CIUDAD JUAREZ - For the past two decades, Dr. Alejandro Hernández Cárdenas has been amassing a macabre body of work. An unassuming local dentist, Hernández Cárdenas has perfected a chemical formula that rehydrates corpses for identification. His recipe is patent pending, so no one quite knows what goes into it or exactly how it works. But some say his brew brings the dead back to life.
It couldn't have happened anywhere else. Juarez, of course, has always had a complicated relationship with death. Since the early 90s, the desert around this Mexico-US border town has become a dumping ground for NAFTA’s disenfranchised. Mexican and American victims of femicide, the ongoing drug wars, and border violence turn up in varying stages of decomposition, ravaged in part by the harsh desert elements. The majority of these mummified corpses are deemed unidentifiable by authorities, and laid to rest in mass graves around the city.
That's where Hernández Cárdenas comes in. He charges $60US for the ingredients to pull off a full-body rehydration, which we're told can restore a corpse to its lifelike state, revealing the victim's identity, and even the cause of death. It's a forensic leap that just might stand to reshape crimonology as we know it.
In Still Life, we meet up with Hernández Cárdenas, track an unidentified corpse as it soaks in his "jacuzzi", visit an Arizona medical examiner's lab that pioneered a method of rehydrating hands for fingerprints, tour Juarez's killing fields, and drink plenty of tequila.
Still Life premieres June 3 on Motherboard. Follow @motherboard for updates.