Always looking for something new and cool, I was sent this webinar registration coming up for the reconstruction of the fragments of skeleton remains. No, not the gif…
Reconstruction of complete skeletal remains has been notoriously difficult to do, and incredibly time-consuming for the ever-so patient puzzle reconstructionist, backlogged in many cases. The fragments are often shattered bone, nothing left intact. Think ‘Fargo.’
If you are fascinated / obsessed with forensics, you will want to see the latest of technology that will be available to the uh, FBI near you if you currently live on the East Coast (where it is first going to be available) … register and watch this webinar. Might wanna take notes. This technology comes from several sources, putting ‘Bones’ almost in the realm of reality.
I’m such a tease, but below is the information.
Registration is free, but you get to go through the series of questions. I simply add that I am a writer… so don’t sweat it. But I’d recommend hurrying on that, and if you have police/crime scene background, please use that instead of writer/author, I’d hate to get the whole group kicked out ’cause of that.
***And … to continue from Part One of yesterday’s post on Autopsy. I went through dialogue with two views of an autopsy scene: first from the professional, the information to skull and on down. The second on the newbie’s near loss of stomach contents et. al. while presented with her first degloved head during the dissection.
Needless to say, later in the narrative between her and partner, keeping her eyes on the victim’s painted toenails prove some evidence down the line. Imagine that.
For the truly dedicated medical or non-medical writer … take the coolest, most old-school class from the recently passed Marian Diamond, who at 90 years old was one of the first to study Albert Einstein’s brain.. She taught anatomy and if you have an hour a day, watching her lectures are fascinating (and now, free). And yes, I went through the class (twice, because she is a legend). This is her class:
But for this portion of the Autopsy, let me break it down:
What reasons would the medical examiner, coroner, pathologist be required to be present (or at least, highly recommended) at the crime scene? Answer? Depends.
If the pathologist/coroner/medical examiner (these terms are not interchangeable, you may have to Google … or DuckDuckGo the terms… (sorry I had an NCIS moment; I will be going with ‘Pathologist’ to cover all from here on) doesn’t follow up with correct procedure, well… imagine the media fallout, the legal ramifications, the civil lawsuits against the police station, the innocent imprisoned, the serial killer who goes free, the family who cannot have closure.
- The bizarre nature of the murder(s)
- Prominent/high profile victims (and suspect)
- Difficulty in identifying weapon i.e. having to use an FBI weapons https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/april2000/schehl1.htm (this is part one, there are more, another great resource).
- Serial/multiple deaths and backlogged cases that require immediate evaluation of the victim at the scene. You do not want your main character-detective evading the first walk-through without a pathologist at the scene
- Correct and quick collection of fragments of cloth for processing
- Deaths without clear determination
- TOD (aka Time of Death)
- Deaths that take place in a prison–this would be a state issue… your local coroner will not be an adequate resource. Perhaps one of the most scrutinized cases that must have access to a knowledgeable medical examiner (or group!)
- Recovery of unusual evidence (you’ll know it when you write it… or see it… or read about); supervise collection of teeth, bones; evaluation of victim, possibly being moved and fire death scenes.
- Crash scenes; airplane crashes will include the FAA and every other ABC agency so, get it right.
- Recovery of buried remains (important items may well be buried under the corpse/skeleton, maybe another body, perhaps clothes with viable (who knows?) DNA evidence.
- Educational for weird s*** (stuff) to show future / budding medical examiners.
- Any other case that the detective/CSU has questions about. There is so many reasons to have/must have a pathologist, one might just call the pathologist, anyway. Do not wake the pathologist up when a ninety-year old cancer patient in a nursing home passes away in their sleep. Don’t, just… do not. If you are writing from the pathologist’s point of view, and want to make him/her grumpy, that’s the perfect way to go about him/her hating the detective…
Each state has it’s own laws… you may find these are standardized soon under the auspices of the FBI. permission to do an autopsy is not an individual’s verbal/written consent. The autopsy is performed based on findings at the scene per dictated by state law.
- Don’t forget the written reports, the computer entries, x-rays, photographs from the scene. The body at this point has been moved to the morgue. The official autopsy begins here, while a cursory may be done (especially in fiction for sake of brevity) at the scene i.e. time of death determination.
- Let’s go with the external examination. Glove up and don the rest of your personal protection equipment per OSHA guidelines. This is the walk around. What does the victim look like at the scene? Now, the body is on the table before the clothes are washed, the finger/toenails evaluated, photographed and scraped? Before the particulates are removed and collected?
- Determine victim’s approximate age, developmental status, height, weight. Dental x-rays can be compared (if available) to the x-rays obtained at time of autopsy.
- Look for old injuries that are obvious, bruising. Photograph tattoos, identifying marks, tool patterns and evaluate the possible weapon. If your victim is killed while crawling in mud, the spatter and pattern of the weapon may appear different.
- Fingerprints can be collected (yes! No, not old school, not without some chemical help).
