ONE OF THE MOST FASCINATING PIECES discovered in the tomb of King Tut was an armless mannequin. Presumably, it was used for draping his clothes. Tut’s face was painted on the mannequin, and it sported a crown. The face is a boy’s, and it seems gentle and kind and knowing.
As I do on many mornings, I was walking Donald Trump’s golf paradise in West Palm, my favorite course anywhere. But my mind was on Tut. What an incredible mystery this was turning out to be. I was becoming nearly as obsessed as Howard Carter must have been.
With all due respect, Dr. Cross and Lindsay Boxer, I’ll return to your crime scenes after I’ve finished with Tut. I’m still gathering evidence.
This was a completely different writing process for me, primarily because of all the research involved. I had been fortunate to hook up with Marty Dugard, a talented and generous writer and researcher who had already traveled to London, then to the Valley of the Kings to help me make the story as authentic as possible and, more important, to gather details that might solve the murder mystery.
The story had so much potential—much more than most detective novels. After all it was about kings and queens, buried treasure, an explorer who reminded me of a pissed-off Indiana Jones, and the murder of a teenage boy and probably his sweetheart.
As soon as I got back to the office, I found a thick folder assembled by my indefatigable assistant, Mary Jordan. The evidence that this was a murder story was starting to mount.
A March 8, 2005, press release had announced the results of a full-body CT scan of Tut’s mummy by Egyptian authorities. This was the study that prompted Zahi Hawass—secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities—to announce that Tut had died from an infection resulting from a broken leg. The particular infection, in his opinion, was probably caused by gangrene.
It seemed like a slam dunk for the secretary-general, until I read a little further: “The broken left femur shows no signs of calcification or hematoma,” both of which would have begun developing immediately after the accident.
In fact, part of the expert team reviewing the results of the CT scan refused to agree that the broken leg was the cause of death. They believed the leg was accidentally broken after the tomb was discovered, when someone had tried to move the body. But in a 2007 interview, Hawass again stated that Tut had died from a broken leg.
The next bit of evidence I discovered was even more curious: X-rays had previously shown a thickening of the skull consistent with a calcified membrane, which can occur when a blood clot forms around an area of high trauma. This is known as a chronic subdural hematoma. However, the CT scan showed no evidence of a blow to the head. Maybe the Egyptian investigating committee was spending too much time trying to justify the broken-leg theory and not enough on the wound at the base of Tut’s skull.
The earlier X-rays were the product of R. G. Harrison, a British anatomist who had done extensive work on Tut back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Not only had Harrison x-rayed the skeleton, but he had taken the rather extreme measure of separating the skull from the other bones and x-raying it individually. Based on his findings, Harrison suspected foul play.
This made sense to me. A subdural hematoma could develop if somebody whacked you very hard on the skull and you survived the blow, only to die some weeks later. In the meantime, the bruise from the blow would become a blood clot, and that blood clot—the chronic subdural hematoma—would calcify.
All of which made me wonder why anyone would say that Tut had died from a leg fracture.
A contrarian position seemed more likely, and that got me excited. Based on the results of the 2005 report, combined with the 1969 and 1978 X-rays, it appeared that Tut’s leg had not been broken during his lifetime, and that he had suffered a blunt force trauma to the back of the skull.
So if Tut had been murdered, possibly clubbed to death, who did it?