William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Friday, 2, September, 2011

Graduate School #3 Time of Death

Filed under: Forensics,Teaching — williamthecoroner @ 17:01

I. Introduction
A. Date and Time of Death
B. Why this is important
C. Postmortem “clocks”
D. “I knew that!”

II. Death is a medical diagnosis
A. Pronounced time
B. Pronounced vs. Actual
C. Prolonged down time
1. Hypothermia
2. Electrocutions
3. “Not dead until they’re warm and dead”
D. Advanced decomposition
E. Obvious fragmentation of the body
1. Decapitation
2. Pedestrian vs. Train accidents

III. Algorithm
A. The time of death is sometime between the time the person was last seen and the time that he was found. .
B This is the most accurate way of determining the time of an unwitnessed death
C. Witnessed deaths are a whole lot easier.

IV. Postmortem clocks
A. Rigor mortis
B. Livor mortis
C. Algor mortis
D. Decomposition
E. Insect activity
F. Gastric contents

V. Rigor mortis
A. Skeletal muscle
1. fibers actin and myosin
2. cross linking and shortening
3. Release is an active process requiring ATP
4. Chemical process—faster with heat, retarded by cold

B. Systemic process
1. Occurs all over
2. First noticeable in the jaw
3. Peaks at 12-24 hours
4. Wears off in 48-72 hours

C. “Breaking” rigor
1. Not breaking the joint
2. Moving against resistance, will break protein cross-links
3. Does not recur, but process might have been incomplete

VI Algor mortis
A. Cooling of the body
B. Depends on many factors
1. Body habitus
2. Clothing
3. Ambient temperature
4. Fever
5. Environmental factors (sun, wind)
C. Timing
1. 2-3 hour plateau
2. Drops approximately 1.5°/hour (1-3°)
3. Reaches temperature of environment
4. If environment is hot, the body will be hot as well.

VII. Livor mortis
A. Post-mortem pooling of blood
B. Lack of circulation, blood under influence of gravity goes to dependent parts
C. Heart patients may begin during life.
D. Blanching vs. fixed
1. Finger pressure will move corpuscles
2. Fixed around 12 hours

VIII. Decomposition
A. Putrefaction vs. Autolysis
1. Putrefaction breakdown by bacteria
a. Does not occur in sterile environments
b. Maceration
2. Autolysis breakdown by body’s own enzymes
B. Most noticeable in RLQ approximately 24-48 hours
1. Cecum closest to surface
2. Spread of gut bacteria
3. Postmortem cultures bloody worthless unless PMI <24 hours
C. Marbling of skin
1. Bacteria traveling through vascular tree
2. Oxidizing hemoglobin
D. Putrefactive gas formation
1. Bacteria make methane, etc.
2. Photo
E. Environment
1. 1:2:8 Air, Water, Land
2. Dry areas promote mummification
3. Wet areas promote adipocere “grave wax”
a. Mutter Museum
b. Dead man’s hand
c. Stinks to high heaven
4. Waterbed

XI. Bugs
A. Maggots, flies, beetles
B. Maggots
1. Fly larvae
2. eggs-larvae-pupae-fly
3. Instar
C. Flies
1. Blowflies
2. Fleshflies
3. Bluebottles
D. Beetles
1. Dermestid beetles
E. Wasps
1. Yellowjackets, etc.

X. Gastric contents
A. Imperfect clock
1. Very dependent on emotional state.
2. John Ball’s book Eyes of the Buddah
3. “Traces of ice cream”
B. Disgusting
C. Rough guide
1. Small meal 1-2 hours
2. Regular meal 3-4 hours
3. Thanksgiving 6-8 hours

XI. Body Disposal Methods
A. Burial
B. Cremation
1. Forbidden by Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics
2. Samuel–Saul and the Witch of Endor
3. Burial of body parts–resurrection
C. Sky Burial

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4 Comments »

  1. Is there something wrong with me for wanting to take your classes, even though I’m not in the medical/forensic field? They just sound so damn interesting!

    Comment by Anon — Friday, 2, September, 2011 @ 19:13 | Reply

  2. I don’t envy anybody that has to use this stuff, but I still think it’s fascinating. The funeral director in my home town probably thinks I’m some kind of a ghoul because of the questions I asked about the tricks of that trade after various relatives’ funerals. He gave me straight answers though.

    Comment by Dave H — Friday, 2, September, 2011 @ 19:23 | Reply

  3. @Anon – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you for wanting to take the class, but even so, you can rest assured you are not alone. Just reading the outline is interesting and stirs my fascination/curiosity/thirst for knowledge.

    Comment by misbeHaven — Saturday, 3, September, 2011 @ 05:54 | Reply

  4. Just in case, a note about Catholic bodies (XI, B, 1). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    “2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

    2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.

    The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

    Cremation is “second best” to burial. It is what is done with the “cremains” that can be problematical. They should have a grave, or a spot in a Columbarium; they should not be kept at home, or spread in the ocean or in a favorite place. It’s a matter of respect. We trust God to be able to resurrect our bodies no matter what their state nor where they are.

    …My second post today. I musta had too much coffee.

    Comment by Paxillated — Wednesday, 21, September, 2011 @ 16:34 | Reply


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