The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist (audiobook)

A True Story of Injustice in the American South

Foreword by John Grisham
Read by Robert Fass
14.8 hrs • 12 CDs • Unabridged
Nonfiction/True Crime
Target Audience: Adult
Release Date: 02/27/18
Library CD Library Edition CD titles are packaged in an attractive, full-sized, durable vinyl case with full color art. Cloth Sleeves keep compact discs protected and in numerical order. 
- 02/27/18 9781478990406
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This is an account of two tragedies.

At the heart of the first is Dr. Steven Hayne, a doctor the State of Mississippi employed as its de facto medical examiner for two decades. Beginning in the late 1980s, he performed anywhere from 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies a year, five times more than is recommended, performed at night in the basement of a local funeral home. Autopsy reports claimed organs had been observed and weighed when, in reality, they had been surgically removed from the body years before. Hayne, the only game in town, also often brought in local dentist and self-styled “bite-mark specialist” Dr. Michael West, who would discover marks on victim’s bodies, at times invisible to the naked eye, and then match those marks—“indeed and without doubt”—to law enforcement’s lead suspect.

This leads to the second tragic tale: that of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, two black men each convicted in separate cases of the brutal rape and murder of young girls. Dr. Hayne’s autopsy and Dr. West’s bite-mark matching formed the bases for their convictions. Combined, the two men served over thirty years in Parchman Farm, Mississippi’s notorious penitentiary, before being exonerated in 2008. Brooks’ and Brewer’s wrongful convictions lie at the intersection of both the most pressing problem facing this country’s criminal justice system—structural injustice built on the historic foundation of race and class—as well as with the much more contemporary but equally egregious problem of invalid forensic science. The old problem is inextricably bound up with and exacerbates the new.

In The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington write a true story of Southern gothic horror—of two innocent men wrongly convicted of vicious crimes and the legally condoned failures that allowed it to happen. Balko and Carrington will shine a light on the institutional and professional failures that allowed this tragic, astonishing story to happen, identify where it may have happened elsewhere, and show how to prevent it from happening again.

Review Quotes

“Sometimes the best thing a narrator can do is just get out of the way of the story. Robert Fass does just that with this tale of stunning forensic fakery in the criminal justice system…Fass’ delivery is measured, steady, and varied with slight pauses…and keeps listeners engaged.”


“A powerful and instructive story, masterfully told by Balko and Carrington.”

Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author

“A superb work of investigative reporting…Balko and Carrington combine expertise, industry, and outrage into a searing narrative.”

Wall Street Journal

“Junk science convicted these men; real science set them free…The inability of judges and jurors to tell the difference is why innocent men languish in jail while the prosecutors who put them there run for higher office.”

New York Times

“A blistering exposé of Mississippi’s bungle-prone process of investigating deaths.”

Garden & Gun magazine

“A clear and shocking portrait…This eminently readable book builds a hard-to-ignore case for comprehensive criminal justice reform.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A horrifying exposé of how a few individuals can infect an entire state’s criminal justice system.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Notable for its depth and geographic focus…this [is a] stinging exposé of faulty forensics.”

Library Journal

“This is a true crime story, but it is more than a report of the tragic murders of two young girls. The crime at the center of this book is the one committed by a justice system that is more concerned with conviction rates than unearthing the truth…Compellingly written, The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is a chilling reminder of what happens to the rule of law when the law forgets the rules.”


“The authors uncover an unholy alliance of racist cops and prosecutors with questionable death investigations and misapplied forensics. This work should spark both admiration and outrage—and, one hopes, reform.”