Author

About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

Critical Roles Managing ME & Coroner Offices

Critical Role of Managers and Administrators in a Medical Examiner/Coroner Office

Paul ParkerPaul R. Parker III, B.S., D-ABMDI

Overview

There is no greater honor than writing the last chapter of someone’s life story. As medicolegal death investigators, that is what we do and, for the most part, we do it well. With seemingly innumerable courses, electronic mailing lists, and forensic science discussion groups, there is a plethora of available information on how to investigate just about every possible death scene and circumstance. Unfortunately, there is not a major focus on the management and administration of offices and personnel in the medicolegal death investigation field. With the exception of those offices under the law enforcement umbrella, many medicolegal death investigation managers and supervisors lack basic managerial training and the “big picture” purpose and role of a Medical Examiner/Coroner (ME/C) Office is often forgotten or overlooked not only by its employees, but by its administrators. The lack of managerial training and resulting substandard managerial performance; misguided managerial focus; and managerial inaction, to include the ignoring and/or avoidance of problem issues and personnel; ultimately results in the creation and maintenance of a toxic work environment and the “big picture” becomes foggy, if not completely invisible. In this environment, “cancerous” employees infect the environment to the point that good employees either leave or lose the motivation and dedication to a job well done.

The primary focus of most medicolegal death investigation managers, administrators, and supervisors is to ensure ME/C personnel properly determine jurisdiction, document deaths reported to the office, conduct scene investigations, perform death notifications, conduct postmortem examinations, certify deaths falling under its jurisdiction, and document the investigative efforts in comprehensive and factual reports, in addition to many other ancillary functions. We are fortunate to work with many outstanding death investigators and support personnel who choose to do the most noble of jobs in an under-paid, under-appreciated, and overly-stressed work environment.

  • How much of their great work is being undermined everyday by inefficient and ineffective Division/Office management or frontline supervisors?
  • How many employees would say that their managers/supervisors care about them, effectively communicate, set expectations, hold problem employees accountable, and actually treat employees as humans, not just a name or number covering a shift?
  • How many front-line supervisors and managers lose more sleep over the performance, or lack thereof, of a problem employee than over investigating traumatic deaths and performing death notifications?
  • Do the employees care about the job they do and the office’s role and how it is perceived by the public and its customers?

Despite the existence of these issues, job satisfaction surveys of ME/C employees almost universally reveal that the employee’s actual job brings high levels of satisfaction. It is, in part, the above-listed issues that undermine true job satisfaction on par or even more so than low pay and inadequate staffing levels.

In addition to an emphasis on managerial competency, there needs to be a focus on improving interpersonal relationships among co-workers, emotional well-being in the workplace, and the importance of communication, expectations, accountability, and rewarding performance. In addition, it is critical that all death investigation employees are constantly reminded about the “big picture,” which is centered upon the interactions we have with everyone, especially families and next-of-kin, how we present ourselves to and in the public, how our reports reflect our level of competence, and how we have many customers, not just the pathologists. The painting of the “big picture” starts “at the top” of every organization and is filtered down through the managers and frontline supervisors.

An administrator/manager/supervisor must ALWAYS:

 

  • with the exception of what is already documented in personnel files, start with a “clean slate”
    • this is more difficult when promoted from “inside” as opposed to being brought in from outside of the agency.
  • have a willingness to immediately identify and handle performance or interpersonal issues
    • never “look the other way”
    • “back the play” of personnel without jumping to conclusions
    • “toxic” or “cancerous” employees
    • “toxic” interpersonal relationships that negatively impact the work environment
  • be able to effectively communicate, communicate, communicate
    • via various means, e.g., in person, email, etc.
      • use caution with email (keep it short)
    • clear (and documented) expectations
    • vision
    • upcoming changes and the rationale for the changes
    • “No Surprises”
      • keep employees in the loop, whenever possible, and be kept in the loop
    • be committed to continuous improvement
      • of the manager
      • of the employee
    • be consistent
    • be responsive
    • be dedicated to the mandate that everyone is accountable, all the time
    • believe in the importance of documentation
      • If it’s not documented, it did not occur
    • understand the perception that reports/documentation are a direct reflection of an employee’s competence
    • believe that the emotional well-being of medicolegal death investigation employees is paramount
      • truly care about the employee, even if the employee doesn’t want you to
        • acknowledge the difficulties of shift work
        • understand need for work/life balance
          • family emergencies, etc.
        • acknowledge birthdays, accomplishments, jobs well done, etc.
      • be available when on-duty and off-duty, when applicable
      • be willing to:
        • “roll up the sleeves” and jump in, whether that means assisting at scenes, counting medications, communicating with next-of-kin, or even covering shifts, if need be.
          • This action results in the highest levels of credibility and respect, as people trust and believe in someone who is willing to not just “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk” by coming out of the office and getting down in the trenches, so to speak.

 

An administrator/manager/supervisor must NEVER:

 

  • compromise on integrity issues, e.g., lying, falsification of reports, timecards, etc.
  • show favoritism
  • gossip
  • bully
  • violate an employee’s confidence
  • take credit for the work of others
  • act in a way that contributes to or creates a hostile work environment
  • micromanage

 

Additional Management Priorities

 

Upon hire/promotion, a new manager must hold a mandatory meeting attended by all persons reporting to the new manager. During the meeting, the new manager should provide an overview of the following:

  • manager’s background
  • manager’s core beliefs
  • plan of action (0-60 days, 61-90 days, 90+ days) to include:
    • meeting/riding with/shadowing each employee
    • assess procedures, operations, staffing and personnel allocation
    • solicit feedback (after all, the people doing the job usually know what’s working and what isn’t)
    • building relationships with all applicable parties

 

Management personnel must be committed to:

 

  • ensuring the office and its personnel are viewed as professionals, not merely “body snatchers” or a transport company
  • justifying appropriate staffing levels
  • implementing an appropriate employee selection process
    • recruit
      • to include written and emotional well-being components
    • train
      • remedial training
    • maintain
  • using an employee’s probationary period to assess the employee but also allowing the employee to assess the office and his/her role in it
    • we want to identify those folks that do not or cannot do the job during this period
    • we also want them to assess whether we have created an environment in which they’d like to work
  • fostering positive and productive relationships with:
    • Human Resources representative
    • other Department/Division head
  • implementing and maintaining:
    • current and comprehensive policies and procedures
    • training manuals/guidelines
      • new employees, e.g., field training program, etc.
      • current employees, e.g., report guidelines, feedback/review of every report, training bulletins, external training opportunities, ABMDI certification, etc.
    • providing timely performance appraisals and appropriate goal setting
      • the content of an employee’s appraisal should never be a surprise and unveiled for the first time when reviewing the appraisal
        • constant communication during the rating period is essential and fair to the employee
      • establishing a work environment that exhibits and is built upon consistent practices
      • conducting outreach efforts to law enforcement, health care providers, mortuaries, etc.
      • implementing and monitoring workplace safety programs (physical and emotional well-being)

