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Category Archives: Forensic Anthropology

Criminal Mischief: Episode #31: Body Disposal Isn’t Easy

Criminal Mischief: Episode #31: Body Disposal Isn’t Easy

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-31-body-disposal-isnt-easy

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/31-body-disposal.html

Details/Order: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

From HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS:

GETTING RID OF THE BODY 

Some criminals attempt to destroy corpses, the primary pieces of evidence in homicides. They think that if the police never find the body, they can’t be convicted. This isn’t true, since convictions have in many cases been obtained when no body is found. And destroying a body is no easy task. 

Fire seems to be the favorite tool for this effort. Fortunately, this is essentially never successful. Short of a crematorium, it is nearly impossible to create a fire that burns hot enough or long enough to destroy a human corpse. Cremation uses temperatures of around 1,500oF for two hours or more and still bone fragments and teeth survive. A torched building would rarely reach these temperatures and would not burn for this long. The body inside may be severely charred on the surface, but the inner tissues and internal organs are often very well preserved. 

Another favorite is quicklime. Murderers use this because they have seen it in the movies and because they don’t typically have degrees in chemistry. If they did, they might think twice about this one. Not that quicklime won’t destroy a corpse; it just takes a long time and a lot of the chemical. Most killers who use this method simply dump some on the corpse and bury it, thinking the lime will do its work and nothing will remain. Quicklime is calcium oxide. When it contacts water, as it often does in burial sites, it reacts with the water to make calcium hydroxide, also known as slaked lime. This corrosive material may damage the corpse, but the heat produced from this activity will kill many of the putrefying bacteria and dehydrate the body. This conspires to prevent decay and promote mummification. Thus, the use of quicklime may actually help preserve the body. 

Acids are also used in this regard, and once again the criminal hopes the acid will completely dissolve the body. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer tried this with little success. Indeed, powerful acids such as hydrochloric acid (HCl), sulfuric acid (H2SO4), and
chlorosulfuric acid (HClSO3) can destroy a corpse, bones and all. If enough acid is used over a sufficient period of time, that is. But this is not only difficult but also extremely hazardous. The acids will indeed destroy the corpse, but they will also “eat” the tub the body is in and chew up the plumbing. Acid fumes will peel the wallpaper and burn the perpetrator’s skin, eyes, and lungs. 

FORENSIC CASE FILES: THE ACID BATH MURDERER 

John George Haigh came to the English public’s attention in the 1940s when he confessed to not only multiple murders, but also to drinking his victims’ blood and destroying their corpses with acid. He seemed to favor sulfuric acid, which he kept in a vat in his workshop. He took the victims’ money and, through forgery, their property and businesses, and then basically laughed at the police as he admitted to the killings, believing they could not prosecute him without a corpse. He was wrong. He was convicted through forensic evidence and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on August 10, 1949. 

So, whether it’s Mother Nature or the work of the perpetrator, something almost always remains for the ME and the other forensic scientist to work with. It may be an intact body, a partially destroyed corpse, or a single bone, but it will give them something to use in identification. Let’s take a look at how they do this—first with a body and then with only skeletal remains

BODY LOCATION 

With the exception of some photographic comparisons, all these forensic identification techniques require a corpse or skeletal remains. No body, nothing to work with. Often a discovered body is what instigates this identification process. But sometimes, investigators know a homicide has occurred, or has likely occurred, but they can’t find the corpse. The Laci Peterson case is an example. When Laci, who was eight months pregnant at the time, went missing on Christmas Eve 2002, in Modesto, California, it was not long before it became obvious that she had been murdered. Authorities launched a search of her neighborhood and the bay where her husband, Scott, had been fishing. In April 2003, the bodies of Laci and her unborn son Conner washed up on shore in San Francisco Bay. Scott Peterson was later convicted of the double murder. 

In homicides, finding and examining the corpse is critical. Searchers use a number of low- and high-tech location methods. All evidence is used to narrow the search area, including the victim’s work and leisure habits and witness statements. The victim may work several miles from home, so searching along this route would be undertaken. Maybe he frequently ran or walked in a nearby wooded area. Or maybe the suspect’s vehicle was spotted or some of the victim’s clothing was found in a remote area. These bits of information can greatly focus the search. 

One basic rule is to “look downhill” for a burial site. Let’s say it is believed that the body in question was buried near a remote roadway. In the area, the terrain rises above the road on one side and falls away on the other. Search downhill. Why? It is much easier to carry a body downhill than up. It’s just that simple. 

Once the area of search has been defined, a systematic approach to cover- ing the area should be followed. Freshly turned dirt, trenches, elevations or depressions in the terrain may be helpful. Fresh graves tend to be elevated above the surrounding area, while older ones may be depressed. This is due to settling of the soil, decay of the body, and collapse of the skeleton. Interestingly, the depth of the depression is greater if the body is deeply buried. This is likely due to the larger amount of turned dirt, which is subject to a greater degree of settling. Another factor could be that in deeper graves, the increased weight of the dirt over the corpse causes earlier and more complete skeletal collapse. 

