In her book, The Dying Game, Melanie King devotes a chapter to the methods used for identifying murder victims and bodies that are uncovered after many years. As forensic scientists work together, they can produce enough information to give the person a face, a background and often a location of death.
Forensic Entomologists and Insects
It is common knowledge that a dead body attracts various insects. Melanie King states that certain flies can detect a dead body from up to a mile away – and this within minutes of death. The flies gather on a body and lay eggs which hatch after between 15 and 26 hours depending on the species and temperature.
Forensic entomologists can work out the approximate time of death by analyzing the age and development of the maggots or pupae. The species can also give some clue as to whether the body was moved after death and in what geographical area death occurred.
Forensic Anthropologists and Bones of the Dead
These experts can derive a large amount of information by examining skeletal remains. Adult humans have 206 bones in their bodies and these can reveal much:
- Adult males have narrower pelvises and large skulls than females
- The shape of the skull can reveal Caucasian, Negroid or Mongoloid heritage
- Age can be determined by measuring calcium and mineral deposits in the bones
- Height can be determined by multiplying the length of the humerus by five
- Teeth are the strongest part of the human body and can be compared to dental records to make a positive identification
- Teeth can also reveal such things as the mean annual temperature and altitude of the place where the person lived. This is done by measuring isotypes of oxygen in the teeth
- Computer programs are available that build a face onto a skull to aid with identification
Botany and Forensic Analysis
Melanie King states that the air breathed, food eaten and area lived in mark a person’s body in ways that can be measured using high-tech trace element analysis. Trace evidence can include pollens, soils, woods and contaminants introduced by food or drink.
DNA and Forensic Evidence
This is one of the most well-known forms of identification and samples are often taken from suspects in murder cases as well as from a body if the identity is unknown. Melanie King reports that DNA is probably the surest form of identification that a body leaves behind. It is found in almost every cell of a person’s body and can be matched to personal items such as razorblades, tooth brushes and hairbrushes. Samples can be gathered by doing a cheek swab or collecting blood, urine or semen from a body. Jodi Picoult’snovel, Perfect Match, includes many fascinating details about DNA analysis.
Modern forensics has opened up the way to identifying criminals with microscopic evidence as well as providing irrefutable proof that a person was at a crime scene. As further advances are made, it will hopefully act as a deterrent to those who are tempted to murder and maim.
Reference: The Dying Game by Melanie King, Oneworld Publications, 2008, ISBN 978-1-85168-592-9