Bones claimed by disgraced UC Santa Barbara anthropologist Danielle Kurin to be those of a missing teenager turn out to be not human, but animal, most likely from a cow. Was a fraud perpetrated on a grieving mother and a traumatized community? [Updated Sept 22, 2022: A real forensic anthropologist weighs in]

The 2018 Montecito debris flow killed more than 20 people and destroyed many homes.


On July 22 of last year, former University of California, Santa Barbara anthropology professor Danielle Kurin went public with claims that she and her undergraduate students had found remains of the missing teenager Jack Cantin, who had disappeared on January 9, 2018 during a major mudslide and debris flow in the Santa Barbara suburb of Montecito. Kurin, along with Jack's mother Kim--who had never given up the search for her missing son--gave a number of interviews to print, TV, and online media about the finds. Kurin told reporters that she was "90% certain" the bones belonged to Jack.

The Santa Barbara Sheriff's office (which includes the county coroner) was taken by surprise by the announcement, and had to ask Kurin to provide details. Kurin gave them a one-page summary of her findings, whereupon the Sheriff announced that it would launch its own investigation into what up to then had been classified as a "missing person" case.

On July 12 of this year, after nearly a full year of investigation that included forensic reports and DNA analysis, the case was declared closed. Conclusion: The bones Kurin and her team had found were not human, but belonged to a non-human animal species, most likely cow.

Over the past few weeks, in response to California Public Records Act requests from me and a local Santa Barbara reporter, the Sheriff has begun releasing the relevant investigative documents, which were kept confidential while the inquiry was ongoing. More documents may be coming soon, but those already made public add up to a convincing case that Kurin never had any basis to claim that she had found the missing teenager. The question remains whether Kurin knew that all along, but claimed she had found Jack to help her with her bid for tenure at UCSB, which her own anthropology department had recommended against.

If she did know, then she has perpetrated a fraud against Jack's mother Kim, the Montecito and Santa Barbara communities,  and her own UCSB colleagues and students. More than 20 people were killed in the 2018 disaster. While most of their bodies were found, the remains of Jack, along with a two-year child, have yet to be found.

Note: Neither Kim Cantin's attorney nor forensic anthropologist Rick Snow (mentioned below) agreed to provide any comment on the record for this post. However, Raquel Zick, the Sheriff's spokesperson, told me that the department was satisfied that the remains found by Kurin's team did not belong to Jack Cantin, and that the missing person case would remain open.

I began expressing my own doubts about Kurin's claims a few months after the announcement, when developments in a bogus $18 million defamation suit Kurin had filed against me for my reporting about her long history of misconduct and abuses made it possible. For background, here are links to my reporting on the Jack Cantin case:

-- The Strange Case of the Montecito Mudslide Human Remains

-- New evidence suggests former UC Santa Barbara anthropology professor Danielle Kurin exploited a grieving mother and vulnerable students in her bid to get tenure. Now she has resigned.

And, for reference to what I discuss below, here are the key documents that the Santa Barbara Sheriff has now released. While there are some (by and large unnecessary) redactions, the Sheriff has now agreed not to redact the names of Jack Cantin, Kim Cantin, or Danielle Kurin, given that they are already in the public domain.

As these documents have been publicly released, they can now be shared and disseminated freely. We are hoping for additional documents including Kurin's more detailed forensics report, which in the end was reportedly rejected by the Sheriff-Coroner for not being conclusive. In addition, I previously reported on a lawsuit, now dismissed, that Kim Cantin filed against the Sheriff and the County of Santa Barbara for allegedly violating her rights by holding onto some of the remains too long, as the investigation proceeded. The Complaint in that suit also provides a lot of detail, especially from Kim's point of view, and provides considerable evidence about the role Danielle Kurin played in convincing Kim (and her students) that other experts, such as forensic anthropologist Rick Snow, were wrong and she was right about her interpretation of the remains. It is recommended reading.

The investigator's report reveals there was never any evidence to support Kurin's claims that she had found Jack Cantin.

This 12-page, single-spaced document provides a detailed account of the investigation that the Sheriff-Coroner conducted beginning in May 2021, when Kim Cantin first approached the department with some bone fragments that Kurin and her students had found, and May 2022, when the investigator was informed of Astrea's DNA results. Some key details:

-- After Kurin and her team found two fragments they thought were bone on May 10, 2021, Kurin took the fragments to her lab to analyze rather than report them to the coroner, as required by California law. Kim Cantin then contacted the Sheriff's office, and brought the fragments to the department the following day.

