Archive for the ‘Death Investigation’ Category
Putrefaction is the destruction of the soft tissue caused by two things, bacteria and enzymes.
As bacteria and enzymes do their jobs, the body immediately begins to discolor and transform into liquids and gases. The odd thing about the bacteria that destroys the tissue at death is that much of it has been living in the respiratory and intestinal tracts all along. Of course, if the deceased had contracted a bacterial infection prior to death, bacteria, such as septicemia (blood poisoning), would aid in increasing the rate of decomposition.
Temperature also plays an important part in decomposition. 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal range for bacteria and enzymes to do what they do best, while lower temperatures slow the process. Therefore, and obviously, a body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime.
A blood-filled circulatory system acts as a super-highway for those organisms that destroy the body after death. Without blood the process of putrefaction is slowed.
Therefore, a murder victim whose body bled out will decompose at a slower rate than someone who died of natural causes.
People who were overweight at the time of their deaths decompose faster than skinny people. People who suffered from excessive fluid build up decompose faster than those who were dehydrated. And people with massive infections and congestive heart failure will also decompose at a more rapid rate than those without those conditions.
Bodies adorned in thick, heavy clothing (the material retains heat) decompose more rapidly than the norm. Electric blankets also speed up decomposition.
A body that’s buried in warm soil may decompose faster than one that’s buried during the dead of winter.
The type of soil that surrounds the body also has an effect on the rate of decomposition. For example, the soil in North Carolina is normally a reddish type of clay. The density of that clay can greatly retard the decomposition process because it reduces the circulation of air that’s found in a less dense, more sandy-type of earth.
Adult bodies buried in a well drained soil will become skeletonized in approximately 10 years. A child’s body in about five years.
The rule of thumb for the decomposition of a body is, (if at the same temperature) 8 weeks in well-drained soil equals two weeks in the water, or one week exposed to the air.
Now, hold on to your breakfast…
The first sign of decomposition under average conditions is a greenish discoloration of the skin at the abdomen. This is apparent at 36-72 hours.
Next – Small vessels in the skin become visible (marbling).
Marbling is followed by glistening skin, skin slippage, purplish skin, blisters, distended abdomen (after one week—caused by gases), blood-stained fluid oozing from body openings (nose, mouth, etc.), swelling of tissue and the presence of foul gaseous odor, greenish-purple face, swollen eyelids and pouting lips, swollen face, protruding tongue, hair pulls out easily, fingernails come off easily, skin from hands pulls off (gloving), body swells and appears greatly obese.
Internally, the body is decomposing and breaking down. The heart has become flabby and soft. The liver has honeycombed, and the kidneys are like wet sponges. The brain is nearly liquid, and the lungs may be a bit brittle.
Hmm… Flabby hearts and liquid brains. Sounds like the internal workings of quite a few living and currently-working (well, they call it working) politicians in this country…
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.
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.
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.
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!
Pathologists in this particular morgue select instruments from a rolling cart placed at each workstation.
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.
Scales for weighing internal organs.
EXTREMELY GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!
Last Chance To Exit!!
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.
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.
Post-autopsy suturing of the scalp.
Finally, the body is cleaned and returned to the cold room to await pickup by a funeral home.
The end. Really, it is…