Tracking dogs, if provided with an article of the victim’s clothing, may be able to follow a scent trail to the burial site. Specially trained cadaver dogs search for the scent of decaying flesh. They can often locate bodies in shallow graves or in water. Deeper graves may present problems.

Another important clue may come from changes in the vegetation over the gravesite. The turning of the soil in the digging process and the presence of the body change the soil conditions in the area over the grave. Changes in compaction, moisture, aeration, and temperature may attract plant species that differ from those around the grave. Or, the plants typical for the area may be present but the changed soil conditions may increase the thickness and richness of their growth. This may be visible, particularly from the air. 

Aerial reconnaissance and photography can be coupled with thermal imaging. Freshly turned dirt loses heat faster than normally compacted soil; it appears “colder” by such a device. Alternatively, a decaying body releases heat, which may reveal a measurable difference when compared to the surrounding area. So, the thermal images are inspected for either cold or warm spots, and these areas are then subjected to a more aggressive search. 

If a suspect area such as a mound or depression is found, special devices that locate sources of heat and nitrogen, both byproducts of the decay process, or that measure changes in the physical properties of the soil, may be employed. Ground-penetrating radar can “see” into the ground and often locate a buried body. Measurement of the electrical conductivity may prove helpful— a buried body often adds moisture to the soil, and the moisture increases the soil’s electrical conductivity. Two metal probes are placed in the soil, and an electrical current is passed between them and measured. Changes in this current may indicate where the body is buried. 

Magnetic devices may also be employed. A simple metal detector may locate the victim’s jewelry or belt buckle. 

A special device called a magnetometer, which measures the magnetic properties of soil, can also be helpful. Soil contains small amounts of iron, so it possesses a low level of magnetic reaction. Since the area where the body is buried has proportionally less soil (the corpse takes up space), it will exhibit a lower level of magnetic reactivity. The magnetometer is passed above the soil and locates any areas that have low magnetic reactivity. 

Body Encased in Concrete: https://www.breitbart.com/crime/2019/10/17/police-find-missing-womans-body-encased-concrete-arrest-two-suspects/

Body in Concrete in Plastic Storage Container: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/13/14409189-murder-victim-found-entombed-in-concrete-was-former-fla-journalist

Acid in Tub: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-students-dissolve-body-in-acid-after-killing-girl-in-breaking-bad-murder-plot-10447943.html

Body Beneath Another Corpse: https://www.newser.com/story/240700/husband-hid-wifes-body-under-grave-of-wwii-veteran.html

Body Parts in Trash Bags: https://6abc.com/archive/6880388/

Cooked Spouse: https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/09/la-chef-told-police-he-slow-cooked-his-wife-for-days.html

Laci Petersen in the San Francisco Bay: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Peterson

Corpse in Freezer in Truck: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-07-18-mn-17076-story.html

And

https://murderpedia.org/male.F/f/famalaro-john.htm

The Science of Finding Buried Bodies: http://theconversation.com/the-science-of-finding-buried-bodies-77803

The Science of Finding Dead Bodies: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4515430/Researchers-reveal-track-corpse.html

 

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Check out the new posts John Raab of Suspense Magazine and I put together. Read the Q&As and listen to the expanded discussions. Hope each proves helpful for your crime fiction.

Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/20/d-p-lyles-forensic-file-episode-1/

In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2017/01/09/in-1863-could-an-autopsy-accurately-determine-the-cause-of-death-d-p-lyle-answers-this/

Can My Female Character Cause Her Pregnancy To Become “Stone Baby” By Shear Will?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/31/can-my-female-character-cause-her-pregnancy-to-become-stone-baby-by-sheer-will/

More to come.

Want more cool questions from crime writers? Check out my three Q&A books.

M&M 200X300

More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

MF&F 200X320

More Info and List of Included Questions

 

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES Release Day

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Forensics For Dummies Updated 2nd Edition is now available.

