Clea Koff was born 1972. She is the daughter of Msindo Mwinyipembe and David Koff, both documentary filmmakers focused on human rights issues. Her parents took her and her older brother with them around the world. She spent her childhood in England, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and the United States. By the time she was a teenager she had decided to study human osteology, which she did first in California. She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stanford University.
Clea began her advanced studies in Forensic Anthropology at the University of Arizona. She combined her studies with working for the United Nations, and in 1999 attained her Master’s Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Working for the UN, Koff joined a small team of scientists exhuming victims of the genocide in Rwanda. Her job was to find evidence to bring the perpetrators to trial, and to help relatives to identify their loved ones.
She worked for the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and also for the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia, using her skills to help bring some of the perpetrators of genocide to trial. She captured the events in her autobiography The Bone Woman: Among the dead in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Croatia.
Koff founded in 2005 The Missing Persons Identification Resource Center (MPID), a non-profit organization, based in Los Angeles, which is about “essentially linking families with missing persons [in the US] with the Coroner’s Office which hold thousands of unidentified bodies”. The center closed in 2012.
Watch this video about the early life of Clea Koff.