 

Chief Medical Examiners, Deputy Medical Examiners, Directors, and Administrators must be proactive and establish lines of communications and continual educational opportunities for and with:

 

  • appointing authorities, i.e., Boards of Supervisors, State Legislators, etc.
  • other Department Heads within the same entity, i.e., State or County level
  • media representatives.
    • Yes, media representatives.
      • Who better to present positive, proactive stories about the office and its real mission and duties, as opposed to the public perceptions promulgated by the CSI Effect?
      • If outreach is conducted with the media, when a “problem” arises, allegations of misconduct are made, or if the office actually “drops the ball” on an issue, having fostered relationships with the media and your entities media liaison will “soften the blow”

 

Managers and employees are equally responsible for the success of employees and the office

Employers must ensure that the employee is provided the skills, knowledge, resources, guidelines, and tools to successfully perform the job; employees must ensure they are dedicated to using them with the ultimate goal of providing the best possible service in conjunction with continuous personal and professional growth. It is easy for employees to blame management for whatever ails them but it is helpful for truly dedicated employees to consider and act upon the following issues:

Value

Each employee must place an emphasis on value, specifically how to add value in every interaction while on-duty and representing the office.

  • What is employee’s value to other office personnel?  To next-of-kin?  To law enforcement?  To hospitals?   To funeral homes?
  • How does the employee highlight, capitalize, and increase his/her value to co-workers and customers?
  • How does the employee minimize his/her personal biases and treat all customers professionally and with respect?  If s/he does not, what needs to be done to do so?

Dedication to continuous improvement

Each employee must be dedicated to this concept. Truly successful people embrace continuous improvement and are always educating/improving themselves, however possible, as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

  • What does an employee do to continually improve his/her investigative and customer interaction skills?
  • If the employee does not, when will s/he start, as there is no choice but to do so!

Dedication of office’s roles/responsibilities/mission/vision

Each team member must be dedicated to these issues.

 

  • Is the employee dedicated to positively impacting where the office’s direction and service?  If not, the supervisor must meet with the employee immediately!
    • Remember, not everyone is cut out to work in the medicolegal death investigation field. I am always dedicated to helping people find jobs for which they are most suited; if that’s not in the medicolegal death investigation field, so be it. We need to ensure that only people who want to positively impact the office continue to work at the office, as co-workers and the family members of the decedents will either reap the benefits of a dedicated employee or suffer the consequences of an employee who should not be in our line of work (in the case of family members, those negative consequences may last a lifetime).
  • How does the employee demonstrate dedication to the office?  To co-workers?  To law enforcement?  To next-of-kin?  To hospitals?  To funeral homes?
  • Does the employee do anything that may demonstrate s/he is not dedicated to where the office is going, what it is supposed to be doing, its mission, or its vision?

 

Performance competence/skills/knowledge

Each employee must display competence in his/her respective area.

 

  • Does the employee strive to be best the (job title) s/he can be?
  • What is s/he doing to attempt to attain that goal?
  • Is the employee flexible in thought and conduct?  Is his/her way the only correct way?

 

Documentation competence/skills

Each employee must be willing and able to document, in writing, what it is they do pursuant to the guidelines/instructions provided.

 

  • Does the Investigator document every death reported to him/her?
  • Does the Investigator document the deaths in a timely fashion?
  • Does the Investigator thoroughly document the deaths pursuant to standardized guidelines?
  • Does the documentation make sense? Does it tell a legible, coherent story? Are pertinent negatives addressed, etc.?
  • Is the documentation complete before going off-duty?
  • Are Investigative Narrative Report Performance Measures in place and, if so, does the Investigator meet those measures?

 

Investigative scene response

Each Investigator must appropriately triage and respond to scenes and, upon arrival, act in a professional, appropriate, and confident manner.

 

  • Does the Investigator respond to scenes in an expeditious, yet safe, manner?
  • Does the Investigator prioritize/triage multiple scene responses appropriately?
  • Does the Investigator “think outside of the box” when confronted with competing interests?
  • While on scene, does the Investigator conduct himself/herself in a professional manner?
  • Does the Investigator view himself/herself as the expert in medicolegal death investigation or does s/he allow others to dictate how to conduct himself/herself and/or the investigation?

 

Interaction with customers

Each employee must act in a compassionate, professional, competent, and appropriate manner when interacting with an office’s various customers.

 

  • Does the employee model professional conduct during every interaction with every customer?
  • Does the employee provide accurate information to customers?
  • How does the employee “come off” to co-workers?  To next-of-kin?  To law enforcement?  To funeral homes?
  • Does the employee sound compassionate, professional, competent, and appropriate during telephone conversations with various customers?
  • Does the employee allow biases to “bleed through” and become obvious to those with whom s/he is talking to or interacting?

Maintain a Focus on the “Big Picture”

 While it is true that ineffective management results in ME/C personnel losing sight of the “big picture,” as the focus is ultimately placed on those problem areas/personnel not being addressed but left to create the “toxic” environment in a workplace already made stressful enough by the basic responsibilities of the job, it’s possible to lose sight of the “big picture” even under the most ideal of circumstances and best management practices due to the inherent nature of the job. With a focus on professional appearance, interaction with next-of-kin, professionally authored reports and an understanding that they are obtained and read by numerous entities not just the pathologist, and emotional well-being, the “big picture” should remain clear.

Appearance

 One of the most important “big picture” ME/C issues is the appearance of those employees who interact with the public (primarily the Investigators but also employees who work at the front counter, property clerks, chaplains, etc.)

  • Do they look sharp or like they just rolled out of bed?
  • Do they walk with confidence or slouched over dragging their feet?
  • Are their verbal public interactions and over the phone with all customers professional and respectful or do they come off as uncaring, inflexible, dispassionate know-it-alls (or maybe even worse, crass or vulgar)?

 My training and experience revolves around a concept called command presence, which is basically presenting oneself as a confident and competent authority that can be trusted and respected.  Physical appearance, body language, and verbal skills contribute to this command presence and people are oftentimes viewed, positively or negatively, based upon one’s overall grasp and control of those attributes.