-- The Sheriff-Coroner investigators were dubious from the beginning that the bones were human, and in one case, that of an alleged toe bone, thought they might actually be plant remains. At the same time, the investigators began to explore possible DNA analysis of the material, and obtained a DNA sample from Kim to use as a comparison.

-- Later that month, the Sheriff-Coroner asked forensic anthropologist Rick Snow, head of Forensic Anthropology Consulting Services in Knoxville, to look at the materials and shipped them to him (one of Snow's reports is linked to above.) Snow thought the supposed toe bone was plant rather than animal, but said he thought the other bone might be human. However, Snow said, that bone appeared to be older than three years, the date of the debris flow.

-- When Kurin and Kim made their public announcements on July 22, 2021, Kurin's report (linked to above) indicated that an additional six pieces of bone had been found during excavations (again, none of these pieces of bone were reported to the Sheriff-Coroner as required by California law.)

-- In August 2021, Kim Cantin agreed to give one bone fragment to investigators to see if the Kern County Coroner's DNA lab, which the Santa Barbara Sheriff often collaborated with, could get DNA out of it. This fragment had been identified by Kurin as coming from Jack Cantin's knee.

-- A few days later, the Kern County lab completed its DNA testing. The amount of DNA in the bone was very low, and the lab concluded that while it could have belonged to a human male, it was also possible that the DNA found was due to contamination from an outside source.

-- At this point investigators began to contact a number of university-based DNA labs around the U.S. to see if they would be willing to do their own analyses (these even included ancient DNA expert David Reich's lab at Harvard University.) None of these labs were willing or able to take on the task, although Astrea Forensics was identified as a suitable lab with experience with degraded and low levels of DNA.

-- In September 2021, the Sheriff-Coroner learned that Kim Cantin was planning to file a lawsuit. This apparently put the investigation in abeyance until January 2022, when Kim agreed to put her lawsuit on hold, and then dismiss it without prejudice (that is, she could file it again if she wanted) while her attorney and the department tried to work out an agreement. That same month, investigators received a more detailed report from forensic anthropologist Rick Snow, who had come to Santa Barbara to look more closely at the bones. Snow again concluded that there was no evidence the bones belonged to Jack Cantin, but that DNA testing would be required to know for sure.

[[Not mentioned in the report: In January of this year, Kurin abruptly resigned her tenured position at UCSB, which she had fought for years to get and was awarded in August 2021. My sources say that the university was doing its own investigation of the matter and that she was forced to resign as a result.]]

-- On March 14, 2022, Kim and her attorney met with investigators to hand over the largest bone fragment for DNA testing by Astrea. According to the report. Kim and her attorney insisted on being present in the vehicle with a Sheriff lieutenant as he took the package to FedX to send to Astrea, so that it would not "be lost in transport."

-- On April 27, 2022, Astrea issued its report, finding that the bone sample was not human, but most likely bovine, with cow being the highest probability (see below.)

-- On May 19, 2022, a coroner's sergeant, along with the Santa Barbara County Counsel, met with Kim and her lawyer to return all the bone fragments. No later than July 12 of this year, the department closed the case and declared that Jack Cantin was still considered a missing person.

Kurin's first report: "The Case for Jack Cantin: FAST FACT Forensic Report”

As mentioned above, Kurin eventually prepared a more detailed report on her findings and submitted it to the Sheriff-Coroner. The Santa Barbara County Counsel is currently reviewing that document, along with certain others, to see if it can be publicly released, and if so, with what redactions. I will report on this "rolling release" once we have further documents in hand.

But Kurin's first report, dated July 16, 2021 and submitted to the Sheriff on July 22, is very revealing. It asks and answers a number of questions about the finds--"Is it bone?" "Is it human?" "How old was this person at death?" and so forth, but never actually puts forward any specific evidence that the remains belonged to Jack Cantin. Nevertheless, Kurin states in the report--and repeated to the news media--that she was "over 90% certain that these remains are those of Jack Cantin." No analysis, methodology, or other reasoning is provided for this statement.

Also very interesting are the photographs provided as part of the report of the remains found, along with the parts of a leg and foot they supposedly come from. Kurin and Kim Cantin never told the media how extensive the remains were, and it does not appear that the media ever asked (see below; if they did, they did not report the answers given.)

The bones found were amazingly fragmentary given the claims that Kurin made. One is identified as belonging to the thigh bone; several are supposedly from the knee region; one is from the ankle; and one is supposedly from a toe (although this one was identified by other experts as being plant material.)

