Greg Hess

Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess stands in a trailer holding boxes of unidentified skeletal remains belonging to suspected Undocumented Border Crossers, which the county began tracking in 2000.

Medical experts, aid workers and government officials have been coming together to bring comfort and closure to families after harsh desert environments claim the lives of border crossers.

There's a long history of illegal crossings along the nearly 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the United States. But after a dramatic increase in crosser deaths in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pima County stepped in to track and identify remains recovered in the harsh Southern Arizona desert.


Pima County extracts DNA from remains, which helps it to keep track of parts that might be from the same person but recovered at a different time. It also plays a role in identifying UBC remains and repatriating them to their home country and family.

Dental work

Dental work in the front of a person's mouth can be used to help families make a positive ID on remains the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner's office receives.


Pima County uses any available means to identify UBC remains it receives from throughout Southern Arizona, including possessions recovered on or near the bodies. 

Animal marks

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess noted the lines on this person's bone were caused by animals. He said DNA test can help match remains to previously recovered remains that could get separated by animals.


Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess pointed out a distinctive belt buckle that could help a family make a positive ID on remains held in the county's long-term storage.

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

Assistant Editor

Assistant Editor Jorge Encinas graduated from the University of Arizona with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism. He returned to the Green Valley News after two years as the editor of the Capital Journal in Pierre, South Dakota.

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