 Investigators are the visible representation of an ME/C office and are the basis for the public’s, law enforcement’s, and hospital’s perceptions or beliefs about the office. Investigators must exude command presence, confidence, and pride when observed (and heard) in public at all times, whether that is at a scene, re-fueling a vehicle, walking into a convenience store, etc.

 We are responsible for investigating the death and subsequently taking custody of a decedent.  When you look professional, you tend to act professional, and are subsequently treated as a professional.  I’ve found that wearing professional or uniform attire appropriately, i.e., tucked in, clean, pressed/shined, etc., not only results in increasing both the level of respect shown to ME/C personnel and positive thoughts of their professionalism before saying one word to an officer or family, but it also results in ME/C personnel being more respectful to customers and the decedent.  I know it may be difficult to keep clothing in that condition after a scene call or two but that doesn’t mean personnel should begin the shift looking as if they have already been to several scenes.  Dedicated ME/C personnel must be provided the opportunity to shine in the eyes of the families, officers, hospitals, and the general public without the automatic formation of a less-than-ideal opinion of them as soon as they are seen or heard.  First impressions are very hard, if not impossible, to change.

Interaction with Next-of-Kin

 The next-of-kin and families of decedents are probably the most important ME/C customer.  ME/C personnel should be the primary contact with next-of-kin and meet with them at scenes—to obtain information tending to assist in the thorough documentation of that “last chapter” and to provide them information about “the next steps” and making them aware of the appropriate resources, grief or otherwise—or immediately call them if they were not at the scene (after they are notified, of course, but being able to effectively and compassionately interact with them if they happen to call the ME/C office “cold”).  As the “point” people and the sole external face of the Office, Investigators primarily experience this oftentimes stressful interaction.

We are not Grim Reapers swooping in to collect “a body” and then disappear back into the ether, leaving no trace of our existence.  We are professional independent medicolegal death investigators, who should be more knowledgeable in reactions to death, the grief process, and the importance of communication (as information not provided to families and unanswered questions of families will result in them filling in, on their own, with what may or may not be true).  Everyone we come into contact with should somehow be educated about the role of the ME/C office.  Whether it’s as they watch us professionally perform our legal duties or during the conversations we have with them while performing those duties, every contact matters, every time.

  • Management should strive to publicize to all personnel the positive comments received from next-of-kin. I was always amazed how many next-of-kin took time, despite all they were experiencing, to write a “Thank You” note to an Investigator or any employee who treated them (and the decedent) with compassion, dignity, and respect. To me, that spoke volumes about the level of service provided and the content of those notes were oftentimes heartfelt, touching sentiments that truly painted the “big picture” of why we do what we do.

Reports/Documentation – Direct Reflection of an Employee’s Competence and Numerous Readers

 An Investigator can be the best one in the agency but if his/her reports contain spelling errors, misused words, and grammatical errors, no one will ever know it and, worse yet, the credibility of and confidence in the medicolegal death investigation will be undermined.

Many times an Investigative report is drafted with the pathologist in mind. It is true that the pathologist will rely upon the content of the report to determine the extent of the examination and to focus it accordingly. There are, however, numerous other customers who will obtain, read, and rely upon the report to include, but not limited, to the following:

 

  • Toxicologists
  • Forensic anthropologists, odontologists, neuropathologists, and other forensic specialists
  • Fellow investigators and other ME/C personnel when fielding calls from next-of-kin, etc.
  • Next-of-kin (who will read it often and pass it on from one generation to the next)
  • Law enforcement
  • Prosecutors
  • Defense attorneys
  • Insurance companies
  • Health care providers
  • Medical facilities
  • Fatality review committees/teams
  • Media outlet
  • Managers must ensure there are documented expectations for report content and that reports are reviewed and feedback provided.

Emotional Well-Being

 There are only a handful of people operating under the same laws and circumstances as medicolegal death investigation personnel, and therefore, only a handful of people who can even begin to relate to this job’s stressors.  In all probability, significant others, spouses, parents, children, and friends cannot begin to comprehend what it is we do, see, hear, smell, and experience every day. Think about it…if a normal person happens to come upon just one suicidal shotgun wound to head once in their lives, they would probably be traumatized, need counseling, and never forget the image.  I would bet each of you can’t even remember how many of these you’ve seen and dealt with.  Dead infants and children…forget it.  Yet, we deal with these situations on an all too regular basis.

In addition, it’s not one thing just to see a dead body, but we are the only ones who have regular personal interaction with grieving, traumatized, and devastated families and friends.  I guess it’s possible to have some kind of detachment or desensitization when just looking at a dead body or just talking to the loved ones over the phone days after the death, but when having to also personally interact (sometimes within minutes of the death or immediately after being notified of the death) with those folks who had strong feelings (one way or the other) about the decedent, the ability to distance ourselves from their pain and grief becomes nothing less than impossible.  On top of all that, we are left to cope (or at least attempt to cope) with the pain and grief that “normal” people experience in their lives in addition to the depression, grief, and pain that comes along with the inappropriate coping mechanisms (and their consequences) many of us “learned” over time.  I learned a long time ago that what we experience will not destroy our emotional, mental, and physical well-being and ruin our family life, friendships, and social structure; how we respond to what we experience determines the extent of damage inflicted or survival attained.

Unlike our traditional first responder partners, i.e., law enforcement, fire department, EMS, many times medicolegal death investigation personnel are overlooked when it comes to debriefings and other related services.  Although we usually do not have to make split-second life-or-death decisions, we are tasked with dealing with what is arguably the most sensitive of issues—death.  For us to do our jobs someone has to die and, about half the time, those deaths are not natural or expected.  We see just about every form of death imaginable (some not even imaginable) and yet we are expected to continually perform our jobs with the same proficiency and professionalism as we did during the first days of our careers.  In addition, it is assumed that we are capable of living “normally” when outside (and even inside) of the workplace.

 Treating people like humans, and not numbers or shift coverage entities, shows employees they are actually cared about and, in turn, will help them maintain balance, well-being, and focus on providing compassionate and professional death medicolegal investigation services. Unfortunately, I have witnessed first-hand an almost “burn ‘em out, throw ‘em away, and bring in someone new” mentality. Without proper management, guidance, and nurturing, I believe medicolegal investigation personnel have an effective “shelf life” of five to seven years, depending on call volume and that may be overly generous.