Astrea's DNA report of April 27, 2022.

Astrea's attempts to get DNA out of the bone fragment it was given--the largest one, supposedly from the knee--were successful, but the DNA was very degraded. Their overall conclusion:

"The DNA preservation of the bone is extremely poor. We found no evidence to support the tested bone sample is of human origin. We cannot determine with certainty the species the bone belongs to, but the strongest evidence available in these data suggests cow."

Astrea further found that the amount of DNA in the sample that aligned to the human genome "does not rise above background," meaning that any human DNA present would probably have been due to contamination. On the other hand, the DNA found aligned most closely with Bos taurus, the domestic cow, and that alignment was more than ten times more extensive than for any other animal species (including pig, dog, black bear, horse, and sea lion) and about 100 times greater than for the human genome.

These analyses were based on DNA from the cell nucleus. Astrea further looked at DNA from mitochondria, the so-called energy factories of the living cell. It found that zero segments aligned with human mitochondrial DNA, while 22 segments aligned with a mitochondrial reference genome from the cow.

To put it simply, Kurin got it completely wrong. The question is, why?

A fraud on a grieving mother, and on a grieving community? Plus, a serious media fail.

In the articles linked to above about Kurin and the Jack Cantin case, I gave my reasons for suspecting that Kurin was simply using the situation to try to get tenure from UCSB, which her department had strongly recommended against. For example, documents I received through the Public Records Act from UCSB had shown that Kurin was telling Kim Cantin from the very first day that remains were found that they belonged to her son. This was before she had done any analysis of the remains at all.

Even before the Jack Cantin investigation began, I had written extensively about Kurin's long history of misconduct and abuse of students. This included a Title IX investigation that found Kurin had retaliated against students who reported her then partner (and later husband) for sexual harassment, which led to her three year suspension from the university. Taken together with her history, the evidence from the Jack Cantin case suggests strongly that Kurin knew, or should have known, that she had no basis for her conclusions. It is hard to come to any other conclusion than that she used Kim for her own selfish purposes: To get the university to give her tenure and overrule the department's recommendation against it.

Along with that damage, she used her own undergraduate students as part of the theater, some of whom were publicly identified in local news media as part of the project. I can only hope that the university is providing them with some kind of counseling given the incredible betrayal they have suffered at the hands of their own professor, in whom they put their trust. Anthropology chair Casey Walsh did not return repeated requests for comment on whether such counseling had been offered to the students; a UCSB spokesperson declined to comment as well, saying only that such counseling was available to anyone who asked for it.

I have written elsewhere about the way that Kurin was enabled, and by whom, over all the years that she was doing damage to students and colleagues. Rather than repeat it all, I will leave it to readers to review that evidence and my comments on it, here and here. Suffice to say that without these powerful enablers, who include UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and Kurin's father, the famous Smithsonian Institution anthropologist Richard Kurin, none of this could have happened.

It remains to comment on the truly pathetic role that a gullible local media played in this sad saga, hyping Kurin's claims and asking no--no--critical questions about the basis for them. Examples can be found here, here, here, here, and here (the absolute worst), and include the venerable Los Angeles Times and CBS News. The media has a lot of mea culpas to do; but more important than that, it must begin to report on the context for this debacle, including the role that Yang played in keeping Kurin alive, as it were. Yang is currently involved in a hit-and-run case in which he refuses to cooperate with police; perhaps it is time for him to hand in his resignation.

I do have some hopes that more light will now shine on the Kurin saga, which, for so long, I was the only reporter covering. There are some good signs: Tyler Hayden at the Santa Barbara Independent has just done a story on the Sheriff's records, and I am confident that other publications and reporters will feel compelled to do so as well. The truth, and the welfare of UCSB students, Kim Cantin, and the Santa Barbara community--not to mention the anthropology and archaeology communities in which Kurin swam like a shark for so long--demands no less.

Update Sept 13, 2022: The Santa Barbara County Sheriff has now released a new batch of documents related to Kurin and the Jack Cantin case which are very illuminating. You can read about them, along with links to two key documents prepared by Kurin, at this Twitter thread. I will be preparing a redacted version of the email threats by Kurin's attorney David Scher against the Sheriff (redacted because they include personal details of innocent parties) and posting that here shortly. In brief, once Kurin learned the Sheriff-Coroner would not agree to issue a death certificate for Jack Cantin without DNA evidence that the bones belonged to him, it appears that she doubled down on her efforts to persuade Kim Cantin to oppose the testing--which she must have known would, and finally did, expose the fraud she appears to have perpetuated against Kim and the Santa Barbara community.

