Anthrotech takes expertise to courtroom
- Published: January 26, 2023
From its location on Xenia Avenue, local business Anthrotech makes its strides in the field of anthropometry — the study of human dimensions — in centimeters and inches. Last year, however, the Yellow Springs company collected data and provided expert testimony for a criminal trial, in which the events detailed spanned thousands of miles, from the United States to Zambia and back again.
Much of Anthrotech’s typical work is centered around providing data for other entities that want an understanding of human body dimensions, often in consideration of how consumer products are used or worn.
“When someone has a problem they need to solve in the world of human dimensions, Anthrotech is the place they often come to first,” said Oscar Meyer, Anthrotech’s owner and president, in a recent interview with the News.
In 2022, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a problem: They were trying to build a case for an upcoming criminal trial against Pennsylvania dentist Lawrence Rudolph, whom the FBI suspected had killed his wife, Bianca Rudolph, in 2016.
That year, the couple, who were seasoned big game hunters, were vacationing in Zambia’s Kafue National Park — a location they visited every year and where they owned a hunting cabin. As the two made preparations to pack up and leave the cabin at the end of their hunting trip, Bianca was killed by a bullet that came from her own shotgun, which was still in its case.
In the hours following his wife’s death, Lawrence Rudolph told Zambian police that the gun had been accidentally triggered by Bianca Rudolph as she zipped the firearm into its cloth case.
But the FBI scrutinized Lawrence Rudolph’s claims with a considerable amount of doubt — particularly after he received multi-million-dollar payouts from life insurance policies that had been taken out on his wife.
Because Zambian police had originally ruled the death an accident, and because Bianca Rudolph’s body had been cremated soon after her death, there was little physical evidence for the federal government to present in its case.
The FBI wanted to determine whether or not it was physically possible for Bianca Rudolph to have triggered the gun accidentally. For that, they needed someone who intimately understands the particularities of human dimensions.
“When it comes to validation of experience, you can’t get much better than Bruce [Bradtmiller] anywhere in the world,” Meyer said.
Bradtmiller is the longtime former owner and president of Anthrotech, with more than 40 years of experience in anthropometric research; he sold the business to Meyer in January 2021, but plans to remain with the company through the end of this year to aid Meyer, whose background is in healthcare products and business development, at the helm.
Bradtmiller said he isn’t sure how the FBI was referred to Anthrotech — “I should have asked, ‘Hey, FBI agent, great to talk to you, by the way, how’d you find me?” he said — but the government agency contacted him last year after it had initiated a data-collecting study of its own.
“When the FBI agent initially talked to me, he said, ‘We did this study — what do you think of it?’” Bradtmiller said.
The study worked like this: First, the FBI asked 15 women to take an unloaded shotgun — the same model owned by Bianca Rudolph — and place it into its case. They observed the number of the women who pointed the gun at themselves as they did so. Second, they asked the women to hold the firearm, in its case, to their chests and attempt to engage its trigger.
“My only criticism of [the study] was that they had only used 15 people,” Bradtmiller said. “In my experience, that was not enough.”
Anthrotech took over the study, pulling from the company’s own long list of Miami Valley-area folks who have worked in its past studies of body dimensions — a roster that Meyer said is approaching about 1,000 names. They contacted women whose dimensions were noted to be approximately the same as those of Bianca Rudolph. They were not given the specifics of the case, but were aware that the study had to do with a pending criminal trial.
“And we did share with them that there would be a weapon involved in the study,” Meyer said. “So if someone was not comfortable handling a weapon, they could have said ‘no’ right upfront.”
Thirty-six women participated in the several-week study, to which Bradtmiller said Anthrotech added one more measurement: how close each of them were able to get to reaching the trigger of the gun as it was aimed at them in its case.
In the end, Bradtmiller said, the results of the study seemed to support the FBI’s case against Lawrence Rudolph.
“We asked the women to put the gun in the bag, and we were watching to see how many pointed [the gun] at themselves — and the answer, of course, was zero,” he said.
Likewise, all but one of the women couldn’t reach the trigger of the gun in its case when it was pointed at them, missing contact with the trigger by an average of four inches.
Bradtmiller said that, while this is not the first time he has appeared on the witness stand — Anthrotech has undertaken several studies in order to produce expert testimony for civil cases — this was the first criminal trial for which Anthrotech has provided testimony.
It was also the first time Bradtmiller appeared on national television for his work with Anthrotech: The business was featured in the “Dateline” episode “Safari Story,” which premiered last month on NBC. Last October, he talked with host Andrea Canning about Anthrotech’s work on the case, and even took the host’s dimensions and had her replicate the study on camera.
“The television part was fascinating, because it was a big deal,” Bradtmiller said. “The producer was here, they had two camera guys and a sound guy, and they had our whole front porch full of equipment.”
Lawrence Rudolph was found guilty of murder in August 2022; he is set to be sentenced next month.
Meyer made it clear that Anthrotech’s participation in the criminal trial was not about attempting to determine guilt or innocence — “That’s certainly not our goal,” he said — but to find and produce data on the human body. As the world finds new ways for the human body to interact with products, Meyer and Bradtmiller said Anthrotech’s focus continues to widen.
Looking ahead, they said studies that consider occupations that involve repetitive motion — such as surgical physicians or warehouse employees — could be new research and data horizons for the company. But as long as people keep interacting with things, Meyer said, Anthrotech will still be available to take the witness stand and deliver data.
“I step back and think, ‘What would drive the need for a company like Anthrotech in litigation?’” he said. “Well, anytime a human being interacts with a device or a product — things can go wrong.”