Get it through your local Indie Bookstore or here:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Forensics-Dummies-Douglas-P-Lyle/dp/1119181658

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/forensics-for-dummies-douglas-p-lyle/1013991421

 

Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition Coming Soon

 

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Just got the new cover for Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

It will be released from Wiley on 2-29-16

Pre-Order now

 

Crime and Science Radio: Bones Tell the Tale: An Interview With Forensic Anthropologist and Best-selling Author Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs400

 

BIO: Kathy Reichs’s first novel Déjà Dead catapulted her to fame when it became a New York Times bestseller and won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Her other Temperance Brennan novels include Death du Jour, Deadly Décisions, Fatal Voyage, Grave Secrets, Bare Bones, Monday Mourning, Cross Bones, Break No Bones, Bones to Ashes, Devil Bones, 206 Bones, Spider Bones, Flash and Bones, Bones Are Forever, and Bones of the Lost, and the Temperance Brennan e-short, Bones In Her Pocket. In addition, Kathy co-authors the Virals young adult series with her son, Brendan Reichs. The best-selling titles are: Virals, Seizure, Code, and Exposure, along with two Virals e-novellas, Shift and Swipe. These books follow the adventures of Temperance Brennan’s great niece, Tory Brennan.  Dr. Reichs is also a producer of the hit Fox TV series, Bones, which is based on her work and her novels.

From teaching FBI agents how to detect and recover human remains, to separating and identifying commingled body parts in her Montreal lab, as a forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs has brought her own dramatic work experience to her mesmerizing forensic thrillers. For years she consulted to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina, and continues to do so for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec. Dr. Reichs has travelled to Rwanda to testify at the UN Tribunal on Genocide, and helped exhume a mass grave in Guatemala. As part of her work at JPAC (Formerly CILHI) she aided in the identification of war dead from World War II, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Dr. Reichs also assisted with identifying remains found at ground zero of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Dr. Reichs is one of only eighty-two forensic anthropologists ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. She served on the Board of Directors and as Vice President of both the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and is currently a member of the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada. She is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte, NC and Montreal, Québec.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/12/05/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-bestselling-author-kathy-reichs

LINKS:

Kathy Reich’s Website: http://kathyreichs.com

Kathy Reich’s Blog: http://kathyreichs.com/category/blog/

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Kathy-Reichs/e/B000APED9E

Kathy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kathyreichs

Kathy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kathyreichsbooks

 

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Blue-eyed Mesolithic Caveman?

Was there an ancient Marlboro Man? Cool, swarthy. handsome?

DNA obtained from the wisdom tooth of the 7000-year-old remains of an European Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) hunter-gather has been analyzed and suggests that the man had dark skin and hair, blue eyes, and was likely lactose intolerant.

Artist Impression of Mesolithic Hunter-gatherer

Artist Impression of Mesolithic Hunter-gatherer

We are all familiar with DNA’s use in solving crimes by matching a suspect to a crime scene and, particularly mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), in ancestry investigations. DNA analysis can also often reveal sex, race, and hair and eye color.

Mesolithic Skull

Mesolithic Skull

Mesolithic Life in Europe Before the Curse of Farming: http://archaeology.about.com/od/mesolithicarchaic/qt/Mesolithic.htm

Historic Timeline: http://www.historiclandscape.co.uk/exploring_time.html

Stone Age Timelines: http://www.historiclandscape.co.uk/exploring_time.html

 

Crime and Science Radio: What Bones Can Tell Us: An Interview with Forensic Anthropologist Marilyn London, Saturday 11-1-14, 10 a.m. Pacific

Join DP Lyle and Jan Burke for an entertaining and informative interview with forensic anthropologist Marilyn London.  She’ll tell us what we can learn from skeletal remains, what forensic anthropologists do at the scene where remains are found, and more!

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BIO: Marilyn London has worked as a forensic anthropologist for more than three decades. She serves on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services D-MORT Team, responding to mass fatality incidents including the recovery and identification of remains after the crash of Flight 93 in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has worked on the human skeletal collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and has lectured internationally on the subject of forensic anthropology. She co-edited the book from Smithsonian Press. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Anthropology Section, and served as Chair of the Section in 2004-2005. Her specialty is the human skeleton and she has taught human osteology and related subjects at several universities. She has analyzed human skeletal remains for medical examiners in New Mexico, Iowa, and Rhode Island. She has worked on a variety of field projects, analyzing human skeletal remains from prehistoric sites and historic cemeteries in New Mexico, Maryland, and New York City. She currently also serves as a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland.

LISTEN:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/10/15/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-marilyn-london

LINKS:

American Board of Forensic http://www.theabfa.org

American Academy of Forensic Sciences: Career Guide for Anthropology http://aafs.org/students/student-career/anthropology

ABFA advice for students who want to pursue careers in forensic anthropology http://www.theabfa.org/forstudents.html

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Department of Anthropology http://anthropology.si.edu/archives_collections.html

Ellis R Kerley Forensic Sciences Foundation http://kerleyfoundation.org

Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams http://www.phe.gov/preparedness/responders/ndms/teams/pages/dmort.aspx

PBS: History Detectives: Forensic Anthropology  http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/technique/forensic-anthropology/

Simon Fraser Museum: Forensic Anthropology Resources  http://www.sfu.museum/forensics/eng/pg_media-media_pg/anthropologie-anthropology/

 
 
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