Kurin gets her own attorney, David Scher, involved in negotiations with the Sheriff over the analysis of the bones. Scher quickly threatens to sue the Sheriff for their return.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that in June 2020, Kurin sued me for $18 million in federal court for allegedly defaming her with my reporting on her long history of misconduct. Over the course of the 13 months of that lawsuit, Scher served as a hired gun for Kurin while she did everything she could to try to get tenure from UCSB. He immediately showed himself to be ethically challenged, as they say, and in fact as the case ended we were asking the judge for sanctions against both him and Kurin for deliberately hiding one of the most important documents in the case.

Remarkably, Scher got involved in the Cantin case very early on, something that was only revealed with this latest batch of documents. I am excerpting from the relevant emails to avoid revealing personal identification details such as email addresses and phone numbers, which were not redacted in what I received.

The first relevant email is dated Sept 5 of last year and is from Kim Cantin to Sol Linver, the Santa Barbara County Undersheriff (Number 2 in the department.) The "Professor," of course, is Danielle Kurin. Lauren is Kim Cantin's daughter. 

"Dear Sol, 

I hope you are well and enjoying Labor Day Weekend. I wanted to send you a note to get an update on the status of Jack's case being closed. I know at the cemetery service, August 11th, you shared with me that you and the Sheriff are wanting to help close this case so Jack's remains can be buried. I appreciate you and the Sheriff attending the cemetery service. 

It is my understanding there was a meeting scheduled with the Professor this past week and that her proof to a scientific certainty with peer review did not give you what you need to close the case so I can bury Jack. Lauren goes to Stanford Friday and it would have been so beneficial for her trauma to see her brother laid to rest next to her Dad before she leaves. I so want this for Lauren and me. I feel like it is taking so much time to resolve this and it is causing me distress. 

Also, please update me on the status of the shin bone you took to Kern county, tried DNA analysis and it came back inconclusive; we discussed last you were trying to get that into UC Santa Cruz for processing. Please let me know the status and if you need the Professor to help in any way to connect with those research labs. As I mentioned before, I still do want all material of the bone analysis returned to me (even if soupy) and the details of the procedure step by step of what they did with it. Also, I would like the piece of underwear back; it is my understanding that they said it was 'too contaminated" and I would like it back this week. 

If you would, please respond to this email with the update and next steps. I am so hopeful that we can get him buried before she leaves Friday morning. 

Thank you very much, 

Kim Cantin"

Linver responded on Sept 8. It is clear from this email that Scher has already been in touch with the Sheriff's office. Also, the email refers to three labs that Kurin had recommended as possible institutions to perform the DNA analysis. I believe that Kurin must have known that the three labs she mentioned did not do forensics work and would be likely to accept the task. Indeed, throughout the documentation I have received, it is clear that Kurin was trying from the very beginning to dissuade Kim Cantin from having the DNA testing performed, telling her (falsely) that it would destroy the bones.


Thanks for your email. You are correct about our meeting with Dr. Kurin. While her work is intriguing and could be of a benefit for us in our Coroner investigations, it is not enough for us to be able to close a case. As mentioned we would be seeking a positive DNA result to close the case. In relation to the bone tested by Kern County, nothing has changed. The results from the Kern County tests were inconclusive. The three labs recommended by Dr. Kurin have been problematic. All three labs have told us they could not help as they do not work on these types of cases. In relation to UC Santa Cruz, Dr. Kurin has graciously tried to help us with UC Santa Cruz but the result did not change. 

I will see that the piece of underwear is returned to you. I will also check on the status of the report from the Kern County lab. In relation to next steps, sending the bones to the Marshall University DNA lab is still our best next step. They have an approximate 30 to 60 day turn around on the testing. The Marshall lab is well recognized and used by law enforcement, Coroner and Department of Justice agencies throughout the nation. 

Kim, I am sorry this is causing you distress and would like to take every step possible to confirm whether any of the bones are Jack’s. As Bill mentioned to you in our meeting we are more than eager to help you in every way possible. However there are certain procedures and laws we must follow in these cases. Please let us help you by sending all the bones to the Marshall lab to do our best to get a DNA result. Whatever remains from the tests will be returned to you. 

Lastly, I spoke to Mr. Scher earlier to explain that since your recent email also requested that we communicate with you through Mr. Scher. I’m also copying our County Counsel, Michelle Montez, on this email since Mr. Scher is now involved as it is our standard practice. Please let me know if you have any questions. 