  • A manager must constantly assess his/her own views and actions as it pertains to the emotional well-being of personnel.
  • Managers should model and encourage the positive responses to the incredible stress experienced in this line of work and encourage participation in debriefing events and confidential counseling sessions.

 

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Paul R. Parker III, B.S., D-ABMDI

Parker Medicolegal Services, LLC

P.O. Box 20525

Fountain Hills, Arizona 85269

 

Telephone: 480-298-4981

Website: www.ParkerMLS.com

Email: Paul@ParkerMLS.com

 

 

 

 

Autoerotic Fatalities – Interpreting the Scene

Autoerotic 19The scene of an autoerotic death can hold a wide variety of problems and issues for the investigator. Filled with deceiving information and abnormal behavior, these scenes offer challenges to even the most seasoned investigator. However, it is vital that you get these scenes worked correctly. First and foremost, it is your job to get the correct answers for the family, the victim, and any insurance companies needing the information. The stigma attached to suicide and the autoerotic can have devastating affects on survivors, proper determination can only be achieved through good scene work and investigation.

Proper Scene Work

As in any investigation, you should never rely solely on what you see. Without doing a complete investigation you will never find the truth. DO NOT go in with preconceived ideas or basis. If you can not properly work a sexually charged scene then remove yourself and let someone else take lead.

The investigator must consider all aspects of the triangle of forensic investigation. There is an interdependence of all evidence, and none of these elements can be interpreted separately. Each of these elements are equally important.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 08.48.20
Without this integrated approach, homicides could be missed, or suicides and natural deaths could be misinterpreted as autoerotic.It is important to look at what is present as well as what is not present. Family, spouses, parents – may sometimes alter the scene to avoid the embarrassment of what they found, or to save the embarrassment of the deceased.Be sure to interview the person who discovered the body quickly and look for indicators as to alteration

When looking at the scene keep in mind that these scenes can look like homicide or suicide. Many victims of this deadly game like to act out fantasies of torture  and rape they want to do to someone else.

Hands and feet may be bound, gag may be in the mouth, and a hood over the head. On first glance you will see evidence of a homicidal scene. But look closely and ask yourself these type of questions; could this person have done this themselves, could they have gotten out if still alive, how much struggle do you see, is there an escape mechanism. These along with history investigation will determine your manner.

Proper History Investigation

These cases are not complete unless you do a good history investigation. Areas such as medical, psychological, and sexual history. Talk with family and friends to learn sexual behavior patterns. Talk with old girlfriends about sexual acts and fantasies. You should know the victims medical history and psychological history, could this have been suicide, did he just get “bad news” from the doctor .

Computers should be seized and forensically evaluated for evidence of sexual interest and searches. Did the victim enjoy this type of sexual games, who has he talked to, what chat rooms, etc. Computers give us a really good insight into a person and their interests.

Above all you must not have found any evidence of suicide ideation, suicide notes, or anything leading you to the suicide conclusion based upon the probability of the evidence. Better not to rule it autoerotic than to rule it wrongly.

This is only a very small fraction of the information needed to investigate these cases. Please take the time to find books, and articles on the topic and become familiar. You may not work many of these in your career and you can only learn from two sources; experience and education. Education is the key here.

The podcast attached to this post goes much deeper into this topic.

Autoerotic Fatalities – Asphyxia

Autoerotic ropeAutoerotic deaths are accidental deaths that occur during solitary sexual activity in which some type of apparatus that was used to enhance the sexual stimulation of the deceased caused the unintentional death.

The prevalence of auto-erotic fatalities is difficult to calculate, since a coroner often records a verdict of accident or misadventure. It is under these labels that many auto-erotic deaths lie hidden. Sometimes, however, where uncertainty exists over whether the person intended suicide, the verdict is left open. Bereaved families usually prefer this. ‘They often find an open verdict a little easier to accept, certainly easier than misadventure which might imply unsuspected goings-on15 scene features can be encountered, in different combinations, at the scenes of autoerotic deaths.  However, it is our duty as investigators to come to ruling in every case we can.  Much is riding on your answer, so a thorough investigation is required.

15 features commonly found at scenes of autoerotic deaths.  Any combination of these may be observed.

  1. Nudity
  2. Exposed Genitals
  3. Cross-Dressing
  4. Evidence of Masturbation Activity
  5. Foreign Body Insertion in the Anus
  6. Lubricants
  7. Pornography
  8. Mirror
  9. Video Recording
  10. Covering of face ( mask, duct tape, panty hose, etc)
  11. Bondage of Genitals
  12. Other Bondage ( arms, legs, and body bound)
  13. Other Masochistic Behavior
  14. Protective Padding in Hanging
  15. Evidence of Repetitive Behavior

Commonly, the victim is found nude or with exposed genitals. This is an important clue to the possibility of autoerotic death. However, not all dead bodies found nude or with exposed genitals are victims of autoerotic death.  However,  not all victims of autoerotic deaths are found nude or with exposed genitals.

Victimology

Typical victim of an autoerotic  accident is a white male average age 33.               

96% are Male     96% White

Females are rare,  as are blacks, Asian, and Native Americans .

Youngest reported case age 9   Oldest   89 

15 to 19 years old represent only 5%  to 16%  of victims

Masturabation Mandate 

It has been wrongly believed by many investigators that evidence of masturbation  (exposed genitals or presents of semen)  had to be present for the autoerotic ruling . This is NOT true.  Sexual pleasure is sometimes gained simply by the actions of the victim – and sometimes as a precursor – or sexual stimulate – prior to masturbation.

As For Semen

In hanging deaths semen can be frequently found due to  spontaneous ejaculation  caused by a nerve response. Further, it was commonly observed in the day of public hanging that the condemned would get an erection after dropping from the gallows floor.  This is believed to be a symptom of a severed spinal cord.  (this led people to believe that hanging caused sexual pleasure)

Asphyxiation most common form.

The most common form of dangerous autoerotic activity involves the use of some technique for reducing the oxygen to the brain to achieve an altered state of consciousness.It is important to note the distinction between autoerotic or sexual asphyxia on the one hand, and asphyxia as a cause of death on the other –

Autoerotic asphyxia refers to the use of asphyxia to heighten sexual arousal, more often than not with nonfatal outcome.

The practitioner  who dies, most often dies from an overdose of asphyxiation.The autoerotic practitioner who dies while engaged in such acts, most often dies from an overdose of asphyxiation when, for one reason or another,  becomes unable to terminate his means of enjoyment.

