Interview with Joseph Scott Morgan, Medicolegal Death Investigator And Forensic Expert

Over the course of writing for PopHorror, I have had the pleasure to talk with and interview so many interesting people. I was recently honored with the privilege to sit down and chat with the one-time youngest Medicolegal Death Investigator, On-Air Forensic Expert and renowned Professor at Jacksonville State University… the one and only Joseph Scott Morgan! 

PopHorror: Thank you, Joseph, for taking the time to sit and chat with me! I know you are super busy, so I’ll just dive right in!

Joseph Scott Morgan: (laughs) Hey, you can take your time! One of the best things about teaching is I now have a summer vacation!

PopHorror: (laughs) Oh, how I miss those! Let’s talk about your first career path. How did you become a Medicolegal Death Investigator?

 

Joseph Scott Morgan on set in CNN NYC discussing Jon Benet Ramsey with Chris Coumo

Joseph Scott Morgan: It was one of those fickle fingers of fate. I was standing over a dead body, trying to figure out what happened. I was in the exact spot where I needed to be. The hospital I worked in happened to be an active morgue. They started bringing all the bodies in from the parish. So I started attending autopsies. I found myself going there during my off time and volunteering. It was by far a better education than what kids were learning in classes. I started doing clean up, like mopping and sweeping up maggots. Then I started to learn how to sew and close up the body.

I really got the hang of it. I think I was just too stupid to leave. I was very, very young. I learned a lot about traumatic events to the body. I went through two rounds of hiring. They finally said, “You apparently want it,” and I ended up getting the job. I stayed at that office for six years until I got offered the position of Senior Investigator. Death is death, day in and day out. Death becomes your norm. It became my norm.

PopHorror: What do you like the most and the least about your job?

Joseph Scott Morgan: Being able to go and see stuff that no one else could go and see. To be privy to things that others couldn’t. There were some major rushes, like being able to crawl through cooking grease to get to a dead body or going on top of the biggest building in the world to see one. I was trying to make sense out of the senseless. However, it’s a double edged sword. I would see things that I couldn’t un-see. Families are a mystery. I’ve seen how they treat their dead. I’ve made death notifications and that was probably the worst. I would show up to a house, change these people’s lives and destroy what they thought they knew. I know it wasn’t me who destroyed it. But you are the bearer of the bad news, so to them, it’s you.

PopHorror: I honestly know what you mean, at least in the aspect of dealing with families. I deal with them in my day job as I pay out life insurance and handle all the death notifications. Some people don’t even have the decency to wait an hour to file before a loved one passes.

Joseph Scott Morgan: Then you would absolutely know how people treat their dead! The sad thing for them, though, is once they run through the money, then they wonder why they’re all alone. Death is the ultimate reveler. People find out what really matters to them. I always see myself as an observer. You hover above things to see how they play out.

PopHorror: I’m the same way! What inspired you to write your book, Blood Beneath My Feet?

Joseph Scott Morgan: I was inspired by the battle with my demons. That was the ultimate thing. There’s not enough booze… not enough drugs… not enough food… it was the ultimate prerogative. It was for that feeling of release when you finish writing a piece. For me, I guess I just bled onto the keyboard. I had never written anything except for technical reports. The book was very non-linear. As things would come to mind, I would just talk about how these cases impacted me. I asked myself a lot of the time why I was doing it. A woman takes her baby by the ankles and redecorates her walls… like, why am I here? Like, why the hell am I doing this? I stayed too long in this field and it damaged me badly. It damaged my soul. I think I had listened to too many people with their issues that were being left behind after a death…

It was hard for me to unburden myself. But it had to be done. So that’s what motivated me to write my book. Of the negative reviews I’ve gotten on the book, one said, “I don’t want to hear about a man’s depression.” Readers don’t want to hear the after effects of what happened in these cases. They just want to hear about the carnage. With my book, if you’re going to read it, you have to listen to the price of what it all costs, as well my stories.

For awhile, I was really angry. Since then, I’ve mellowed out quite a bit. My family paid the price for my career. I was a shell of a man. However, I have a wife and son that support me. My students really helped me as well. The most redeeming thing is, I get to teach forensics. My position is a cautionary tale. It’s not for everyone. People think they want it. They think they would like to crawl through maggots to get to a body. The first time, it’s exciting… after twenty-plus times, not so much. The public is completely unaware. I wrote this article for VICE which lays out a few of my thoughts about the profession. People don’t know the tremendous responsibility. I have great compassion for these people that dedicate their lives to their jobs that most people don’t give a shit about. I’m sure people are terrified of death. They try to avoid it. So these kinds of things get ignored by the public at large.

In this field, you handle far more suicides than homicides. I won’t go into detail, but there are number of ways people do it. Most of the time, these deaths are forgotten almost immediately, unfortunately, unless it’s someone famous. Take JonBenet Ramsay, for instance. I’m not sure why are people are so fascinated. I’ve had similar little girls that have never made it through the news cycle. Not every case is a JonBenet case. But as an investigator, I just pushed on through every case, because every one is important.

PopHorror: Would you say that your career made you desensitized?

