The recent murder of Jasmine Fiore, which took place right here in Orange County, is an interesting case of body identification. Her corpse was found on August 15th in a suitcase that had been dumped in a dumpster in Buena Park California. The primary suspect in her murder is Ryan Jenkins.
Apparently the couple had stayed at a hotel in San Diego where video surveillance cameras showed Jenkins leaving the hotel with a suitcase. There was no evidence on any of the tapes of Jasmine being with him and in fact no evidence that she ever left the hotel at all. At least not walking. When her body turned up stuffed in a suitcase similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video, Jenkins immediately became a suspect. His whereabouts at this time is unknown but there is speculation that he fled the country to his native Canada.
It seems that she had been strangled and her body mutilated in that her teeth and fingers had been removed. I read one report that stated that only her fingernails had been removed but I think the more reliable sources say that it was her fingers. Why would someone remove the teeth and fingers of the corpse? Obviously to prevent identification of the body. With no dental records and no fingerprints this can make body identification much more difficult.
When the medical examiner is confronted with an unidentified corpse, he must go through several steps in order to identify the victim. This identification is crucial, not only because loved ones and family need to know, but also this is the first and perhaps the most important step in identifying the killer. It has been said that over 90% of the time murder victims know their killer. So identifying the body will help police focus on the proper pool of suspects.
To make the identification, the medical examiner will first determine the size, age, sex, and race of the victim and then compare this with missing persons reports in the hopes that one of these missing people is the victim. He will also rely on the clothing, jewelry, and of course a wallet or purse with a driver’s license would be a big help. But clothing and jewelry are often distinctive and can help with identification. A laundry mark on clothing, an inscription on jewelry, or an unusual and one of a king piece of clothing of jewelry can lead to a positive ID.
Fingerprints would also be obtained and compared with those of any missing persons — if their fingerprints are available — or they can be run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). If the individual is in the database the identification can be made.
Dental records or DNA are useful if dental records or DNA is available from a compatible missing person. Sometimes DNA can be obtained from family members and used to determine that the unidentified body is related and this can provide identification. But if there is no family and the victim does not match any missing person reports then DNA and dental records are of little use.
Other important method for identification are surgical scars, birthmarks, and tattoos. These can often be distinctive, particularly tattoos. In fact, some tattoos can be traced back to the artists that did the work because because their style is so distinctive. Birthmarks are also unique. Remember Gorbachev’s nevus flammus (port wine stain) birthmark?
Artificial devices such as pacemakers, orthopedic implants (artificial hips and knees for example), and breast implants often carry serial numbers that can be traced back to the manufacturer, the hospital where the device was implanted, and the doctor who implanted the device. Medical records will then reveal who the recipient was and the identification can be made that way. In the case of Jasmine Fiore, identification was completed through her breast implants.
Now if the police can only locate Jenkins they can hopefully solve this case.
Want to know more? There is an entire chapter on Corpse ID in my book, Howdunnit: Forensics.