Positional such as fall, slips, etc. or if victim becomes unconscious.Sometimes however, someone engaged in autoerotic asphyxia may die a non-asphyxial death – such as heart attack, stroke, or exposure. This will change the manor of death to natural.  NOT autoerotic asphyxia.

Asphyxial Death Process

Amount of pressure to occlude the neck structures

Jugular Veins         4.5 lbs

Carotid Arteries     11 lbs

Trachea                    33 lbs

Vertebral Arteries  66 lbs

(On average the human head weighs 10 pounds)

Agonal Sequence in Hanging

Loss of Consciousness        10 +- 3s

Convulsions                         14 +- 3s

Decerebrate Rigidity           19 +- 5s     (extended)

Start of deep rhythmic abdominal respiratory movements          19 +- 5s

Decorticate Rigidity         38 +- 15s     (flexion)

Loss of muscle tone          1 min 17s  +- 25s

End of deep respiratory movements    1 min 51s  +- 30s

Last muscle movement           4 min 12s  +-  2 min 29s

Listen  to the audio version for a more complete conversation on the topic. 

Crime Scene Sketch Article

virtual-csi-2Not an original of mine but good information and training..

Update and Evidence

evidenceOn today’s show I talk about the progress of the show and give some updates as well as reveal  a few upcoming additions to the Coroner Talk™ web site. I also introduce what the plus membership section of the site will be.  I then discuss some best practice rules  for packaging evidence.

Why We Love Serial Killers – Dr. Scott Bonn

 Why We Love Serial Killers Book CoverSerial killers hold the fascination of the public, whether in true crime news accounts of individuals such as Ted Bundy or fictional depictions such as the television shows Dexter and Criminal Minds or popular movies such as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “Silence of the Lambs.” Serial killers seem so purely predatory and unremorseful that our society cannot help but display a macabre interest in them. Although they account for no more than 1% of the approximately 15,000 homicides in the U.S. annually, serial killers receive a disproportionate amount of media attention due to the incomprehensible savagery of their deeds.

Significantly, serial killers differ from mass murderers or spree murderers. A mass murder can be defined as the killing of multiple people at a single location where the victims may be either randomly selected or targeted. A mass murderer is often killed at the scene of the crime; sometimes by his/her own hand.  A spree murder is the killing of multiple people at different locations over a short period of time (the maximum duration is usually 7 days).  The killer in spree murders often but not always knows his/her victims, and most often targets family members or romantic partners.

I use the following list of behavioral criteria to define serial homicide for the purposes of my research:

            1. At least three murdered victims.

            2. The murders take place in separate events, at different times.

            3. The killer experiences an emotional cooling off period between murders.

The key distinction between serial killers and mass or spree killers is this emotional cooling off period in which the killer blends back into his/her seemingly normal life. The predator reemerges to strike again when the urge to kill becomes overwhelming. The duration of the cooling off period can vary from weeks to months or even years, and varies by killer. Dennis Rader or “Bind, Torture, Kill” (BTK) had 10 known victims over nearly 30 years!       

   

There is some disagreement over the serial killer definition, mostly about the number of killings required. There is also debate as to whether organized crime hit-men should be considered serial killers.  Doc Bonn argues that they are not serial killers because their motivation is purely business and their killings fulfill no emotional needs.  Serial killers are driven to murder by urges and fantasies that they frequently do not comprehend.       

Doc Bonn’s Research

Doc Bonn is currently researching and writing a popular book on the public’s fascination with serial killers titled, “Why We Love Serial Killers,” published by Skyhorse Press for release in 2014. This book examines the social processes through which serial killers often become morbid pop culture celebrities.  The book seeks to answer the following:

  • What are the roles of the popular media, state officials and the killers themselves in the social construction of serial killers’ public identities? 
  • Why are so many people fascinated with serial killers?
  • What social-psychological needs do serial killers fulfill for the public? 

In order to help answer these questions, Doc Bonn is exploring the mysterious, psychopathic criminal minds of infamous serial killers. Ironically, and perhaps shockingly, this book proposes that serial killers may actually serve a function in society by clarifying the meaning of “evil” and setting moral boundaries—that is, by helping to establish the outer limits of what one human being can do to others.

Doc Bonn believes that it is quite natural for people to be fascinated by why serial killers commit their murders and for their grizzly exploits to become media spectacles.  Let us know what you think about this topic. 

Dr.Scott Bonn-coroner talk Scott Bonn PhD

www.docbonn.com

Dr. Scott Bonn (“Doc Bonn”) is Professor of Criminology, media expert and analyst, public speaker and author. He is an expert on criminal behavior and the motivations of criminals.  He offers insights into various types of crime, including white-collar, state crime, bullying, domestic violence, sexual assault and serial homicide.  His expert commentary frequently appears in the popular news media. 

Doc Bonn is the author of “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq,” a critically acclaimed book on war crime and terrorism from Rutgers University Press (2010).  His latest book is on the public’s fascination with serial killers in which he offers insights into the minds of infamous predators and explains how and why serial killers are often transformed into ghoulish popular culture celebrities by the media. Titled “Why We Love Serial Killers” the book is published by Skyhorse Press and released in October, 2014.

Professor Bonn is not your average academic. He combines the knowledge and skills of an academic scholar with more than twenty years of senior-level corporate experience in advertising and news and entertainment media. As such, he has unique insights into the public’s attitudes and beliefs, how they are shaped, and the agenda-setting powers of political leaders and the news media.

Doc Bonn has developed a unique, integrated, and interdisciplinary theory called “critical communication” to explain how state officials and the news media actually shape public opinion on complex issues such as homicide, capital punishment, drugs, abortion and terrorism.

Doc Bonn received a doctorate in sociology (criminology) at the University of Miami, FL, and a masters degree in criminal justice administration at San Jose State University. He teaches courses in criminology, sociology of deviance, media and crime, and criminal justice. His primary research interests include white-collar crime, state crime, domestic violence, serial homicide and how the media influence society.

Prior to his academic career, Bonn held high-ranking corporate positions such as Vice President at NBC Television Network, and Executive Vice President at SonicNet, a leading music website, now a part of MTV Networks. He resides in Manhattan, New York.

