Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Insects and Determining Time of Death

I am back.....
My sincere apologies for the long absence. Now to get to the meat of things....

I just finished reading an interesting little book called Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death by Jessica Snyder Sachs (Basic Books: New York, 2001). It outlines recent (now 10 year-old) developments in the determination of an accurate time of death compared to what was previously thought. It seems that progressively since the 19th century and earlier, medico-forensic determinations of time of death have been inversely accurate compared to the beliefs of the time. The more we learned about the processes going on within both newly dead and long-term decaying bodies, the less accurate our estimates became because we could no longer depend on the inaccurately definitive assumptions of previous generations. This was very problematic when it came to the identification of missing persons and corroborating or breaking suspects' alibis. Justice was not being served.

This book outlines the history of how forensic science evolved and eventually turned to entomology and botany to increase the tools available to homicide investigators. Although a bit "clinical", I still found it a fascinating read. As a history, it names most of the important scientists and researchers who have lead the way to establish what we now take for granted when we watch a CSI type television program. Among the names featured in the book is Bill Bass (see my entry for June 7, 2010, "The Body Farm") who was one of, if not the first to use actual human cadavers for field study research into insect invasion, long-term decay, and the application and study of environmental and situational controls.

For those interested in the criminalistic side of things, this is a must-read.

In a slightly different vein, I just learned that Dr. Stanley Burns has recently published the third volume of Sleeping Beauties. The first two volumes are long out-of-print and quite valuable. Although this one is of a smaller format, I am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I am sure it will be chock full of those wonderful 19th century post mortem portraits.

In a coming installment, I will post more from my own PM photo collection, so please stay tuned.