Teeth & Snake Oil Salesman

I recently watched an episode on TV documentary series, Forensic Files. It was about this man by the name Madison T. Rutherford. He was a businessman from a small town in Connecticut, the kind of guy who can sell you snake oil. Madison presented himself to a family friend, an old woman by the name Brigitte, as this successful investment manager. He promised to make her money multiply like bunnies. Brigitte was a little naïve (or trusting – sometimes the line is very thin) and turned over her life’s savings to Mr. Rutherford to do his magic. He used the funds in dubious businesses that had the same success rate as quail or rabbit farming in Kenya. All the while, he sent fake statements to Ms. Brigitte that indicated that her money was growing.

The money ran out and Mr. Snake Oil Salesman got desperate. He needed to come up with a permanent solution. He planned a business trip to Mexico. A few days later, Mexican authorities found his car by some random highway. It was on fire. All that remained of Madison was a watch, which had his name inscribed on it, a medical alert chain bearing his name, and a few teeth. Everything else had been reduced to a heap of ash in a metal shell that was his late vehicle. The Mexican police were kind enough to send the watch and the medical alert to his wife. Perhaps she would find comfort and closure in these items. After a while, the grieving widow went to collect on Mr. Rutherford’s life insurance. He had purchased the cover less than six months earlier.

Insurance companies are quick to receive but slow to dish, especially if you die in an inferno in Mexico, six months after taking out a seven–million-dollar life insurance. The insurance company hired one of those investigators who gnaws on a case like a dog gnaws a bone. The detective traveled to Mexico and retrieved from the Mexican authorities what remained of Mr. Rutherford – a few teeth.

As it turned out, forensics showed that the teeth belonged to a 50-something year old Native American male. Rutherford was a 34-year old white male. He had stolen a body from some cemetery, not far from where the burning car was found. He staged the death, hoping that the fire would make it hard to identify the body one way of another. He could never have counted on a cremated man’s teeth to chew holes on his perfect crime. He and his wife were arrested two years later…

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the teeth that dental clinics extract every day? Me neither. When you have one pulled out, it is probably because it is rotting away and has caused you sleepless nights. The last thing on your mind is what the dentist will do with it once it is pulled out.

Some dental practices will give it back to you, perhaps so that you can give it a decent burial or ensure it does not fall into wrong hands. Like the daktari-kutoka-pemba variety.

Other dental offices will keep the tooth to be incinerated alongside other biomedical waste. That is the case with my local dentistry. I asked them during a recent visit. Apparently, there are also scrap metal refiners who extract and repurpose metal fillings or crowns, especially if metal is precious, e.g., gold, silver, platinum and palladium. But lest anyone should get inspired and plot to kidnap Wariahs in Eastliegh who spot glittering crowns, this is not a lucrative industry. It would take tons of pure gold crowns, and therefore tons of Wariahs, to get any meaningful earnings.

Finally, your tooth can end up in a dental school to be used for educational purposes or in a lab to be used in research. Some of that research feeds into disciplines such as forensic sciences. And that’s how Snake Oils Salesmen who think they can die and live at the same time get caught.

P.S.: Little Act of Kindness – please chew a gum on your way to the dentist. A person who spends their day looking down on epiglottises ought to be spared the added stress of garlic breath…unless, of course, that person is one of those crazed Mganga-tutoka-Pemba medicine men who cut epiglottises in the name of wading off evil.

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