In 1978, George E. Gantner Jr., M.D., professor of pathology and director of the Division of Forensic and Environmental Pathology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, recognized the need for a basic, comprehensive lay death investigator training course.
At that time, there was a critical shortage of American Board of Pathology certified forensic pathologists in the United States and more populous communities were choosing to become medical examiner systems, replacing the age old coroner systems.
Realizing that there was a need for independent death investigations to be performed in conjunction with law enforcement by competent lay practitioners with specialized knowledge and who had acquired advanced investigational skills, Dr. Gantner and Mary Fran Ernst organized the Medicolegal Death Investigator Training Course at Saint Louis University.
The course was then, and still is, designed to provide the basic medical, legal and investigative knowledge and skills necessary for a lay person to perform complete, independent, scientific death investigations.
The first class was held in October, 1978 with 18 registrants from the St. Louis City and County Medical Examiner's offices and from the newly established Chicago (Cook County) Medical Examiner's Office. It has been conducted three times each year since.
SLU's medicolegal death investigation course has become the major training ground for lay death investigators. More than 13,000 people have graduated from the program from 48 states, Canada and many foreign countries since 1978.
The course focuses on the 29 essential skills and standards of practice identified in the development of the Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator, published by the National Institute of Justice.
The original course was conducted over a five-day period and consisted of eight lecturers speaking on 19 forensic-related topics. It now consists of 33 hours of instruction presented during a five-day period by 18 speakers.
The course curriculum is updated annually to ensure that students receive the most current information available in the field of forensic death investigation. This course includes digital access to death investigation forms and additional information on each topic as provided by each instructor.
Since Dr. Gantner's untimely death in 1988, the course has been under the direction of Michael A. Graham, M.D., professor of pathology and co-director for the Division of Forensic and Environmental Pathology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine and Mary Fran Ernst.
The course is accredited by 15 professional organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Nurses Association (ANA), Missouri Coroners' and Medical Examiners' Association (MCMEA), Missouri Bar Association, Pennsylvania Coroners Association, Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, and the The Peace Officer Standards and Training Program (POST) Commission.
For investigators who wish maintain their professional competency, an advanced level conference, The Masters Conference, is conducted at Saint Louis University every other July.