An international team of forensic scientists Friday identified a skeleton exhumed near Sao Paulo as the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz "Angel of Death" held responsible for the deaths of up to 400,000 mostly Jewish concentration camp prisoners.
The finding and other evidence are regarded here as overwhelming proof that Mengele--the death-camp doctor who was the world's most hunted man--had hidden in Brazil for years and died here in 1979.
"It is our opinion that this skeleton, from a scientific point of view, is Josef Mengele's," concluded a statement by Brazilian specialists who examined the bones.
U.S. Scientists Agree
An almost identical statement by six American scientists who participated in the study agreed: "It is further our opinion that this skeleton is that of Josef Mengele within a reasonable scientific certainty."
Both the American and Brazilian scientists said they will issue detailed reports later.
Although the scientists lacked X-rays of Mengele to match with the bones, which would be considered ironclad proof of the identification, they said their evidence is overwhelming.
They said the identification of the skeleton was based on numerous ways that the bones match photographs of Mengele and other information about him.
One of the most impressive comparisons, according to American scientists, was made by using video cameras to superimpose images of the skull and photos of Mengele. The technique was employed by Richard Helmer, a pathologist from the University of Kiel in West Germany. It was a perfect fit, by all accounts.
"Everything fit within the outlines of the photo," said Ellis Kerley, an anthropologist from the University of Maryland, one of three Americans sent here as consultants by the U.S. Justice Department. Four more American experts, including three of the scientists who signed the statement issued Friday, were sent by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, which has hunted Mengele for years.
When Brazilian police announced June 6 that they thought they had found Mengele's bones in a grave at Embu, 20 miles from Sao Paulo, famed Nazi-hunter Wiesenthal expressed skepticism. But none of the scientists sent by the Wiesenthal Center to examine the skeleton voiced any skepticism Friday.
"I feel it is Mengele," said Dr. Leslie Lukash, chief medical examiner for Nassau County, N.Y. Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist from Oklahoma, nodded in agreement.
"I go home fully convinced that it is Josef Mengele," said Dr. John Fitzpatrick, acting chief of radiology at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. "I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Josef Mengele is the individual whom we have identified."
Fitzpatrick's conviction appeared to be unanimous among the scientists in the Mengele examination. "They all agree with that opinion," said Dr. Ali Hameli, chief medical examiner for the state of Delaware and one of the Justice Department consultants.
Meese Accepts Conclusion
In Washington, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said Friday that the Justice Department accepts the conclusion that the body is that of Mengele. "Representatives of the United States government took part in the examination of the remains and concur in the investigation," Meese said.
"It is my sincere hope that this will be the final chapter in a tragic and horrible part of world history. We should never forget the horrible crimes for which this individual and others like him were responsible. We should resolve that the world will never again permit such atrocities to be repeated."
While the U.S. Marshals Service, which did field work for U.S. investigators, is ending its role in the case, Meese said, the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations "will continue its investigation as to whether or not Josef Mengele was ever in United States custody or had any relationship with U.S. officials."
West German scientists who participated in the examination did not meet with the press Friday. But Horst Gemmer, who has directed German police efforts to find Mengele, said he endorsed the Brazilian conclusions from the study.
"It looks good," said Gemmer, who was in Sao Paulo observing the Mengele investigation.
Also in Sao Paulo was Menachem Russek, an Israeli police official who specializes in tracing Nazi war criminals.
He had insisted in Israel, before departing for Brazil, that "Mengele lives and breathes." In a brief conversation with reporters here Friday, Russek stopped short of declaring an end to the long search for Mengele, but he said, "I trust the work of the international experts."
Russek spoke at the end of a tumultuous press conference in the 20th-floor cafeteria of the Sao Paulo federal police headquarters. Brazilian forensic scientists had explained how the examination was conducted by anthropologists, pathologists, radiologists and odontologists.
Shows Brown Skull
At one point, a Brazilian scientist opened a gray box and pulled out the brown skull he said was Mengele's.
Examination of the skull showed that the dead man had a wide gap between his upper front teeth before their removal--similar to a gap that was shown clearly in a 1938 SS photo of a smiling Mengele. Other dental information from the skull matches an SS dental chart for Mengele.
Doctors said they found traces of a probable fracture in the skeleton's hip that seemed to coincide with information that Mengele was injured in a motorcycle accident in World War II.
A bone analysis to determine age resulted in a range of 64 to 74 years old at the time of death. Mengele, born in 1911, would have been nearly 68 at the time the body was buried.
Height calculations from the skeleton were within "a couple of centimeters" of Mengele's height of 5 feet 8 1/2 inches.
Dr. Wilmes Roberto Teixeira, chief of forensic medicine at the Sao Paulo morgue, said that in no comparison did the data fail to match.
"It is almost impossible, from a medical point of view, that another person would have all those characteristics," Teixeira said. "Josef Mengele is a dark page in the history of medicine."
Mengele, the camp physician at Auschwitz, is reputed to have met arriving shipments of prisoners and to have indicated with a wave of his gloved hand which were to die immediately and which were to live--for a while, at least. Some of those who were not quickly executed were forced to take part in Mengele's gruesome medical experiments.
Brazilian police investigators were of the same opinion even before the results of the scientific investigation were in.
They have interviewed numerous witnesses in Sao Paulo state who said they had known a mysterious foreigner by the name of "Pedro" or "Peter." They recognized Pedro in photos of Mengele.
Hungarian-born Gitta Stammer told police that "Peter" or "Pedro" was Mengele and that he lived with her family in three different rural houses north of Sao Paulo between 1961 and 1975. Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert, an Austrian-born couple, said they helped Mengele hide his identity while he lived in a Sao Paulo suburb from 1975 to 1979.
Early this month, after police received a tip from West German police that the Bosserts had information on Mengele, they told police where he was buried: in grave 321 at the cemetery in Embu.
The body was buried under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard, a friend of Mengele's who died in Austria in 1977, according to Austrian authorities.
Mengele drowned while swimming at a beach near Sao Paulo in February, 1979, the Bosserts said. Mengele's son Rolf said last week in West Germany that he believes that the body buried at Embu was that of his father.
Police have said the Bosserts and Stammer may be prosecuted for harboring an illegal alien. But Wolfram Bossert said in an interview that he does not regret sheltering Mengele.