Two modern-day sleuths from Utah ventured into the depths of ancient Egypt late last year digging for clues in a 3,300-year-old mystery.
Using forensic science, behavioral psychology and hands-on detective work, criminal profiling experts Greg Cooper and Mike King believe they have unraveled secrets shrouding the death of one of history's most famous rulers, King Tutankhamen.
Tut was about 18 years old when he died. Was it an accident, natural causes, suicide or did someone kill him?
"We approached this as we would any death investigation, " said Cooper, former Provo police chief and FBI profiler.
Cooper and King, director of the Ogden Police Department's crime analysis unit, say the clues led to murder, and they believe they know who did it. So sure are the pair that they say they could make a case before a grand jury.
The two detectives' months-long investigation will be the subject of a Discovery Channel special "The Assassination of King Tut," scheduled to air Oct. 6.
But a prominent Egyptologist calls this latest attempt to determine how Tut died "pure Agatha Christie."
Although the young pharaoh's death was unusual, there is simply no way to determine with any certainty how he died, said Wilfred Griggs, a professor of ancient studies at Brigham Young University, adding he expects to find the program entertaining nonetheless.
Murder in this case can neither be proved nor disproved, he said. But "murder is much more exciting than disease."
Emmy-winning filmmaker Anthony Geffen, founder of London-based Atlantic Productions, made the documentary. Atlantic sought the help of the Utah investigators after hearing Cooper make a presentation on profiling in London.
Cooper and King traveled across the Egyptian desert on camels, jeeps and by hot-air balloon. They stopped to look at centuries-old skulls and bones in pursuit of the boy king's killer. They floated the Nile River on a boat.
"We went everywhere that Tut would have traveled," King said.
Two top Egyptologists accompanied them as witnesses and to provide insight into places such as the Valley of the Kings near the ancient city of Thebes, where Tutankhamen is entombed.
Theories about how he died have abounded since British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the burial site in 1922. The unfinished tomb was small, suggesting it wasn't intended for royalty, and hastily decorated. There are no markings on the sarcophagus to indicate cause of death. X-rays taken in 1968 revealed what appeared to be a small sliver of bone in the upper cranial cavity, leading to speculation Tut suffered a blow to the back of his head.
Archaeologists, anthropologists and Egyptologists have drawn discordant conclusions as to whether it was an accident, such as a fall from a chariot, or a deliberate blow indicating murder. Or whether he died from something else altogether.
Cooper and King say they bring a new perspective. "For the first time, criminology has been applied to the review and analysis of this case," Cooper said.
The investigators took the original X-rays to a medical examiner, a radiologist and a neurologist in Salt Lake City. The doctors spotted fractures around Tut's eye sockets, which could have been caused when his head hit the ground after a backward fall and his brain snapped forward. They also found the vertebrae in his neck were fused. The condition known as Klippel-Feil syndrome keeps people from turning their heads without moving their torsos and makes them vulnerable to injury from a fall or a push.
"For lack of a better description, his head was similar to a bowling ball situated atop a pool cue," King said.
Relying on books, documentaries, photographs, autopsy reports, hieroglyphics and interviews with scholars, the investigators built a case around who could have taken advantage of Tut's apparent infirmities. They narrowed the list of suspects to four members of the boy king's inner circle: Ankhesenamen, his wife; Maya, his chief treasurer; Horemheb, his military commander; and Ay, his prime minister.
The detectives did a criminal profile on each suspect, eventually zeroing in on Ay, a nonroyal who, Cooper says, had means, motive and opportunity to kill the pharaoh. An adviser to Tut who had gained his trust, the prime minister may have coveted the throne to which he ascended upon Tut's death.
"We believe Tut died unexpectedly, but not just died unexpectedly, but was hurriedly put in the ground," King said. "In our opinion, he was just basically disposed of. He was dumped into a tomb, and the country tried to forget him."
King and Cooper, who co-authored a book titled "Analyzing Criminal Behavior," say the investigation confirmed their belief that the criminal mind hasn't changed in more than three millennia.
"The effort to conceal and to conspire, to look from psychopathic personality of somebody else and say, 'They've got that. I want that.' Criminals today would react and respond in the same way that they did 3,500 years ago," King says in a two-minute clip of the documentary. The promotional video is posted on a Web site of the Institute of Investigative Science www.iois.net, a police consulting and training firm the two started last year.
Griggs said others have advanced the same theories about how Tutankhamen died and King and Cooper didn't plow new ground.
"Let's face it. We're dealing with wishes rather than evidence at this point," he said.
Griggs last saw Tut's mummified body up close during a research project 18 months ago. It wasn't a pretty sight.
Carter badly ravaged the flesh and bones when he attempted to extract it 80 years ago, leaving it a "mess," he said. It has since been reconstructed, compromising any attempt to analyze it with autopsies or X-rays.
"What damage is associated with Tut's own passing and what damage was imposed by Carter?" Griggs asked. "Those X-rays are not of a body in pristine condition."
Cooper scoffs at any criticism, saying every defense attorney has an expert witness. "Our theory suits the facts so far available," he said. And he and King are confident their 21st-century detective work has solved an ancient mystery.