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Daily Archives: May 14, 2009

“Alpha Dog” Trial to begin in LA

When your young, good-looking, and your name is Jesse James Hollywood, you’re bound to be noticed. Particularly if you order the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old as payback for an unpaid drug debt, change your name and run off to Brazil, and then have Nick Cassavetes make a movie based on your nefarious deeds. At least that’s what Hollywood’s charged with. You just can’t make this stuff up. His trial is set to begin in LA. Should be an interesting one to follow.

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MSNBC story

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2009 in Interesting Cases

 

Dead Folks and Decay

I received an interesting question from a writer the other day about adipocere formation in a corpse. I thought it might be interesting and helpful to look at what happens to a body after death. The destruction of the human body begins immediately after death and can follow one of three major pathways: putrefaction (decay), mummification, and adipocere formation.

Putrefaction is the process of tissue destruction due to bacterial growth.  The bacteria responsible for putrefaction almost universally come from within the bowels of the deceased and very rarely from the environment. Bacterial growth is enhanced in warm and moist environments and is delayed in cooler and drier climates. This means that a body will decay much faster in a swamp in Louisiana in August than it will in the Colorado mountains in April. The end result of putrefaction is a skeleton. Given the proper conditions and enough time, all the tissues of the body will be consumed by the putrefaction process and only the bones will remain. If in your story you have skeletal remains please, please do not have the bones connected together as the skeleton you saw in science class in high school. ALL the tissues decay, including the ligaments and tendons that hold the bones together, which means that a completely skeletonized body will simply be a pile of bones.

The second way a body will undergo postmortem alteration is by mummification. This occurs more readily in very dry climates and particularly those where there is high heat such as a desert location. It can also happen in the high mountains where the air is often very dry and has been seen in basements, attics, and in corpses walled up in building walls and crawl spaces. Nightmarish. Basically what happens here is that the corpse desiccates (dries out) fairly rapidly.  If the body loses water so rapidly that the bacteria within do not have time to significantly putrefy the body, a mummy will be the end product. The corpse will be dry and leathery very much like beef jerky. In fact, the processes are identical since mummification and making beef jerky both require that tissues be completely dried out.

The third method of alteration is by adipocere formation, which is the result of a chemical process called saponification. Basically soap making. Adipocere is caused by a reaction between certain bacteria and the body’s adipose (fatty) tissues. Bacteria such as Clostridia perfringens, the bacterium that causes gas gangrene, convert body fat into oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids, the primary constitutes of adipocere. The result is a whitish-gray or brownish, greasy or waxy substance, which can cast the body in a doll-like fashion. On first glance the corpse might appear to be a manikin or as if it had been carved from a large bar of soap. This most often occurs in bodies found in water or warm, damp areas and usually takes several months to form so that adipocere formation is a broad indicator of time of death.
Bodies do not always decompose uniformly or in the same way. A corpse might be partially skeletonized, partially mummified, and partially converted to adipocere. Adipocere looks like this:

smith_bodies

This photo is of two child victims in the famous Hoptoun Quarry Murders Case investigated by Sir Sydney Alfred Smith. Read the full story HERE.

So when you have dead folks in your stories just remember they don’t all have to decay or turn into a pile of bones because there are a couple of other very spooky things that can happen to dead folks.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2009 in Time of Death

 
 
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