Q & A with the top cops of The Assassination of King Tut

King Tut

Greg Cooper
Crime analysis expert, former FBI agent and chief of police, Provo, Utah

Mike King
Crime analysis expert, former lieutenant, Utah Attorney General's office

Q: What inspired you to look into the death of Tutankhamun?

A: (Mike King) - What we really wanted to do was to bring different disciplines to an area that is normally the preserve of Egyptologists. We really wanted to see if the principles that we've spent years honing - criminal profiling, behavioral analysis, risk continuums, victimology - could be applied to an ancient murder mystery. Obviously, when you're dealing with a case like this you're looking at the same evidence other people have, but as criminal detectives, we used very different techniques to investigate the mystery of Tut's death. We were convinced we could uncover something new or different, and I believe we've been proved right.

(Greg Cooper) - A lot of my work both today and previously with the FBI involves looking at unsolved homicides, sometimes 10, 20, 50 years old. With the advances in criminology and particularly with forensic analysis, those in law enforcement and science have become more and more interested in even older unsolved mysteries - Jack the Ripper, for example. The many questions surrounding King Tut's death made this case a natural candidate for investigation.

Q: Where did you begin?

A: (Cooper) - We approached this as we would any death investigation. Throughout, we systematically looked at the possibility of natural causes, suicide, accidental death, and of course, murder. To begin to understand who our victim was, we both did a lot of initial research, reading everything available on Tutankhamun - autopsy reports, first-hand accounts of the people who discovered the tomb, historical background. (King) - We had access to an amazing wealth of testimony from experts around the world. And as soon as we had laid the groundwork for our investigation, we went to Egypt ourselves to see the evidence first-hand.

Q: How important was it for you to go to Egypt?

A: (King) - The time we spent in Egypt was absolutely critical - that's our crime scene. We had to go there to see and get a feel for the world Tutankhamun lived in. And it's an amazing place; by going there you do then get the sense of the scale of all this, and I don't just mean architecturally. This is a pharaoh we're talking about, this is like assassinating a president. This was a country dominated by tradition - you can see it everywhere you look in the monuments, the statues, the temples. And suddenly, someone rocks that carefully crafted status quo, and the history books (meaning the wall carvings and paintings) make no mention of it. Well, that's a sign of a cover up if I've ever seen one!

Q: How did you obtain such special access to the tombs of not only King Tut, but his chief advisors as well?

A: (Cooper) - To be honest, I think we enjoyed such fantastic access because we were doing this investigation in conjunction with the Discovery Channel. We were able to get into the actual burial chamber of Tut's tomb, which even many Egyptologists haven't been allowed to enter. You know, it's amazing -- a lot of people who visit that tomb don't realize that Tut's body is still lying in his sarcophagus. We had an Egyptologist with us at all times (Dr. Joann Fletcher or Dr. Zahi Hawass) who was able to answer all the questions that we had from a historical perspective

Q: What evidence do you think helped most in your investigation?

A: (Cooper) - Visiting the various tombs in the Valley of the Kings and in Amarna probably gave us the most information about our victim, and about potential murder suspects. The murals painted on the walls of those tombs are the closest thing to living witness accounts - they depict the real lives of people, telling us what was important to them, and where they felt their place in the world was. We also had the fortune of meeting up with the right people. I think for both of us, one of the most dramatic moments came when we went to Amarna, where Tut was born. It was important for us to go to Amarna to begin piecing together our victimology, but one night as we were sitting in our hotel and were casually talking to the area's director of antiquities, he let slip that he believed there was a tomb that showed an assassination attempt on Tut's father Akhenaten. He was extremely nervous about showing it to us, but eventually agreed. His interpretation of the tomb scenes is quite revolutionary; he believes they show torturing of would-be assassins of Tut's father. But what was most interesting for us was that they also showed Ay. He was depicted everywhere on the tomb walls, and knowing that past behaviour is indicative of future behaviour, Ay would become one of our main suspects.

