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DR Marie Cassidy has been sharing the stories of the dead for four decades. She gave voice to those who were no longer able to speak, victims of stabbing, bullet wounds and blunt trauma, sifting through the debris of house fires, or investigating the remains of mass graves freshly exhumed.
In the mid-1980s, Cassidy, 65, started her career in Glasgow as a consultant forensic pathologist, an era when much too many of those who ended up on a slab did so as a result of the gang wars raging in parts of the city.
She later served as a deputy state pathologist in Dublin, then as the first woman to act as a state pathologist, and found herself in the public eye (“In Ireland, the obsession with death is incredible,” she says).
It’s been two years since the last time Cassidy hung up her scalpel, in her words, and her recently released Beyond The Tape memoir offers a fascinating insight into her former life.
As we sit down (Cassidy at her home near London, me in Scotland) to reflect upon her impressive career, the same unsparing candor runs through our interview. Here, she shares tales of life on the front lines of death – and dissipates some myths.
A road towards pathology
Cassidy grew up in the village of Craigneuk and later Wishaw in Lanarkshire, the middle of three daughters. Her late father was a coalman and she and her younger sister helped him raise the “tick money” owed by customers from the time she was six or seven.
Owing to the hardening of the arteries and multiple heart attacks, Cassidy wanted to become a doctor after seeing her father spend long periods of time in the hospital. When he died of a stroke, she was 15. A few weeks later, Cassidy graduated from high school at Glasgow University to study medicine.
Meanwhile, the breadwinner became her mother. “When my father got sick and then died, she had to take over the coal business and drive the truck out,” Cassidy says. Not that she was going to bring the coal sacks. That’s where she would have drawn the line.
“She had to be the guy in the family all of a sudden, because she was the housewife who sat there and painted her nails before we got home from school. Our lives were still a little different, but it was pretty usual and happy, as far as we were concerned.
Encountering her true calling
In her sophomore year at university, Cassidy dissected her first cadaver in an anatomy class. As her research advanced, she suspected that her power could be dealing with the deceased rather than the living.
She remembers an internship in which she sutured glass-shattered faces, packed bleeding noses, applied plaster casts to fractured limbs, injected ears, and removed eyes from foreign bodies. The last conviction she wanted was a stint in the ER: Cassidy started her training as a pathologist in 1979.
Star outlander Graham McTavish on an adventure in the Hebrides.
“If it doesn’t kill you, I don’t know anything about it,” she says as we speak. “People come up to me and say, ‘I have this pain in the back of my leg …’ and I respond: ‘Your leg is still connected to you, you’re walking and talking, you’re not dead.'”
Death, Murder and the City of No Mean
In 1985, Cassidy began her training as a forensic pathologist. Instead of following the widely regarded field of histopathology, which diagnoses and studies diseases in tissues and organs, she recalls the shock of her mentor when she told him this was her plan.
“He was stunned,”He was stunned.”In the mid-1980s, forensic pathology had a bad reputation, to say the least: Forensic pathologists were considered failed histopathologists who dealt with the deaths of the dregs of society.”
The professor, however, helped them. There were three forensic pathologists in Glasgow at the time. They operated independently from the hospitals in the Saltmarket city morgue. It turned out there was a vacancy there, and it was offered to Cassidy.
Dr. Marie Cassidy, the forensic pathologist. Photo by Paul Stuart
She researched unnatural killings and murders over the next 13 years, from gang shootings and stabbings to overdose deaths, road crashes and suicides, and conducted more than 5,000 autopsies.
Her share of murder victims was dealt with by Cassidy – mainly stabbings. The guns ranged from a seemingly harmless pencil to decorative samurai sc sc