Sol Linver 

Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office"

That same day, Scher emailed Linver and outright threatened the department with litigation. A "Complaint in Replevin" is invoked in a case where a return of property to its rightful owner is sought. But as I have written before, any human remains (which Kurin was claiming they were) are, under California law, required to be turned over immediately to authorities.

"Sol ‐ thank you for your email. Because you are now engaging counsel I am required to respond to counsel directly (so please do not take as rude).   Ms. Montez, Please arrange for the return of the underwear, bones and any other materials/artifacts provided by Ms Cantin to her tomorrow, Thursday, at about 12pm I am preparing a Complaint in Replevin for these items but will hold off filing it pending their full and complete return. We are preparing a complaint in Mandamus to cause the County to declare Jack Cantin deceased (and not missing). If the County is interested in resolving the matter prior to suit please do give me a call. 


Dave Scher, Partner Hoyer Law Group, PLLC"

In response to Scher's emailed threats, that same evening a representative of the Santa Barbara County Counsel's office responded as follows:

"Mr. Scher, 

Thank you for your email. The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office is sympathetic to your client and hopeful to work together towards a workable solution. To that end, the underwear provided by Ms. Cantin is available for return at the Coroner’s Bureau located at 66 A South San Antonio Road, Santa Barbara, 3 CA 93110. If Ms. Cantin prefers that the Coroner’s Bureau mail her the underwear, please let us know. We are still reviewing the Coroner’s obligations with respect to the bones located by Dr. Kurin. In the interim, we request that your client maintain the bones that were found but not provided to the Coroner’s office. We hope to be in touch in the upcoming weeks regarding next steps. 


Rana Gerges Warren"

The next day, Sept 9, Scher resumes his threats:

"Ms. Warren, Thank you for your email. 

Ms. Cantin will be at the Coroner between 1pm‐2pm today. She expects the underwear and anything else in the Sheriff/County’s possession including all bones. 

The bones, underwear, and anything else Ms. Cantin provided are hers, given voluntarily and temporarily. Her lending them to you can be revoked anytime ‐ and she, through me, revokes that consent now. She obtained them with permission, obtained their extraction and simply is the owner by law. The bones are definitively not “ancient” nor “native” and there is no statutory basis for what the County has done here ‐ literally stolen property belong to one of its citizens. 

Said another way, that the County intends to wrongfully withhold the bones and perhaps other artifacts for weeks is unacceptable. If the bones, underwear, and anything else belonging to Ms. Cantin in the County’s possession are not returned today, Ms. Cantin has directed us (along with co‐counsel copied here) to bring suit for replevin to recover everything along with seeking a TRO to prevent the County from unlawfully touching, misusing or perhaps destroying Ms. Cantin’s property. 

Also, we are preparing and will file a soon an action in Mandamus to compel the County to close Jack Cantin’s case and declare him deceased. We will file this suit within the next 14 days absent a change of the County’s position (and heart) on the matter. Happy to discuss if you’d like. 


Dave Scher, 


Hoyer Law Group"

The following day, more legal threats from Scher:

"Ms. Warren, 

Have not heard back from you and the bones were not delivered to Ms. Cantin. 

The bones were lent to the County 37 days ago (see attached). Ms. Canting wants the back. 

We will, with 100% certainty, be filing a Writ of Replevin action and seek a TRO if the bones are not returned immediately. 


Dave Scher 

Hoyer Law Group PLLC"

And later that day:

"Good afternoon, Mr. Scher: 

Thank you for your emails. I hope to be in touch next week regarding the bones located by Dr. Kurin. 

Best, Rana Gerges Warren 

Senior Deputy County Counsel 

Santa Barbara County Counsel"

As I reported earlier, Kim Cantin did eventually sue the County for the return of the bones, using a local Santa Barbara attorney. That case was dismissed last January, around the time that Kurin was forced to resign from UCSB after the university conducted its own investigation of Kurin's handling of this matter.

The involvement of Kurin's own attorney, David Scher, in this matter raises all kinds of ethical issues. That's because Kim Cantin and Danielle Kurin had and have different interests, making Scher's representation of both of them highly questionable. Kim Cantin's interests were to find the remains of her missing son and give him a burial so she could have closure as his mother. Danielle Kurin's interest was to use the publicity from the Cantin case, which was considerable and uncritical of her claims, to convince the Chancellor of UCSB to give her tenure despite a negative departmental recommendation (she succeeded at first, although the tenure was very short lived.)

