
“In this riveting memoir, Barbara Butcher writes unflinchingly about death and loss with stories gleaned from decades of experience in the New York City Medical Examiner’s Offices, but she also writes honestly and with surprising humor about her own life’s challenges and recoveries. Reading this book felt like getting to know a new, fascinating friend.”
— Alafair Burke, New York Times bestselling author of Find Me
"Barbara Butcher’s What the Dead Know is three unputdownable books in one—a series of gripping true crime stories told with unflinching style, a revealing and fascinating look at crime scene investigation, and an engrossing, moving, and very funny memoir that will inspire everyone who reads it."
— Kate White, New York Times bestselling author of The Second Husband
"Fascinating, compelling, and very real, Butcher’s time 'on tour' with the New York OCME gives the reader a look behind the scenes of death investigation, demystifying the process by giving much-needed insights with a delicate but detailed hand. Both an excellent research primer and a touching memoir, Butcher’s accessible storytelling makes this a must read.”
— J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of It's One of Us
“What the Dead Know offers an unflinching look at the lives and deaths investigated by medicolegal death investigator Barbara Butcher in New York City. Her stories capture the integrity and empathy necessary for a professional career dedicated to understanding death, with a greater purpose: to support the living.”
— Judy Melinek, M.D., author of Working Stiff