Bangkok museum specializes in macabre

BANGKOK, Thailand -- It's a rare museum where visitors are welcomed by the founder's skeleton.

But the father of Bangkok's Forensic Museum donated his body to his life's cause, and his bones now rest at the entrance for medical students and ordinary onlookers to examine.

This macabre monument to death and its causes attracts more visitors -- often 100-plus a day -- than any art gallery and many other museums in Thailand's capital. They range from those with a morbid curiosity to serious students of medicine and forensic science.

Visitors can study hemorrhaged brains, severed arms with tattoos and lungs with stab wounds. One case holds skulls punctured by bullet holes, shot at from different angles by forensic scientists in an experiment to study how bullets ricochet inside a human head. Results helped them analyze evidence in murder cases.

By far the most popular display is the mummified body of Si Ouey, a notorious cannibal and serial killer of boys and girls in the late 1950s.

"Don't commit a crime, otherwise you will end up like this," quipped Dr. Somboon Thamtakerngkit, the museum curator and chief of forensic pathology at Siriraj Hospital, where the museum is located.

Many of the displays teach medical students and visitors about the body and what can go wrong with it. They also serve as graphic warnings.

"We call the dead bodies 'Big Teacher.' We respect the bodies as if they were our teachers or professors. Without them we wouldn't be able to learn," Somboon said, adding that many Thais have donated their bodies to forensic science.

One set of blackened lungs may give pause to smokers. An aorta with calcium deposits shows how heart attacks result from clogged arteries. One heart is twice the normal size from hypertension.

One visitor, Pearl Tay, stood near a photo of a woman who was choked to death and notes that dropping by the museum after lunch might not be the best idea.

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