I have asked Scher to comment on this possible conflict, but he has not responded as of this writing. If he does, I will make additions as appropriate.

Finally, I have mentioned that Kurin tried hard to dissuade Kim Cantin from having the DNA testing done (something that was also, as we now know, not in her personal interests.) A taste of her approach can be found in the email thread linked to here, which I invite readers to peruse. In brief, Kurin tried to convince Kim that one of the leading forensic DNA testing labs in the country was not qualified to do the job.

As I have said above, I believe that there is considerable circumstantial evidence to support the conclusion that Danielle Kurin deliberately defrauded Kim Cantin, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner, UCSB authorities, and the Santa Barbara community when she claimed to have found the remains of Jack Cantin. This belief is bolstered by the incontrovertible evidence that Kurin falsely claimed she had sent her work out to be peer reviewed to a colleague with a doctorate and a professorship at Washington State University. 

That belief on my part is constitutionally protected, and is based on due diligence reporting and detailed documentation. And since Kurin has made herself into what is called a "limited-purpose public figure" by thrusting herself and her claims to have found Jack Cantin's remains into the media arena, my good faith attempts to get at the truth of this matter will doom any attempts on her part to file defamation suits against me or anyone else.

Update Sept 15, 2022: A real forensic anthropologist comments on Kurin's "findings."

Now that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff has publicly released Kurin's draft report on her claims to have found remains of missing teenager Jack Cantin (a final report was apparently never prepared), it is possible to have experts read it and comment. For that purpose, I asked Marin Pilloud, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, to have a look at it. Marin is a bona fide board certified forensic anthropologist, and also a leading advocate for strict professional standards in the field.

Full disclosure, I first met Marin when she was a graduate student at Ohio State University, probably in the early 2000s. We met at the Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk in Turkey, where I had covered the excavations there for Science and later wrote a book about the history and science of the site. We have kept in touch over the years, and I have always admired her scientific seriousness.

Marin sent me some comments, which I have quoted and paraphrased here.

-- On Kurin's qualifications to do forensic work:

"On page 3 she refers to herself as a 'specialist in forensics' – this is a misrepresentation, all of her publications and research have focused on bioarchaeology, not forensic anthropology, and she does not have board certification to substantiate this claim.

-- On Kurin's speculation that the remains of second child missing since the 2018 Montecito debris flow (which took more than 20 lives), Lydia Sutthithepa, were unlikely to be found.

"Page 3 – to suggest that 'the body of Lydia has almost certainly decayed and is unrecoverable' is not accurate.  Bones of 2-year olds preserve all the time, it has more to do with the condition of the soil, and it seems entirely likely that these remains would still be preserved." 

(MB comment: This offhanded comment by Kurin about Lydia, which was widely reported in the California press, could be seen as very insensitive to her immigrant parents, who have not been able to attract much media attention and have largely suffered their loss in silence.)

-- On Kurin's characterization of some of the very fragmentary remains found.

"Page 14 – the actual image of what was recovered here in Figure 11 does not look at all like what she says it is, and there is no way she could actually make such precise designations of bone type.  For example, there is nothing particularly diagnostic about the fourth pedal phalanx that she could say with absolute certainty that fragment was from that bone."

-- On whether the remains found were human, as Kurin argued, rather than animal, as the Sheriff-Coroner's forensic consultant had suggested.

"Page 15 – this whole section on human vs. non-human is disingenuous.  It is accurate that human and non-human bone are distinct and it is possible to tell them apart using histology, but that wasn’t done here – she merely describes differences but does not perform this analysis. Based solely on these photographs, the remains are not distinctly human, the nature of the trabecular bone is more indicative of animal bone. To be absolutely certain, I would need to see the actual remains."

-- On whether the remains found were ancient or recent.

"... there is no scientific basis to claim the remains are 2-3 years old.  Their porcine study didn’t go that long and they do not discuss the results of that study.  It is unclear how this time frame was decided."

(MBIn the "porcine study" Marin refers to, Kurin and her students buried pigs to study how they decomposed.)

-- On various other aspects of Kurin's analysis:

  • "Age-at-death: the age of fusion of the of the pedal phalanx is correct – but, is this one fused or open?  If it is open then the individual is under 19 (the latest a fusion can be seen) that does not indicate they are at least 16. 
  • Stature: the calculations Kurin shows in Table 2 are from metatarsals – she did not recover a metatarsal (foot bone), but rather a pedal phalanx (toe bone) – so, I have no idea how stature was calculated.
  • Skeletal pathology: based on the images in the report, I cannot see evidence of periostitis.
  • Trauma: Based on the images in the report, I cannot see evidence of perimortem trauma or thermal damage."

