In 2007, the blockbuster crime novelist James Patterson released The Sixth Target, his latest book in the Women’s Murder Club series. Early on in the story, the lead character, a female detective, walks into the lab of San Francisco’s deputy chief forensic pathologist.
“A fortysomething white man, five eight or so with salt-and-pepper hair and black horn-rimmed glasses,” the pathologist is presented as the consummate professional: no-nonsense, precise, and dedicated to finding out the truth.
The character’s name is Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk. His appearance, profession, and personality were, indeed, based on the real Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk ’75.
At that time, the real Dr. Germaniuk was the assistant coroner in a rural county in northeast Ohio. He was a highly skilled certified forensic pathologist — the first professional with those qualifications to serve that county. But how did he make his way into a James Patterson novel?
Germaniuk (pronounced “German-ick”) was born and raised in Staten Island, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. He had an early interest in medicine and majored in biology at Wagner. After reading about the New York Medical Examiner’s office, he visited and volunteered there. New York City’s famed chief medical examiner, Dr. Milton Helpern, became a mentor. These experiences “inspired his pursuit of forensics, and it became a lifelong quest,” says his widow, Genevieve Smith Germaniuk ’75.
After his Wagner graduation, Germaniuk went to Italy to continue his education. Over the next nine years, he became fluent in Italian, studied at the universities of Turin and Rome, and earned his Ph.D. and his M.D. In 1978, Wagner Magazine featured him for moonlighting as a radio DJ and television interviewer for Radio/Tele Torino International.
He married Genevieve Smith, a Wagner nursing graduate who was serving in the Army, in 1981. They lived in Rome during his final three years of medical training.
He then completed a residency in pathology at The Ohio State University and a fellowship in forensic medicine at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office. After a few years as a medical examiner in Syracuse, New York, he went to Washington, D.C., where he was deputy chief and then chief medical examiner. In Washington, he testified at hundreds of capital trials and built a national reputation as an authority in forensic medicine.
In 1998, he decided to leave that high-stress environment and took a job as a forensic pathologist for the coroner’s office in Trumbull County, Ohio. He built trust in the community through his dedication, knowledge, and ability to communicate with all kinds of people. As a local newspaper, The Vindicator, noted, “Especially evident is his ability to give complicated medical information to lay people in a way that produces confidence that the doctor has determined all there is to know about the cause of someone’s death.”
In 2008, he ran for the office of coroner and won. Over the next 10 years, he ensured that the entire coroner’s office staff received training and certification in death investigation, and he helped to lead statewide efforts to improve the quality of death investigations.
Maxine Paetro became acquainted with Germaniuk when she started working as a co-author with James Patterson in 2005. She learned about Germaniuk through a contact in the FBI, and he became the medical examiner that she consulted with while working on about a dozen novels in the Women’s Murder Club series.
“I needed expert advisors to help me make it feel real,” she says. “He was tremendous. He was very into it. He was detail-oriented.”
Germaniuk became ill early in 2018, but he never stopped working. According to Genevieve, his philosophy was that death was inevitable, and he believed in allowing the disease process to take its course.
He died on April 20, 2018, of complications from liver disease. Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins told The Vindicator, “This man has been a workaholic for the people of Trumbull County. We have been blessed with his work product.”
“If you put your mind to something, you can do it,” Humphrey Germaniuk told Wagner Magazine in 1978. “A human being has vast resources of potential and our institutions, like Wagner, are there to test potentials for exploring and realizing capabilities. … Wagner to me was a training ground for the real world — a dress rehearsal for developing things like leadership or patience.”