The History of Skip | Teen Ink

The History of Skip

May 31, 2019
By devinaughney BRONZE, Novato, California
devinaughney BRONZE, Novato, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

I’ve found the best way to learn about life is through people who have lived a full one. Storytelling has been around as long as we have, and it’s one of the purest ways to understand ourselves and the world around us. We can’t let history be forgotten or lives left to slip between the cracks. That’s why I’ve collected the oral history and become good friends with an incredibly interesting man from Atria Senior Living named Skip Sperber. His life was filled with adventure, tragedy, and happiness. Skip was a forensic dentist who identified bodies and bite marks. He has testified in 257 trials, including those against Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. He’s the most gentlemanly person I’ve ever met, and despite what he’s seen, he remains a truly kind man with strong morals. I want to grow and learn from what he has to say, and share it with as many people as possible.

Skip was born and raised in New York City and always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a dentist. Skip went to Minnesota for college where he got his Bachelor’s Degree in zoology and chemistry. He moved back to New York to get his degree in dentistry and became one just like his father.

Skip told me about how he’d never once seen his father yell. He told me a story of when he was just a little kid, and his friend wanted to steal something. It was a small yoyo from a toy store, and Skip played along. When he got home his father asked him where he got it and Skip told him the truth. His dad gently told him that in the morning they’d go back to the store, return the yoyo to the owner, and apologize. The store owner hadn’t even noticed, but the memory stayed with Skip for the rest of his life. He said the gentle discipline from his father made him who he is today.

Skip’s father died of a heart attack at age 46 while Skip was still a young boy. His uncle became like a father to him, taught him how to drive and helped him get his first job. He worked at a bakery, and he still loves the smell of fresh baked bread in the morning.

In 1954 Skip enlisted in the US Navy during the Korean War. He served as a dentist and was sent to NTC San Diego. He continued practicing dentistry in San Diego after being given honorable discharge after two years of service. He volunteered for San Diego police and sheriffs department where he had two main jobs. The first consisted of identifying John and Jane Doe’s by their teeth, and the second was identifying bite marks.

He remained a dentist by day, forensic scientist by night for 40 years. He created the national dental identification system which is used by the FBI to this day. He frequently lectured at the FBI and testified in a total of 257 trials. He’s testified against the infamous serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. He also spent time at ground zero after 9/11 where he helped identify 1500 of the 3000 plus victims.

I asked him why he did this. He had clearly seen some truly horrible things, he’d bared witness to over 250 tragedies, yet here he was sitting in front of me, content as ever. When I’d asked him about all the gruesome levels of humanity he’d seen, his eyes sort of clouded over. I knew he could remember those grim crimes with the same vivid detail as the day he laid eyes on them. But then he told me his reason. The thing that kept him sane through four decades of horrific things. He told me, “The ability to help a family who lost their child, find that child, the ability to give them that closure”. It gave him satisfaction in life to find the truth and bring it to light.

I asked him what was the one rule he would always live by? He thought about it for a moment, then said, “treat others how you want to be treated”. We’ve heard this phrase a hundred times as children, but as we grow older I believe we truly begin to understand it. We have to experience the unfairness and the hurt in order to know we’d never wish it upon anyone else. “I live my life to make other people happy, and in doing so I think I became very happy”.

This experience was more than I ever could have asked for. I began this project with my expectations not set particularly high. I was astonished by my luck to have met such an inspirational man, let alone having been able to interview him. I’d like to thank Skip for giving me this wonderful opportunity and for being so kind. I implore you to talk to your family members, neighbors, and people of your community. I believe it to be incredibly important that we refuse to let these histories be forgotten. Every person has a story, and every story deserves to be told. Who’s history can you listen to?

The author's comments:

I created this piece as part of a project for a College & Career Readiness class. The assignment was to research and present a topic of interest that could help the community in some way. This project became something much more personal and important to me than I ever would have expected, and I'm very grateful for this opportunity. 

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.