Archive for the ‘Death Investigation’ Category

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.

10.4 Toe Tag

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.

PostHeaderIcon Life After The Death Notice

It’s 9pm and Officer Smith has just left the scene of a homicide. The father of two small children, and husband to a loving wife, had gone to the store to pick up a gallon of milk for morning Lucky Charms when he was caught in the crossfire between two rival gang members. The barrage of bullets that pierced his flesh, striking more than one vital organ, killed him instantly. The violent exchange of rounds was over in mere seconds. Luckily, a passerby saw the whole thing, and with his statement the police were able to arrest the suspects within hours of the senseless killing. The two shooters were eventually convicted and sentenced to serve ten years each in the state penitentiary.

But let’s back up to the night of the shooting. Officer Bernard “Buzzy” Smith had the unpleasant task of delivering the bad news to the victim’s family. So he located the man’s wallet and ID and wrote the address in his pocket notebook. A few minutes later, with a lump in his throat he couldn’t make disappear, the officer parked his patrol car in front of a small brick rancher on the east side of town. He switched off the ignition and waited for the headlamps to click off before calling in his location. He searched his mind for the right words and how to say them. An owl hooted twice from the depths of the tree canopy above his car.

The house was well lit and the driveway littered with plastic kid toys. A girl’s bicycle stood propped against the lop-sided chain-link fence separating lawn from concrete pavement. A blueish glow flickered in a front window. The TV was on. Wednesday night. Maybe the family was watching the remaining eight American Idol contestants croon their way toward the final prize. Someone on that Hollywood stage would go home at the end of the show. The man of this particular house, however, would never come home again.

Officer Smith stepped from his patrol car, adjusted his gun belt, and headed for the front door. He took his time walking up the three brick steps before slowly reaching for the brass knocker.

She’s young—20-ish—with short curly brown hair. A little boy clinging to one hip. The girl at her knees, clutching her mother’s dress, is around six. Seven tops. She’s missing a tooth.

Somebody on TV is singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, a newer, modern version of the classic song.

The woman smiles at first, but the grin quickly melted away. She knows. Tears filled her eyes. Next came the trembling. Shaking. Gut-wrenching sobs.

Officer Smith has seen it all before, many times. But he can’t get emotional. It’s part of the job and he must be strong while doing it. He leads the woman to the living room. She has a seat on the couch while he grabbed the remote and switched off the TV, stopping Ryan Seacrest from announcing the names of the bottom three contestants. Officer Smith sat in a chair across from the new widow. He leaned forward—gun leather creaking and keys tinkling—resting his elbows on his knees. He began to speak…

So what happens next? You know, long after the funeral. What happens to the families of murder victims then? Do they simply go on with their lives? Not hardly.

The families of murder victims say they must deal with many unexpected things that aren’t always associated with death by natural causes. Things such as:

- Always seeing and remembering the condition of their loved one as he/she lay in the morgue. Remember, sometimes family members must go there to identify the body, and this can be an extremely devastating experience.

- The general public can be extremely cruel, sometimes blaming victims for their own demise and the violence that caused the death.

- Some less than reputable media outlets want sensational headlines, even if that means publicizing inaccurate statements about the victim and the victim’s family. After all, they can always retract the statements later, right? Please know that not every media source is this insensitive. In fact, most are not, but the inaccurate stories that do make their way to the eyes and ears of the families of the deceased are very hurtful.

- The financial burden that comes with losing one income. There are sometimes large medical bills left behind as well.

- Families sometimes must deal with public sympathy for murderers.

- The murder trial is difficult to sit through, hearing all the gruesome details.

- Short prison sentences often cause outrage (too lenient for the crime).

- Having to see and hear about the case on TV. Family members do not consider the death of a loved one as prime time family entertainment.

- It’s extremely frustrating to be told, as a family member, that you cannot be in the courtroom during certain parts of the trial.

- Being the last to know anything.

- Wondering if the victim suffered.

- Remembering the things you said, or didn’t say, the last time you saw the victim alive.

- Plea agreements that allow some participants involved in the murder to walk away free and clear of the crime.

- The appeal process.

- The parole process.

- Nightmares.

So many nightmares.

And the grief goes on and on and on…

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