Utah detectives help solve mystery of King Tut's death
OGDEN --In November of 1922, Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter breached a 3,000-year-old barrier that held a wealth of knowledge, treasure, and mystery. Behind that barrier was the tomb of an 18-year-old king whose name, mysteriously enough, was left on relatively few relics from the time. The tomb of Tutankhamen answered few questions and yielded even more.
At the time of the discovery Carter did not suspect foul play as a factor in Tutankhamen's death. However, almost 80 years after the discovery of the tomb, forensic experts from Utah, at the request of television's Discovery Channel and Atlantic Productions, went in search of the truth behind the death of King Tut.
Could modern-day forensic evidence be used to solve an ancient crime?
Mike King, director of the Ogden City Police Department's crime analysis unit and a former lieutenant with the Utah Attorney General's office, and Greg Cooper, a former FBI profiler and chief of police in Provo, were contacted by Anthony Geffen of Atlantic Productions to offer their insights into the mystery of Tutankhamen's death.
King said Atlantic Productions told him they wanted to include both the Utah detectives in a cameo appearance in a documentary about Tutankhamen. The company sent over a team from London to talk to both King and Cooper. "The meeting was only supposed to be one-half hour, but it ended up taking over four hours," King said.
The team from London asked the two detectives their opinions about x-rays originally done by researchers from the University of Liverpool in 1968. and other physical evidence. The researchers found a bone fragment in the cranium as well as a dense area at the base of the skull, suggesting a blow to the head. King and Cooper told the London team what they thought, then left, thinking that was the end of it.
"Four months later a call came from Atlantic Productions," King said. "They were going to rewrite the whole script and use us as the focal point."
Based on what King and Cooper told them, the London team went to Egypt to examine the case more closely. But King and Cooper needed to do some homework.
King said at first there was just a little bit of information, but shortly boxes of information began coming in. The two detectives needed background information before they actually went to Egypt.
What is known is that King Tutankhamen succeeded his father, Akenaten, at the age of nine. Amidst some religious turmoil Tutankhamen reverted back to worshiping the god Amun, which his father denounced. His wife and half-sister Ankhesenamun had two stillborn infants but no heirs. Tutankhamen died suddenly at age 18. His tomb, relatively small compared to others, appears to have been rushed to accommodate his premature death.
"We needed to build our case," King said. "The evidence we were getting was not bad. Often times we are working with decomposed bodies, even skeletal remains. Here we have a mummified body that preserved much of the evidence."
In addition to the actual body of the pharaoh, King and Cooper had a wealth of information from the University of Liverpool autopsy done in 1968, as well as detailed writings by Howard Carter.
King gave great praise to Carter, one of the first people in the tomb in 1922, for categorizing everything as he went.
King said prior to going to Egypt Cooper and he made a list of things that they wanted to see in order to help with the investigation.
"We wanted access to every place Tut traveled, every place he might have gone in his empire," King said. He suspects that because of the influence and monetary worth of the Discovery channel, their requests were granted.
The two-week excursion was supposed to take place on Sept. 14, 2001, but terrorist attacks in the United States closed airports. King and Cooper rescheduled their investigation for a later date. They opted to wait until the middle of November, which falls during the Muslim holiday Ramadan. King thought going to Egypt during that time would decrease the chance of hostile actions against the predominantly American and British film crew.
King said he was a little nervous about the possibility of a threat; they had guards throughout their two-week stay.
"At all times we had members of the Egyptian army dressed in plain clothes carrying machine guns," King said. "In addition to the plain-clothed soldiers we had armed escorts of 25 uniformed army personal that would drive with us in a caravan. They would clear streets and block intersections as we passed through."
Despite the obvious appearance of potential danger in the majority Muslim country, King said all the Egyptian people he met were loving and kind, and their children were absolutely beautiful.
"We were allowed into places that 99 percent of people, including Egyptologists, never see," King said. The duo traveled throughout Tut's kingdom on camels, in jeeps, hot-air balloons, airplanes and trains. "It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had," King said.
Riding camels across the desert to burial tombs to conduct investigations was just one of the experiences King remembers. "We saw skulls and sometimes full skeletons that, due to the wind and the sand may come into view one day, and then be completely covered up the next."
The harsh environmental conditions may be one of the reasons Egyptologists know very little about the period after Tutankhamen's death.
Another reason for lack of evidence was the attempt by Tutankhamen's successors to erase history. Ay, the king's prime minister. succeeded King Tut and ruled for four years. Horemheb, Tutankhamen's military leader and confidant, took over after Ay perished and attempted to erase both Tutankhamen's and Ay's names from records.
But King and Cooper gathered enough evidence in Egypt to determine that the pharaoh was murdered, and the two detectives believe they know who did it.
The field of potential suspects was quickly narrowed down to four people.
In the beginning, King and Cooper thought that all the evidence pointed to Horemheb. Just days before King and Cooper left Egypt, intriguing evidence was found that suggested it was someone else. King did not say what the evidence was, but said it would all be explained in the Discovery Channel documentary, making its first appearance Oct. 6 at 9 p.m.
King said he was honored to be a part of the investigation. "We are just a couple of normal guys from Utah," he said. "I am very pleased that we got the opportunity to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime event."
One extraordinary event that stands out in King's mind was when Cooper and he sneaked out of their guarded hotel in the middle of the night to a secret rendezvous.
"We snuck out in the middle of the night and met our guide," King said." We got into his boat and floated out into the Nile until it was safe to start the engine. We crossed the Nile and joined our guide on the other side in a mud hut with a dirt floor. We crowded into the small hut with ten other people and celebrated the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and the American holiday, Thanksgiving."
"It was the best Thanksgiving dinner I have ever had," King said.
The two detectives returned to Utah having completed yet another forensic mystery. King said he would do it again in a heartbeat, and he hopes more opportunities like solving King Tutankhamen's murder present themselves in the future.