Burning Bodies – The Dame of Flame

leb_bodies_burning[app_audio src=””]The human body burns predictably based it on its anatomical configuration of soft tissues and bones. Fire creates burn patterns to soft tissues: skin, fat, muscle, and then on select areas of the skeleton. These burn patterns convey how the body burned within its environment and if there was any traumatic injury present prior to the fire.Normal burn patterns of the body involve blisters, skin splits, color banding of skin, exposure and rendering of subcutaneous fat, followed by protection from thick bulky muscles that overlie the inner skeleton. After the outer skin splits, subcutaneous fat melts and liquefies into a fuel source that keeps the fire burning, and can do so for several hours under the right conditions. Muscles protect the skeleton but even they shrink and retract along the shafts of long bones when exposed to heat. Inner bones of the head, torso, and extremities gradually become exposed to the fire and they undergo color changes of blackened charring and calcination. Burned bone is durable and survives the fire when all of the other soft tissues have burned away, and therefore it stands as physical evidence of the body when all else is burned beyond recognition. Burn patterns in bone can convey how the body burned and if there was any traumatic injury present during the fire, which would produce abnormal burn patterns, along with the skeletal injury patterns from gunshot wounds, blunt force and sharp force trauma. These injuries remain present throughout all stages of burning and are reflected in the bones after the fire.

Dr. Elayne Pope – Forensic AnthropologistPope Picture for website

“The Dame of Flame”

www.burnedbone.com

ebone50@hotmail.com

Dr. Elayne Pope is a Forensic Anthropologist who researches how the human body burns in a variety of structural, vehicular, and outdoor fire environments for the purpose of training law enforcement. Through her research she has burned over 100 bodies in various situations and environments to document the affect fire and heat has on the human body.

Shaken Baby Syndrome | Craig Smith

Shaken BabyThe term “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) was developed to explain those instances in which severe intracranial trauma occurred in the absence of signs of external head trauma. SBS is the severe intentional application of violent force (shaking) in one or more episodes, resulting in intracranial injuries to the child. Physical abuse of children by shaking usually is not an isolated event. Many shaken infants show evidence of previous trauma.

Frequently, the shaking has been preceded by other types of abuse.

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism of injury in SBS is thought to result from a combination of physical factors, including the proportionately large cranial size of infants, the laxity of their neck muscles, and the vulnerability of their intracranial bridging veins, which is due to the fact that the subarachnoid space (the space between the arachnoid membrane and the pia mater, which are the inner two of the three membranes that cover the brain) are somewhat larger in infants. However, the primary factor is the proportionately large size of the adult relative to the child. Shaking by admitted assailants has produced remarkably similar injury patterns:

  • The infant is held by the chest, facing the assailant, and is shaken violently back and forth.
  • The shaking causes the infant’s head to whip forward and backward from the chest to the back.
  • The infant’s chest is compressed, and the arms and legs move about with a whiplash action.
  • At the completion of the assault, the infant may be limp and either not breathing or breathing shallowly.
  • During the assault, the infant’s head may strike a solid object.
  • After the shaking, the infant may be dropped, thrown, or slammed onto a solid surface.
  • The last two events likely explain the many cases of blunt injury, including skull fractures, found in shaken infants. However, although blunt injury may be seen at autopsy in shaken infants, research data suggest that shaking in and of itself is often sufficient to cause serious intracranial injury or death.

Read Complete Article Here 

 

National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome


Craig Smith 200x200

Craig’s Philosophy

www.cbsmith.ca

craig@cbsmith.ca

Prevention, education, treatment and the provision of ongoing services for victims and their families are all essential elements in dealing with child maltreatment. In addition, professionals involved with child abuse know that a proper investigation is critical. As a police officer involved for many years in child abuse cases, my job was to conduct thorough, professional, investigations that elicited all available details, with a minimum of trauma to the child victims. The intent of my training is to provide professionals with the necessary skills to carry out an effective yet compassionate, child abuse investigation.

I provide courtesy consultations to anyone who has taken my training. More in depth case consultations and opinions may be provided on a per fee basis. My primary responsibility has always been to the truth and to the best interests of child victims.

 Craig B. Smith, BGS, CFCI – Qualifications

    • Twenty-seven years experience with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
    • Sixteen years experience investigating sexual offences and homicides.
  • Author of Shaken Baby Syndrome An investigator’s manual (2010)
  • Revised and co-authored An Investigative Guide for Sexual Offences, Third Edition, under contract to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (2006).
  • Co-developed Manual for the Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse and For the Kids, a manual and one hour training video on proper child sexual abuse investigation procedures as part of a training package for police and social workers. Canadian Society for the Investigation of Child Abuse, (1988).
  • Author of “Guidelines for Child Abuse Investigations”, National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, (1999).
  • Expert consultant on Shaken Baby Syndrome with the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (1999 – present).
  • Presenter at numerous conferences and courses including
    • 9th ISPCAN Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Delhi, India (2011)
    • 18th Annual American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) Conference, New Orleans USA (2010)
    • 8th ISPCAN Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Perth, Australia (2009)
    • Rocky Mountain Information Network conference on Crimes Against Children, Lauglin, Nevada USA (2007)
    • 10th Annual Homicide School, Nevada, USA (2006).
    • 9th Annual Symposium on Child Trauma, St. Louis, USA (2006).
    • Joining Together: Conducting Forensic Investigations on Behalf of the Young Abused Child, Calgary, Canada (2006).
    • 14th Annual Western States Sexual Assault/Abuse Seminar, Las Vegas, USA (2005).
    • Missouri Police Juvenile Officer’s Association, Annual Conference and Training Institute, Missouri, USA (2004, 2005).
    • International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN), Brisbane, Australia (2004), Denver, USA (2002).
    • North American Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Montreal, Canada (2004).
    • Third and Fourth National Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Salt Lake City, USA, (2002, 2000).
    • Keynote speaker at the Symposium 2002 Teddy Bears and Flashlights: Reducing the Complexities for Children & Families, St. John’s, Canada (2002).
    • Australian National Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Sydney, Australia (2001).
    • Keynote speaker at the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Conference in Toronto, Canada (2001).
    • First and Second Canadian Conferences on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Saskatoon, Canada (2001, 1999).
  • Training Sessions provided throughout Canada, United States, Australia, India, Singapore and the Phillipines to police officers, social workers, prosecutors, victim services, school and medical personnel on Child Sexual Abuse, Shaken Baby Syndrome, Interviews and Interrogations, Adult Sexual Assault Investigations.

Science of Entomology – Prof. Jeffery Tomberlin

crime-scenePredicting the postmortem interval of a decedent is a major task of law enforcement. Most methods implemented by death investigators rely on qualitative information (i.e. rigor mortis, livor mortis). Microbes represent 99% of somatic cells in and on a human body.  

