President’s Message—July 2018

Source: Susan M. Ballou, MS, 2018-19 President

In Havana, Cuba, in 1947, “the father of forensic pathology,” Dr. Rutherford B.H. Gradwohl, met with Dr. Israel Castellanos, the Director of the Cuban National Identification Office. They met to plan the first meeting of the Pan-American Medical-Legal Congress, which convened in St. Louis, MO, in 1948. Later that same year, the Congress would take on a new name: The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).

Unfortunately, Dr. Castellanos was unable to participate in these meetings. Political tensions between the United States and Cuba, which years later would culminate in the Cuban Missile Crisis, prevented him from attending. However, the AAFS International Educational Outreach Program (IEOP) was able to resurrect the scientific camaraderie that was forged at that meeting more than 70 years ago. In May of this year, 27 AAFS members traveled to Cuba to meet with colleagues on the island nation. Judging by the classic American cars on the streets of Havana, it seemed in some ways that time has stood still since then in Cuba’s capital city. On the other hand, this modern-day meeting of scientific colleagues was a sign of remarkable change. Our hosts, Dr. Segio Rabell Piera, Director, Institute of Forensic Medicine, and Professor Jorge González Pérez, National Director of Medical Teaching, brought us on tours of the Forensic Science Laboratory, the Institute of Legal Medicine, and the Psychiatric Forensics Laboratory. We also had the pleasure of participating in their organized daily discussion sessions that focused on their achievements of the past 70 years. These discussions revealed that when communication is cut off, forensic science can take many different directions. With this valuable exchange of information, accomplished with the help of our excellent translators, we AAFS members and our Cuban colleagues made up for lost time. The fact that several IEOP travelers spoke Spanish helped considerably.

With this excursion, the IEOP once again provided an excellent opportunity for members of our attending sections to get to know one another. On the bus rides to various venues, there was no shortage of discussion topics, and the revelation of a birthday led everyone to break out in song. If there were any pre-IEOP apprehensions about food choices, they were long forgotten by the end of the first meal, which featured both familiar dishes and local specialties.

The IEOP visit resulted in the stated desire by our hosts for continued connection with the AAFS. In 2016 and 2017, Past President Dan Martell had supported Cuba’s efforts to obtain Association status with the AAFS. Required documentation was not completed in time, unfortunately. Whether the IEOP visit will spur another request by Cuba remains to be seen. In the meantime, our hosts reminded us about their fall meetings and their networking possibilities. The TECNICRIM meeting will be held September 18-20, 2018; more information may be found at: The Cuban International Conference of Legal Medicine meeting will meet October 22-26, 2018, and can be found at: If needed, just hit the “translation” button when it appears in your browser window, and you should be good to go.

IEOP Cuba Delegation, led by AAFS President Susan Ballou, with Colonel Antonio Mesa and staff from the Ministry of the Interior’s Criminal Department.


It gives me great pleasure to thank the following people for joining me on this endeavor, Past President Betty Layne DesPortes for selecting Cuba, and Nancy Jackson, Jim Williamson, and the AAFS staff for their tireless work in making this happen:

Criminalistics: Peter Ausili, Crystal Conway, Terence McAdam, Sandra Rodriguez-Cruz, Dani Tsuboi, and Sheila Willis

Engineering Sciences: Roy Crawford, Harold Franck, and Laura Liptai

General: Lisa Dilbeck, Penny Englert, Rod Englert, Daniel Marion, and Amber Riley

Jurisprudence: Stephanie Domitrovich, Roderick Kennedy, and Christopher Plourd

Pathology/Biology: Andrew Baker, Eric Berg, Joseph Blaise, Marcella Fierro, Katherine Maloney, and Shakuntala Teas

Psychiatry & Behavioral Science: Daniel Martell and Karen Rosenbaum

Toxicology: Marina Stajic

AAFS Staff: Jim Williamson

Non-Members: Peggy Baker, Elaine Berg, Erica Chun, Robert Fierro, John Fox, Sally Hobler, Phyllis Kennedy, Nanette Krueger, Carol Maloney, Clare McCarthy, Timothy Rogers, Nancy Shelton, Elizabeth Stevens, and Gregory Teas.