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Barbara Butcher






Barbara Butcher was early in her recovery from alcoholism when she found an unexpected lifeline: a job at the Medical Examiner’s Office in New York City. The second woman ever hired for the role of Death Investigator in Manhattan, she was the first to last more than three months. The work was gritty, demanding, morbid, and sometimes dangerous—and she loved it. WHAT THE DEAD KNOW: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator (Simon & Schuster; On sale: June 20, 2023) is the page-turning memoir of Barbara Butcher’s more than twenty-year career.


Butcher (yes, that is her real name, and she has heard all the jokes) spent day in and day out investigating double homicides, gruesome suicides, and most heartbreaking of all, underage rape victims who had also been murdered. In WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, she writes with the kind of New York attitude and bravado you might expect from decades in the field, investigating more than 5,500 death scenes, 680 of which were homicides. In the opening chapter, she describes how just from sheer luck of having her arm in cast, she avoided a boobytrapped suicide. Later in her career, she describes working the nation’s largest mass murder, the attack on 9/11, where she and her colleagues initially relied on family members’ descriptions to help distinguish among the 21,900 body parts of the victims.


This is the fascinating and stunning real-life story of a woman who, in dealing with death every day, learned surprising lessons about life—and how some of those lessons saved her from becoming a statistic herself. Fans of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, and true crime won’t be able to put this one down.


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“An unprecedented gutsy view of the Rue Morgue in New York City, told by one of its greatest characters. Barbara Butcher stares life and death in the face and doesn’t avert her gaze. She’s the real deal. Her stories and insights are breathtakingly honest, compassionate, and raw. What the Dead Know is impossible to put down. A must read, it's destined to be a classic.”

Crime Writer

Within the first hour or so of WHAT THE DEAD KNOW the author and narrator Barbara Butcher makes clear that there’s no escaping the parallels between her real life and the crime dramas that have fascinated audiences for generations. Her biography feels lifted from a Her biography feels lifted from a noir film. More >
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New York Times 
Review / July 28, 2023

“Once you know the smell of death, you can pick it out in a flower shop. Strangely sweet with a bitter undertone, like a strawberry milkshake made with garlic.” So writes Barbara Butcher in her blunt-spoken and occasionally lyrical memoir of her career as a medicolegal death investigator with NYC’s OCME. Her remarkably candid and sensitive memoir reveals how she learned to navigate a heart-wrenching line of work and to overcome her own demons. More >

Tom Nolan
Wall Street Journal

In The Press



Barbara Butcher, MPH, was Chief of Staff and Director of the Forensic Sciences Training Program at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner. She was responsible for overall agency management, strategy, and inter-agency relations. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.


Barbara is regarded as a renowned expert in medicolegal death investigation, having spent 23 years at the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), consulted on international mass fatalities, been a featured speaker at numerous national conferences, a published author, and taught at multiple medical institutions.


Her prior roles at OCME included Medicolegal Investigator, Deputy Director of Investigations, and Director of Forensic Investigations, where her responsibilities included death investigations, disaster planning, victim identification, evidence, and missing persons. She oversaw the remains recovery effort at the World Trade Center site after 9/11 and helped manage the response to the crash of Flight 587, and investigated the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. As a medicolegal death investigator at OCME, she investigated more than 5500 death scenes and 680 homicides.


Barbara also created the federally-funded Forensic Sciences Training Program at OCME and served as its Director.  It was established as a national center to train practitioners, enforce standards, and promote best practices in the death investigation field.  READ MORE >


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