-- On Kurin's identification of the remains as specifically Jack Cantin:

  • "Final identification: public databases of missing persons were consulted, but that is the last known location or local origin, if those remains were human, they could be any missing person. I do not see how this helps to establish the remains as belonging to a particular individual.
  • Figure 10: I have never seen personal identification described in this way. Identifications are 'positive/scientific' or 'presumptive'.  Positive identifications are typically made with DNA and dental records.  Presumptive IDs are made on circumstantial evidence, like the biological profile, material evidence, etc.  That is all they have here.  Based on the evidence in the report, it is impossible to say with 90% certainty that the bones belong to any particular individual. They provide no indication as to how that number was calculated."

-- Marin's overall evaluation:

"I don’t really know what her intent might have been – but, I do think this report is unethical for several reasons – mainly that she was acting way beyond her expertise and made conclusions that are not supported by scientific evidence, nor do they follow best practices within forensic anthropology."

I think it would be interesting for other forensic anthropologists to look at Kurin's report and provide their own views, either by writing to me or making comments on this blog post. The overall tragedy is that Kurin's clear lack of expertise, her complete conflict of interest in claiming that she had found Jack Cantin, and the intense campaign she conducted both with Jack's mother and with her own students to discredit any other professional opinions about the bones, caused huge damage and pain that could have been avoided--if the university had not failed in its duty to protect students and the larger community.

Update Sept 22, 2022: Santa Barbara Independent features interview with real forensic anthropologist. Extent of Kurin's exploitation and gaslighting further revealed.

In a full length report published yesterday in one of Santa Barbara's leading independent publications, reporter Tyler Hayden features a lengthy interview with Marin Pilloud, whose views on Kurin's "analysis" of the bones she claimed to be Jack Cantin's were part of my own report above.

One of the most disturbing pieces of news in Tyler's story is that Kim Cantin still believes that Kurin got it right and that those fragmentary bones belong to her missing son. I have reason to think that this is true. In light of everything we know, it underscores just how thoroughly Kurin seems to have gaslighted and manipulated Kimi, exploiting her continuing grief for her son and her husband (whose body was found.) One can only hope that in time Kim will realize and accept what was done to her by Kurin and those who have enabled Kurin's abuses over the years.

(I have focused a great deal on Kurin's enablers recently, because I have reported, based on multiple sources and her own actions, that Kurin is severely psychologically disturbed, and that UCSB required her to go through extensive psychotherapy to keep her job after being found culpable in a Title IX proceeding of retaliating against students. That shifts responsibility primarily on to those who have acted neither in Kurin's best interests nor in the best interests of students and others she comes into contact with.)

While some might be tempted to shield Kim from the truth (that may explain why much of the local media has been so slow to cover the DNA findings in the case) in the long run the forensic findings may help spark further searches for Jack's remains, along with those of a two-year old girl who is also still missing. And once Kim does realize the truth, she may have a legal case against Kurin for fraud, and against the university for allowing Kurin to get involved in the Jack Cantin search despite a long history of documented abuses.


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Anonymous said…
Kurin: "The Chumash Indians first settled in Montecito thousands of years ago. However, they settled on the coast, not (one mile) inland." This is embarrassing.
Anonymous said…
As I recall, the lawsuit filed by Kim Cantin against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner accused their various forensic authorities/medical examiner of incompetence and suggested that every case they’d worked on for the Sheriff’s department be re-opened. (These were, of course, smears that came directly from Danielle Kurin in her attempt to gaslight and deflect from her own fraudulent activity.)

It’s pretty clear, looking at her one page ‘fast fact’ report, that Kurin is actually the inept one, here. She seemingly lacks any capacity whatsoever to analyze remains. What’s more, she has been passing herself off as a noted forensic anthropologist for years, aided and abetted by UCSB, which allowed her to perpetrate the lie that she ran a fully-equipped forensic analysis lab on their campus.

As so many have pointed out, this collusion between Kurin and UCSB has done incalculable harm to the Cantin family and to the community. Kurin and UCSB really should be subject to criminal investigation for it. And the county certainly should re-visit any case on which Kurin consulted.

