Archive for the ‘Death Investigation’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Autopsy: From Crime Scene To Toe Tag

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Death investigations are conducted by both the police and medical examiners or coroners. The law in each jurisdiction determines whether or not the area utilizes a coroner or medical examiner.

A coroner is an elected official and may or may not be a medical doctor. (Many California sheriffs also serve as coroner).

A medical examiner is a medical doctor who has been hired/appointed by the city/county/state/federal government to conduct autopsies and investigate the cause of suspicious deaths. Elected coroners who are not doctors must hire a pathologist to conduct autopsies.

The police are in charge of all murder scenes, but medical examiners and coroners are in charge of the body. Medical examiners and coroners do not interrogate and/or arrest suspects. Detectives do not poke and prod the insides of human bodies.

Bodies are placed inside body bags and are generally delivered to the morgue in specially equipped vehicles (pictured above). However, in some areas bodies are transported by EMS, funeral homes, or body transport services.

Upon arrival at the morgue, the body (on a gurney) is rolled onto scales where it’s weighed.

After weighing, the body is placed inside a cold room until autopsy. Black or dark gray, leak-resistant body bags are used pre-autopsy.

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The paper bag resting on the body of the murder victim at the top of the above photo contains the victim’s personal belongings. Notice there are no individual drawers for bodies.

Cold rooms also store amputated body parts. The gray trays on the right contain severed limbs. White, paper-like body bags, like the one lying on the gurney in the rear of the cold room above, are used post-autopsy for bodies waiting to be transported to funeral homes.

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Our tour of the morgue continues with a peek into the autopsy room/suite, where we’ll examine some of the tools of the trade. If your stomach holds up we’ll even have a glimpse of the star of the show, a murder victim.

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The photograph above is of an autopsy station. Think of it as a pathologist’s workshop. To begin the autopsy, a body is placed on a gurney and is then positioned against the center, sink area of the station (feet-first in this morgue).

WARNING – GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!

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Pathologists in this particular morgue select instruments from a rolling cart placed at each workstation.

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Tools of the autopsy trade.

Some M.E.’s prefer to use a bone saw used for cutting through the rib cage beneath the “Y” incision. It’s also used for cutting through the skull.

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Bone saw

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Scales for weighing internal organs.

EXTREMELY GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!

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Bodies are positioned on a gurney prior to autopsy. Then they’re wheeled to the autopsy room/suite.

Notice the lividity on the back and sides (lividity is the gravity-induced purplish staining of the tissue at the lowest points of the body). The lividity presenting on the above victim indicates he was lying on his back after his heart stopped beating, and the body remained in that position until lividity became fixed (12 hours, or so). Had this victim been found on his stomach with the lividity fixed on his back, well, that would be a sign that the body had been moved sometime after death.

Next we see the upper chest and neck area of the murder victim. The reddish-brown line circling the neck is a ligature mark  caused by strangling with an electrical extension cord.

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Baseball-style stitches are used post autopsy to close the “Y” incision.

Once the internal exam of the head is complete, the scalp (behind the head, from ear to ear) is stitched back into place.

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Post-autopsy suturing of the scalp.

Finally, the body is cleaned and returned to the cold room to await pickup by a funeral home.

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The end. Really, it is…

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PostHeaderIcon He’s A Real Cool Dude: Postmortem Changes In Body Temperature

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While we’re alive our body temperatures are determined by metabolism. It’s a different ballgame, though, once the bucket is kicked.

After death, the body’s core temperature remains fairly constant for a couple of hours. Then it begins to cool by radiation, conduction, and convection, at a rate of 1.5 degrees per hour, until it reaches the ambient temperature—20-30 hours later.

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However, investigators shouldn’t use the body temperature as the sole means of determining when a victim died. There are factors that could, and do, alter the natural cooling process.

When the “moment” does arrive and the victim succumbs to wounds, illness, or natural death, there are factors that may affect the cooling rate of the body, such as:

- Ventilation: A room that’s well-ventilated could actually speed up the rate of cooling by increasing the rate of evaporation.

- Humidity: A body in a humid location cools at a slower rate than one in a hot, dry climate.

- Insulation: A body that’s wrapped in something (including excess body fat) cools slower than one that’s left out in the open.

- Surface temperature: A body lying on a hot surface will cool at a slower rate than one that’s found lying on a cold surface.

And, of course, a body in a hot environment cools much slower than one found lying in a cold climate.

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There are also factors that come into play that could alter the body temps even before death occurs, such as:

- Consumption of drugs, extreme physical activity, and fever could all increase the body temperature.

- Hypothermia could lower the body temperature.

These factors would change the length of time it takes a body to reach the surrounding air temperature.

When the “moment” does arrive and the victim succumbs to wounds, illness, or natural death, there are factors that may affect the cooling rate, such as:

- Ventilation: A room that’s well-ventilated could actually speed up the rate of cooling by increasing the rate of evaporation.

- Humidity: A body in a humid location cools at a slower rate than one in a hot, dry climate.

- Insulation: A body that’s wrapped in something (including excess body fat) cools slower than one that’s left out in the open.

- Surface temperature: A body lying on a hot surface will cool at a slower rate than one that’s found lying on a cold surface.

And, of course, a body in a hot environment cools much slower than one found lying in the snow.

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Finally, the rate of cooling also affects other “after death” processes, such as rigor mortis—heat speeds up rigor and cold slows it down.

By the way, other factors may also speed up rigor, such as extremely violent exertion prior to death, and alkaloid poisoning. Factors that could slow the rigor process are hemorrhaging by exsanguination, and arsenic poisoning, to name a couple.

And…a handy rule of thumb for decomposition:

One week in air = two weeks in water = eight weeks under ground.

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