by Thomas Noguchi (with Joseph DiMona)

If you have an appetite for shocking celebrity deaths and graphic investigative details, you’ll like Thomas Noguchi’s memoir of his 21-year career at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office.

His book is star-studded with the deaths of actors Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe, William Holden and John Belushi; singer Janis Joplin; and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

Some of his anecdotes clarify, such as how Wood’s death most probably was an accidental drowning. Others add more questions, such as his theorizing that there may have been two shooters in the 1968 Kennedy assassination. And still other stories add little more to what is already public, as in the deaths of Joplin and Belushi.

Noguchi throws in a little history about coroners. (They were first required to be physicians in the United States in 1912 in Massachusetts; California didn’t make medical training a requirement for the office until 1956.) He writes a little of changing technology and the growing role of coroners in solving crimes. He even has a chapter on some of his most baffling, low-profile cases, including an uncle’s “perfect crime” that almost succeeded.

A substantial part of this memoir, however, is about Noguchi’s tangles with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, first in 1969, and finally — terminally — in November 1982.  On the eve of his installation as president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, the supervisors demoted him to a physician specialist. Over the years, accusations against him included speaking too freely with the media, being too demanding about appropriations for his department, mismanaging the department and moonlighting.

Noguchi is no journalist and certainly not objective. He never descends into gore, but there is a pulp fan magazine quality to this book.

In the capital of the entertainment business, the county coroner certainly isn’t going to escape the limelight, criticism or prurient curiosity.

About the Author: Thomas Noguchi (1927 – )

Thomas T. Noguchi served as Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner (CME) for Los Angeles County from 1967 to 1982.

He is a graduate for Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School and interned at The University of Tokyo School of Medicine Hospital. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s. He served a second internship at Orange County General Hospital and a series of residencies at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Barlow Sanatorium in Los Angeles.  He became a deputy coroner for Los Angeles County in 1961.

He had a flamboyant career as CME and came under fire for speaking too freely to the news media. He was demoted from coroner to physician specialist in 1982 due to allegations of mismanagement of the department and moonlighting. He was later appointed Chief of Pathology at the University of Southern California and then as Administrative Pathologist for Anatomic Pathology services at the USC Medical Center.

He was appointed a professor by the both USC and the University of California Los Angeles and is a past president of the American National Association of Medical Examiners. In addition to this memoir, he has written Coroner at Large (1985), about coroners and famous deaths in history; and two novels with Arthur Lyons, Unnatural Causes (1988) and Physical Evidence (1990).


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