No data are available on the use of these organisms to predict the time since death of a decedent, though it is known that certain chemicals, many of which are likely a result of microbial communities, are released by decomposing remains in a reliable pattern. Moreover, the effects of microbes on insect colonization of remains, sometimes the best predictor of a postmortem interval, are not understood. Because of a lack of understanding of microbial succession on decomposing human remains, no standard operating procedures (SOP) for sampling and using this information has been developed and validated.

Professor Jeffery Tomberlin: 

Active in the forensic entomology community since 1994, he has examined insect evidence from several investigations throughout the United States prior to accepting a faculty position in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University in 2002. Since moving to Texas, he has played a major role with the development of the North American Forensic Entomology Conference and the North American Forensic Entomology Association of which he served as president. Additionally, he is certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomology.

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/141029-bugs-bodies-csi-vin

 Publications

Development and Validation of Standard
Operating Procedures for Measuring Microbial
Populations for Estimating a Postmortem
Interval

F.L.I.E.S. Facility 

Practical Forensic Entomology: Time of Death, Decomposition, and the Insects Used in Death Investigation (Practical Aspects of Criminal & Forensic Investigations

Forensic Entomology – Dr. Michelle Sanford Ph.D. , M-ABFE

MaggotsForensic entomology is the study of insects for medico-legal purposes. There are many ways insects can be used to help solve a crime, but the primary purpose of forensic entomology is estimating time since death.

Once a person dies his or her body starts to decompose. The decomposition of a dead body starts with the action of microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria, followed by the action of a series of insects (arthropods). Bodies decompose slowly or fast depending on weather conditions, if they have been buried or are exposed to the elements, if there is presence of insects or if they have a substance in their bodies that prevents their fast decomposition such as body size and weight, clothing,

The dead body goes through constant changes allowing investigators to estimate how long that person has been dead. Generally speaking, there are 5 basic stages of decomposition:

Fresh, putrefaction, fermentation, dry decay and skeletonization. Every stage attracts different kinds of organisms that will feed off the body and recycle the matter. These stages may takes days or years (even thousands of years!)

It is by collecting and studying the insects that are feeding on a body that a forensic entomologist can estimate the time elapsed since the person died.

Flies have great powers of dispersal and they rapidly discover bodies, usually ahead of beetles. Although they can feed on fluid that exudes from a fresh body, the acidic tissues of a fresh corpse cannot be digested by flies.

Blow flies are the most common insects associated with a dead body. However many other species of flies, beetles and arthropods may also be found at a death scene. Because blow flies arrive earlier in the decomposition process, they provide the most accurate estimation of time of death. Some of the blow fly species found in Canada includeCalliphora vicina, Calliphora vomitoria, and Cynomya cadaverina. The scientific names are used because the common names are not always consistent.

Beetles in both their immature and adult form can also be found on dead bodies. These usually occur at later stages of decomposition. As the corpse dries, it becomes less suitable for the blowflies, flesh flies and house flies that like a semi-liquid environment. Different fly families, the cheese flies and coffin flies, are abundant as the corpse dries. Eventually, the corpse becomes too dry for the mouth hooks of maggots to operate effectively. The hide beetles, ham beetles and carcass beetles, with their chewing mouthparts, devour the dry flesh, skin and ligaments. A few of these includeSilphidae (Carrion beetles), Dermestidae (Dermestid beetles) and Staphlynidae (Rove beetles). Other insects that may be found include Piophilidae (Skipper flies), Sphaeroceridae (Dung flies), and Phoridae (Humpback flies). Finally, moth larvae and mites consume the hair, leaving only the bones to slowly disintegrate.

Estimating Time elapsed since death or Post Mortem Interval

There are two methods to estimate time since death: 1) using successional waves of insects and 2) maggot age and development. Insect succession is used if the individual has been dead for a month or longer. Maggot development is used when death occurred less than a month prior to discovery.

Insect succession uses the fact that a body (human or otherwise) supports a rapidly changing ecosystem as it decomposes. As they decay, the remains go through physical, biological and chemical changes, and different stages attract different species of insects.

Calliphoridae (blow flies) and Sarcophagidae (flesh flies) may arrive within 24 h of death if the season is suitable or within minutes if blood or other body fluids are present. Other species, like Piophilidae (cheese skippers), are not interested in the fresh corpse, but are attracted to the body at a later stage of decomposition. Some insects do not seek the body directly, but arrive to feed on other insects at the scene. Many species are involved at each decomposition stage and groups of insects may overlap with each other. Knowing the regional insect fauna and times of colonization, a forensic entomologist can determine a period of time in which death took place. They may also be able to establish the season of death (e.g. summer) according to the presence of absence of certain insects that are only seasonally active.

Maggot age and development is used in the first few weeks after death and can be accurate to a few days or less. Maggots are immature flies and Calliphoridae (blow flies) are the most common insects used. Blow flies are attracted to a corpse very soon after death and lay their eggs in natural openings or in a wound,  if present. Eggs are laid in batches and hatch after a period of time into first instar (or stage) larvae. The larva feeds on the corpse and moults into a second, and then third instar larva. The size and the number of spiracles (breathing holes) determine the stage. When in the third instar, the larva stops feeding and leaves the corpse to find a safe place to pupate. This is the prepupal stage. The larva’s skin hardens into an outer shell, or pupal case, to protect it as it metamorphoses into an adult. Freshly formed pupae are pale in colour, but darken to a deep brown in a few hours. After a number of days, an adult fly emerges, leaving an empty pupal case behind as evidence.

Each developmental stage takes a known amount of time, depending on the temperature and availability of food. Temperature is especially important since insects are ‘cold-blooded’ – meaning their metabolic rate increases (and the duration of development decreases) as the temperature rises, and vice-versa.

Looking at the oldest stage of insect and the temperature of the region, a forensic entomologist can estimate the day or range of days in which the first insects laid eggs and provide an estimate of  time of death. This method applies until the first adults emerge. After this, it is impossible to determine which generation is present and time since death must be estimated from insect succession.