(King) - We were also very excited to be given access to the actual X-rays that were taken in the 1960s of Tutankhamun. It was the X-ray of the skull that first sparked rumors of possible homicide when the professor in charge of the tests (Professor R.G. Harrison of Liverpool University) claimed after examining them that an area of density at the base of the skull meant Tut could have died from a blow to the head. Most people have only ever had access to positive prints -- photos -- of the X-rays. Anyone who deals with radiographs knows how much more can be seen if you actually can look at the X-rays themselves, so this was a fantastic opportunity for us. We had quite a collection of medical experts come down to the Salt Lake City Medical Examiners Office to look at the X-rays, and they found some things I don't believe had been seen or noticed before. And for us, the X-rays were a major turning point in the investigation, and we learned some things that radically altered our perception of Tut and will change the public's too.

Q: So, once you arrived in Egypt, what factors surrounding Tutankhamun's death immediately struck you as suspicious?

A: (King) - Definitely the way he was buried. In Tut's case, there was clear evidence of a hasty burial -- a badly painted tomb, numerous artifacts that didn't belong to him, a mismatching sarcophagus lid. This hasty burial of such an important figure suggested to us disrespect, which is uncharacteristically odd for a pharaoh. Also, his age. Eighteen-year-olds don't just die, and even in ancient times, a protected and sheltered pharaoh was expected to enjoy a long life. He had the best of care, protection and security.

Q: How did your investigative team help?

A: (Cooper) - We were able to obtain information from some of the top experts in their chosen field, including some people not normally associated with Egyptology, which was important to us. We wanted to bring a different eye to this, we wanted to really try to get inside the heads of these people. So we called on, for example, Dr. Harold Bursztajn, one of the world's leading forensic psychiatrists from Harvard Medical School, who corroborated our behavioral analysis. Additionally, because of previous speculation that Tut might have died from a blow to the back of the head, we obviously wanted to investigate this possibility further. The opportunity to utilize the expertise of a forensic pathologist, a medical examiner, was fantastic and something which we don't think has ever been done before.

(King) - In another example, Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School also helped out. Again, a totally different discipline. As a leading defense attorney, it was interesting to see if he agreed that we had enough to go to a grand jury with. We really wanted to bring the framework of a modern homicide investigation into this as much as possible.

Q: But, unlike a modern homicide investigation, the evidence is over 3,000 years old and is quite scant now. How did you overcome this?

A: (King) - Actually, scant evidence is a problem you face in modern homicides, too. In fact, in this case we were quite lucky - at least there's still a body and autopsies have been performed on it. Sometimes today you don't even have a body. (Cooper) - There's actually quite a lot more evidence than you would expect, if you know what to look for and how to interpret it in the context of an investigation.

Q: Who were your prime suspects?

A: (King) - After a closer look at the victimology in Tut's case, we determined that there was a low level of risk for someone at his young age and as protected as he was. Because of this low level of risk, we had to look at the circle of contact with the pharaoh, which was quite limited. By systematically investigating those who were the closest to Tut, it led us to four main suspects, including even his young wife, Ankhesenamun. We also considered Horemheb, the commander-in-chief of the army; Maya, Tut's chief finance minister, and Ay, the prime minister and chief advisor to Tut.

(Cooper) - We did a profile of each suspect, investigating the factors leading up to, during and after Tut's death. We also considered motive, opportunity and means for each of our suspects.

Q: Why did you reconstruct Tutankhamun's face? What did you hope to accomplish?

A: (King) - Facial reconstruction is something that is often done in cases involving a decomposed victim -- usually it's to put a face to a missing person, but in this case we really wanted to be able to personalize King Tut. We all know the famous death mask, we all know the story of (Howard) Carter's discovery of the tomb, but it was important for us to know -- Who was King Tut, what was his real story, and why did someone want him dead? Throughout our entire investigation, our goal was to get to the real Tutankhamun, and I think this exercise helped us do that.

Q: What surprised you most about your investigation?

A: (King) - We weren't necessarily surprised, but we were certainly left with a reconfirmation that human nature ... human crimes ... haven't changed at all in over 3,000 years. The things that motivate human behavior - power, dominion, control - are the same now as they were in Tut's day.

Compliments of the Discovery Channel