Michael Balter said…
Re previous comment: This same statement, that DNA testing would destroy the sample, was repeated in Kim Cantin’s lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Sheriff and County. Kurin managed to convince both Kim and her attorney that this was true. She gained Kim’s trust and then abused it terribly for her own ends. It’s not clear what Kim’s feelings are about it all now, because so far she has not made any statements to the press. Perhaps she will at some point.
Anonymous said…
‘The renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Danielle Kurin…’ She literally wrote this about herself on one of her now-defunct websites.

There really ought to be a law—call it ‘Jack’s Law’— punishing academics who lie about their credentials. And there needs to be some kind of legal consequence for universities that promote their hires in a fraudulent capacity.

Similar to stolen valor—when a civilian lies about military service—this is ‘stolen expertise.’
Anonymous said…
Dang, I remember being in her class when this was all going on. I wasn’t part of the dig team, but she talked a lot about it during her lectures. When she spoke about finding the bone fragments she always gave the impression that the police refused to take them, and that she was doing a service by keeping the fragments from sitting around in an evidence locker for who knows how long. She always struck me as a bit of a scatterbrained professor, but I had no idea about her past. Always felt a bit bad I wasn’t part of the dig team, now I’m glad I stayed home.
Anonymous said…
To the previous commentor, thank you for speaking out about your experience as a student of Dr. Kurin’s during that time. It has been difficult to get information directly from those who were directly impacted by her behavior, and I imagine this is partly due to fear of retaliation by Dr. Kurin, but also because the account of her manipulation and deceit has had such a difficult time seeing the light of day.

I can’t imagine the sense of betrayal you must have felt, learning you were allowed to be taught by a professor who was a known danger to students. This is entirely the fault of the administration and, most especially, of Chancellor Yang, who knowingly subjected you, without your knowledge, to an unsafe environment.

As long as those in power are not held accountable for this they are perfectly capable of putting yet other students, in other departments, at the same kind of risk.

I and others will continue to fight to get the entire truth before the public. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to share your story with your parents, your classmates, and anyone else who is under the mistaken impression that UCSB guards the safety of its students.

Until the media do their job of alerting the wider community, it sadly falls to you to look out for yourselves while at UCSB.
Anonymous said…
I know you are a scumbag Balter. Name a platform where you don't mod and I will take you to the cleaners
Michael Balter said…
To the previous commenter: So I allowed this comment through so all can see the kind of thing we are dealing with.

Do you think Kurin got it right about those bones, and the DNA analysis was wrong? Interested in your perspective.

Now, let’s see what you have to say.
Anonymous said…
I think you are allaying. Neutral or not
Michael Balter said…
Is that it? Disappointing.
Anonymous said…
It is. You can't mod your own debate. Even your supporters understand that
Michael Balter said…
Fine. So go find a platform (there are so many) and have at it. As for me, a scumbag is someone who exploits a grieving mother and a traumatized community with bogus claims in pursuit of their own self-interest.
Anonymous said…
You are the exploiter. Where is your picture from, Niagara
Michael Balter said…
I’m not even going to take a guess about who this person is, although I certainly could. Sad because the only platform they seem to be able to attack me from is my own blog. If they presented some substantial criticisms of my reporting about Danielle Kurin, I would be very interested and inclined to publish that here. But that does not seem to be this particular critics’s aim, to actually provide any of value. So I may not continue to post their comments unless their quality improves.
Ruth said…
A minor point, but in her fast fact report, Kurin repeatedly mis-spells "phosphorus" as "phosphorous." These words are not synonyms or variant spellings (though this is a common mistake) and only "phosphorus" refers to the element.
Anonymous said…
Kurin’s career might be finished in the US, but apparently not in Peru. She still gets invited to give talks and present in professional meetings.
Look at page 6 of the Program of this “II Webinar Latinoamericano de Antropologia Biologica”
Interestingly enough, this event is sponsored by PUCP and GIBAF, where Tomasto (Castillo’s supporter) is part of.
Harassers and enablers find their ways to meet (and support) each other.
Anonymous said…
I would so love to hear from Dr. Rick Snow, the forensic scientists at Marshall University, and all the other impeccably credentialed experts who got slimed, in the course of this wild adventure, by Dear Kookoo.
Anonymous said…
It’s horrifying to think of someone intentionally misleading and sending a bereaved mother on a year-long wild goose chase this way.

Kurin not only made impossible claims to Kim Cantin about the identity of the remains, she persuaded her to sue and convinced her not to trust in the real science, all the while driving a wedge between Kim and those who were trying to help her.

It’s absolutely ghoulish.

It doesn’t seem enough that this woman simply loses her academic position. Surely, there is something criminal in an intentional ploy to hoax law enforcement and tamper with a missing person case.