Joseph Scott Morgan:  Yes and no. It really depends on what we’re talking about. From an intellectual stand point, it’s not a “Scooby-Doo-who-dunnit” mystery. My involvement with some serial killings findings… I found that stimulating as an investigator. Not the why, but the how. The why is never completely answered. We could sit around all day and ask why Jeffrey Dahmer did what he did. No one will ever know for sure. The how is more like it. How did he chop off all those heads in his shitty little apartment? How did John Wayne Gacy bury all those bodies in his crawl space? Once you figure out the how, then you start to fill in the blanks like a color by number.

There is comfort in how. It’s a cool construct, when you think about it. It’s the cleanest thing about forensics. Criminal Profilers lumping in with Examiners is a sham. They don’t deal with the how at all. You don’t learn about death unless you’re around death. In order to do this job, you have to embrace the dead. By proxy, you are the dead’s voice. Lawyers and cops have their things to do. So do I. Homicide detectives are there to make an arrest, and lawyers speak for the state. They don’t speak for the dead. There was this little old lady who passed away in her bathtub. It was hotter than hell out and it had been about four months before we got there. She was basically a puddle. Life went on without her. Criminals came and demolished her house… the grass grew… but to try to tell her story was hard. You have to be able to be in tune with it.

Recreation of ‘Hot Car Case’ Justin Ross Harris on CNN with Mike Galanos

PopHorror: I’m sure you get asked this alot, but would you say that any TV show/movies come close to detailing what you do?

Joseph Scott Morgan: There really haven’t been a lot of shows about my particular profession. As a Forensic Professor, I tell my students that there are three letters that are not allowed in my class and those are CS and I. It completely does a disservice. The things that they do on TV is not real life. You now have the CSI effect. When you go into a courtroom, you get asked if you watch CSI. No, I don’t. I watch a lot of documentaries and Seinfeld.

One of the closest things I’ve seen in regards to the mortuary business would have been Six Feet Under. Many nights, I slept in the morgue, waiting for a high profile case. I slept in a room with dead bodies. You get past that fear of the dead. The living are what’s frightening.

The question everyone wants to know is if the person suffered. It’s not that they really want to know if the person that just passed had suffered. They wanted to know if they were going to suffer when they die. “When I meet my end, is it going to be quick and painless or is it going to be lingering?” When someone asks me these questions, I don’t tell them because I don’t know what it is like to die because I’ve never died.

PopHorror: Do you believe in ghosts?

Joseph Scott Morgan: No, I don’t. I’ve had that question put to me many times. I’m not saying I don’t believe in God. There’s a video of me floating around where I did an interview and people asked me that question. I said, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts. Death is the end.” When my book came out, some woman that worked at the University of Georgia called me up and said, “Are you Joseph Morgan?” I said, “Yes, I am,” and she said, “You wrote that book about working in blood and I saw that interview and I’m very sad for you. There is hope for you in Jesus. You said you didn’t believe in ghosts.” She couldn’t see past the pain in what I went through.

PopHorror: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

Joseph Scott Morgan: I won Georgia Author of the Year, which was a big deal for me. I’ve also written an article that took off and got published in 8 different languages.

PopHorror: What is your favorite horror movie?

Joseph Scott Morgan: Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte with Bette Davis. It’s very Southern Gothic. When the head rolled down the stairs, it was terrifying. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is up there as well. I think that horror movies do it better than true crime shows or anything that’s on the ID Channel. A lot of that other stuff is very clean, and horror films capture the messiness of how things truly are.

PopHorror: Do you have any upcoming projects?

Joseph Scott Morgan: I am working with Charlie Baby Productions and Sean McEwen, who produced “Bernie”, on a script about my life and career.

Demonstrating dismembering a body on the ‘Nancy Grace Show’ with a limb saw

PopHorror: That’s awesome! What is it like to work with Nancy Grace?

Joseph Scott MorganIt’s good. I’ve known Nancy for years. She was a Prosecutor for Atlanta. She’s a different person when she’s not on air. Now, since she is no longer with Turner Broadcasting, she has the biggest true crime following on a podcast.

PopHorror: What advice do you have for people wanting to get into your field of work?

Joseph Scott Morgan: If you’re referring to forensics, be very clear on your motivations. It’s not something you get into to exercise your own demons. It’s a place where you need to be squared away and focused. If you do decide to do it, guard your heart. No one else is going to protect you and your mind. It’s a very precarious road that you walk on. It can impact you in ways that you can’t even begin to imagine. It can put you in a position to be in front of a therapist’s desk if you don’t protect your mind. If you’re talking about writing, don’t try to be Hunter S. Thompson. Experience life – sound, body and mind – with gusto. Try to find your voice. Everyone has a unique voice. Don’t be lazy. Pursue with gusto.

Thanks again to Joseph Scott Morgan! You can actually see him speak live at The Hot Springs International Horror Film Festival in Hot Springs Septemeber 21st-24th. Be sure to give his book a read. You can purchase it here.

About Lacylou1122

Lacy Lou has had a love for horror movies pretty much since birth! If you ever need a horror trivia question answered she's your girl!!! She is obsessed with the movie Scream and even has a Ghostface tattoo to prove it! She loves to write and make new friends that share the same interest.

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