boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Leslie Lukash, medical examiner in Mengele case

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Dr. Leslie Lukash, a medical examiner who helped identify the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele and studied the deaths of people who disappeared during Argentina's Dirty War, has died at age 86, his son said yesterday.

Dr. Lukash, who spent 46 years as chief medical examiner for Nassau County, also was a founder and former president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. He performed an estimated 5,000 autopsies and supervised 40,000 more before he retired in 2000.

An avid cigar smoker who enjoyed three Cubans a day for many years, Dr. Lukash died of lymphoma at a hospital Aug. 16, said his son, Frederick.

He kept a hidden stash of 10,000 preembargo cigars for many years before the supply ran out in the late 1980s, his son said.

"He was an extremely apolitical political person," Frederick Lukash said. "He knew how to maintain the correct stance for a medical examiner, independent of politics."

Dr. Lukash was part of a team of forensic scientists sent to Argentina in 1984 to examine the bodies of thousands of people, known as "the disappeared," who had been considered missing during that country's reign of terror until they were exhumed from mass graves.

The following year, he was contacted by Simon Wiesenthal, who asked him to travel to Brazil and help identify the remains of Mengele, dubbed the Angel of Death for his gruesome medical experiments on Auschwitz prisoners.

Dr. Lukash also was believed to have been one of the inspirations for the "Quincy" character, played by Jack Klugman on the popular television series about a medical examiner, his son said.

"He was way ahead of his time when it came to autopsies," said attorney Stephen Scaring, former homicide chief in Nassau County's district attorney's office. "He showed no expression; it was always very clinical, and it was all business."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES