The woman who was the inspiration for Patricia Cornwell's famous character,
Kay Scarpetta, has retired
at the age of 66. Virginia's chief medical examiner, Dr. Marcella Fierro, gave an interview to the young author who then went on to write many bestsellers starring fictional medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. The two became friends over the years.
Fierro, whose last day was Monday, worked on some of the nation's most notorious crimes, including the Virginia Tech massacre and Richmond's Southside Strangler killings. And though she would never admit it, many would argue she was the catalyst for the explosion of forensic-science TV shows, movies and books.
In 1984, Cornwell, then an aspiring writer, got an appointment with Fierro to ask questions about what a medical examiner does. Fierro became the inspiration for Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the heroine of what would prove to be a string of best-selling thrillers for Cornwell.
"I would not be where I am today in my life were it not for Dr. Fierro," Cornwell says.
Kay Scarpetta is chief medical examiner of Virginia, at least in Cornwell's earlier novels. But aside from their jobs and penchant for Italian food, Fierro sees little resemblance between her and the fictional doctor.
"Kay is blond, blue-eyed and 115 pounds," she says dryly. "I've never been blond, I have brown eyes, and I haven't weighed 115 pounds since I was 12."
Cornwell sees a stronger connection.
"What she does have in common with Marcella is this amazing database between her ears, a tremendous compassion for the victims, and she will fight to the death for them," Cornwell says. "She has always been a tremendous advocate for those who can no longer speak for themselves."
Fierro, who has been married to her college sweetheart for 41 years, favors romantic comedies, thinks the CBS series "Numb3rs" is "the cat's meow," and devours thrillers. She is indifferent toward the "CSI" series. And she can't tolerate violent movies or TV shows.
"I cannot find a shooting or a stabbing entertaining. I simply can't," she says. "My frame of reference — absolutely wrong for gore."
It's hard to imagine that the hard-boiled medical examiner can't even sit through a play or movie that has violence in it, but that's what Patricia Cornwell says about her longtime friend. Dr. Fiero may be retired, but she will live on in Cornwell's books.