Collecting, Preserving and packaging specimens

Forensic investigations rely on evidence and material found at a crime scene, which must be recorded and collected carefully. This is especially true for insect material, which can be hard to find. When approaching a scene with insect evidence, a forensic entomologist first considers the surroundings. If the scene is outdoors, they note the landscape, plants and soil types, as well as the weather. Temperature is especially important and if possible, a portable recording device is left to record long term changes. A soil sample is often taken, since larvae may wander away from the body to pupate. If the scene is indoors, an investigator looks for access points where insects could get in. Once at the body, the forensic entomologist takes several samples from different areas of the body. If there are maggots, some are collected, placed in boiling water and preserved in alcohol. This stops development and allows the insect to be aged.  Other maggots are collected alive so that they can be kept until they reach adulthood. At this stage, the species can be determined. Normally, eggs are only collected if there are no later stages associated with the body. Again, some are taken and preserved in alcohol while others are watched until they hatch. Empty pupal casings are also collected. Adult flies are useful only if the wings are crumpled.  This suggests they have recently emerged and can be linked to the body. Otherwise, they are not collected since they may have just arrived to the scene.

The careful and accurate collection of insect evidence at the scene is essential. Ideally, an entomologist collects a range of insect stages from different areas of the body and the surroundings (e.g. clothing or soil). Different species, or insects collected from different areas, are kept separately.

Bodies attract two main groups of insects: flies (Diptera) and beetles (Coleoptera).

FLIES are found as eggs, larvae or maggots, pupae, empty pupal cases or as adults.

EGGS are tiny, but usually laid in clumps. They are often found in a wound or natural opening, but may be in clothingetc. Eggs are collected with a damp paint brush or forceps. Half are preserved in alcohol and half are collected alive. Eggs are especially important when maggots or later insect stages are absent. The time of hatching is vital and the eggs must be monitored every few hours.

MAGGOTS are found on or near the remains and may be in large masses. The masses generate heat, which speeds up development. The site of the maggot mass, the temperature (and size) of each mass are important.  Large maggots are usually older, but small maggots may belong to a different species so a range of sizes are collected. Since third instar larvae leave the body to pupate,  the soil around the body is carefully sifted. The soil below the corpse is also checked to a depth of  several centimetres. Half the sample is kept alive and half preserved immediately. Preservation allows the entomologist to see what stage the maggots were in when collected. Preserved specimens may also be used as evidence in court.

PUPAE and EMPTY PUPAL CASES are very important but easy to miss. Pupae like dry, secure areas away from the wet food source so clothing pockets, seams and cuffs are likely hiding places. If the remains are found indoors, they may be under clothing or rugs etc. Pupae are dark brown, oval, and range in size from 2-20 mm.  Empty pupal cases look  similar, but one end is open where the adult fly has emerged. Pupae are not preserved. They won’t grow and the species and exact age cannot be determined until the adult emerges.

ADULT BLOW FLIES are not as important as eggs, maggots or pupae. They are only used to determine the species of insect. However, if an adult fly has crumpled wings, it may have just emerged and can be linked directly to the body. These are collected and kept separately. Flies smaller than blow flies are important at all stages as they are used when analyzing the succession of insects on the remains

BEETLES (Coleoptera) are found as adults, larvae, pupae and as cast skins.

All beetle stages are important. They move fast and are often found under the body, or in and under clothing. They should be place in alcohol in preserve them.

OTHER INFORMATION is also important. For the site, this includes:

  1. the habitat (woods, beach, a house)
  2. the site (shady or exposed to sunlight)
  3. the vegetation (trees, grass, bush, shrubs)
  4. the soil type (rocky, sandy, muddy)
  5. the weather at the time of collection (sunny, cloudy)
  6. the temperature and humidity
  7. the elevation and map coordinates of the scene
  8. unusual details (like whether the body was submerged)

For the remains, it is helpful to know:

  1. the presence, extent and type of clothing on the body
  2. if the body was covered or buried (and with what)
  3. if there is an obvious cause of death
  4. if there are wounds on the body or body fluids (blood etc) at the scene
  5. if drugs were involved (drugs can affect decomposition rates)
  6. the position of the body
  7. what direction the body faced
  8. the state of decomposition
  9. if other carrion was found in the area that might also attract insects
  10. if the body was moved or disturbed

ANALYSIS:

At the laboratory, entomologists measure and examine immature specimens, placing them in a jar with sawdust and food. The insects are checked frequently and when they pupate they are removed. The date of pupation and emergence is noted for each specimen. When the adults emerge, they are killed and stored. This process is important because adult flies are much easier to identify to species than larvae. Also, pupation and emergence times are used to calculate the age at the time of collection.

OTHER USES FOR FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGY:

Forensic entomology is used most commonly to determine time since death. However, insects can provide other important information about a crime or victim. For example, insects can provide details about a person’s life before they died.  Because development is predictable depending on specific factors, the use of drugs can change the lifecycle timing of an insect. One such drug is cocaine, which causes the maggots feeding on affected tissues to develop much faster than they normally would. Insect behavior can also offer clues about what happened around the time of death. Flies tend to lay their eggs first in moist places in the body like the eyes and mouth. If eggs or maggots are found on normally dry skin, like the forearms, before these other areas, it suggests that the skin was damaged in some way.  This may be because the individual injured themselves in a fall or because they were trying to protect themselves from a weapon. In either case, an important piece of evidence has been discovered. Finally, the species of insect can point to events that occurred after death. For instance, some insects are found only in some areas. If a species that is normally found only in the countryside is found at a scene in the city, it suggests the body has been moved at some point after death. Again, this provides an essential piece of evidence that could help solve a crime.

1. The presence of insects on the body that are not found in the area suggests the body was moved, and may indicate the type of area where the murder took place.

2.  If the insect cycle is disturbed, it may suggest that the killer returned to the scene of the crime. The entomologist may be able to estimate the date of death and possibly the date of the return of the killer.

3. If maggot activity occurs away from a natural opening, this may indicate a  wound. For example, maggots on the palm of the hands suggest defence wounds.

4. If maggots feed on a body with drugs in its system, those chemicals accumulate and may be detected.

5. If an insect is found from a specific site, it may place a suspect at the scene of a crime.

6. If insects are found on a living individual (often young children or seniors), it may indicate neglect or abuse.

LIMITATIONS OF FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGY:

1. Time of death estimates depend on accurate temperature information, but local weather patterns can be variable and data may come from stations quite distant from the crime scene.

2. Forensic entomology relies on insect abundance. In winter, there are fewer insects and entomology’s use is limited.

3. Since it takes time to rear insects, forensic entomology cannot produce immediate results.

4. Treatments (like freezing, burial or wrapping) that exclude insects can affect estimates.

5. Since chemicals can slow or accelerate growth, insect evidence may be affected by the presence of drugs in a corpse’s system.

 

Article Reprint from

http://www.sfu.museum/forensics