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Facing Death at a Morgue on the US-Mexico Border

Motherboard's Brian Anderson recalls the sights and scents from his first trip to the municipal morgue in Ciudad Juárez.

This story appeared in the February Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

I was handed this protective face mask when I first arrived at the municipal morgue in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in early 2014. If I wasn't yet accustomed to the singular stench of death—and I was not—it was assumed the smell of decomposing bodies treated with chemicals to slow that very decomposition would overwhelm my senses if I didn't wear a mask. The morgue staffer who gave me the mask was right.

I spent the next week inside the nondescript government building, shadowing an unassuming doctor whose work rehydrating unidentified human bodies and remains is featured in Still Life, Motherboard's documentary about DIY forensics. The building reeked. The standard-issue cloth mask became part of my person. It was the one thing that partially blocked the smell of decaying corpses, an unrelenting stink that eventually infused the mask, my clothes, even my hair.

When I hold the mask to my face, I can pick up traces of the grim medley of odors that cut through the morgue. It's said our sense of smell is the mind's most powerful memory trigger. There's no masking that. —Brian Anderson, MOTHERBOARD