- Collect particulates carefully from hair. Also… yay… bugs. If you have to, collect a lot of these bugs. You may need a lot. Later on the margaritas of collecting bug juices <watches people run to bathroom to vomit> Ya’ll back now? Okay.
- The walk-around complete, let you tech collect, bag and get your signature as well as his/hers, and time to be sent to the CSU lab. Remove your personal protection gear you are wearing, gown, gloves, clean up, and wait while your tech washes the body. Have your margarita…the correct one… j/k.
- While the wash-down is going on and you are not having a PB&J sandwich, evaluate the x-rays. Are there pins, screws, joint replacements, pacemaker? Old/new fractures? Any prosthesis surgically placed will have identifying information, in the event your story includes an unknown victim. Look for opaque objects, bullets, bits of metal.
Internal Exam: (Dear Lord in Heaven when was she going to get here?)
In most fiction, the prelim, while important, can be summed up with the words, “Didn’t find blah blah blah in the prelim. During the internal exam, however…”
If your crime-fighting hero/heroine is the main character, don’t forget the prelim. ‘Gathered are precious pearls hiding in plain view…’ Quote ~ (Not really) Yoda
The internal exam also includes evaluating external signs of rigor mortis and lividity.
You’ll recognize rigor mortis as soon as you see it, er your pathologist or detective, and lividity when the body is turned over. Rigor mortis (aka ‘rigor’) is muscle stiffening after death when the body stops making substances that keep you in motion and your muscles, joints movable. No, older people are not in rigor mortis. Yeesh. Unless of course, they are recently dead like, in the past two days.
Rigor begins the process at approximately two hours after death. Stiffening increases from eight to twelve hours at the peak, and gradually decreases over thirty-six to forty-eight hours.
Livor mortis (lividity) is something of great interest to your detective during the process of walking the scene. This process begins thirty minutes after the heart stops, and the victim’s blood follows gravity, appearing purplish. If your victim has lividity to the stomach yet you find him/her lying on his/her back, the body has been moved, because there is a time limit. Six hours, and lividity is fixed.
Now, evaluate the scalp to toes, noting head, neck, spine, thorax, abdomen for wound size, type: from a bullet? trajectory and ‘obvious’ wound tract’; then internally.
Start with a liver temperature. This with rigor and livor mortis helps the timeline. Bugs help, also. Ahem. But have your pathologist look for and obtain objects that do not belong in a body. Ever. Bullets, metal fragments, spears, surgical instruments or car keys left there during surgery (haven’t heard of car keys just yet), cellphones, surgical gauze (happens all the time) micro chips swallowed by the victim to hide evidence, jewelry, potatoes & other veggies… (found in nether regions), light bulbs (found), coke bottles (found again in the down under), drugs (and … done). I have seen some interesting things in fiction. ‘Sideways Eight’ by AJ Wallace comes to mind. Brow-raising and well, downright entertaining things found in places, well, thanks AJ, things one can never un-see.
If your story has a separate CSU department, they will receive clothing to serum. The will assess in depth, and for brevity, your story may diverge here: “The lab found animal blood on the clothes, dirt from the scene, but …” However, you know what’s gone on in your writer’s brain, and only add what pushes your plot forward. My medical examiner explains he found a substance in the vitreous humor, and your reader may not know what this is, so then, neither does the detective (for the reader’s sake) and has to ask, ‘what is the vit…?’ Grumpy pathologist reports ,’Gooey eyeball stuff.’ But what’s found in the gooey eyeball stuff plays into the story.
This way, you haven’t lost your reader to watch Marian Diamond’s lectures.
There are a few different techniques (Rokinansky, Virchow) on performing autopsies. I prefer to vary my pathologist’s methods largely because I want my characters, including the pathologists (whether main character or not) to have their own professional quirks. This means, some start with the cranial evaluation and work their way down, removing, weighing and measuring the organs, while another method leaves everything in place and evaluates right there. Both are fine, but there are pitfalls and benefits to both.
Leaving everything in place helps the pathologist assess each organ as it sits … and find the wound tract. But those organs are slippery little buggers, and the pathologist could potentially accidentally ruin a wound tract. On the other hand, removing each organ by snipping it loose can damage a portion of a wound not seen while removing organs; though evaluation of stomach contents, and other wounds i.e. to the lungs, heart, etc., are measured easily. Or with slightly less slippage…
(There are the med student clinical methods [dissections] that follow along with the anatomy class and are part of a year long anatomy class. [I have a website for that, too, if you are interested] but dissections are not the same as an autopsy. There is a thirty minute graphic Spanish speaking autopsy, well done, trust me, you will know what / how an autopsy can be done with a soup ladle, a measuring cup, a butcher knife, and a hammer… That is how it is done in parts of Mexico.
And at the end of that thirty minute video you will know what the Y cut is, the evaluation of the viscera and organs, finding the wound tract, and where the bullet entered the heart. But you may want to know just where to get that Ginsu knife for your next Thanksgiving bird, because he was able to slice through the skull and still thinly slice that brain like a pastrami loaf… You’ll also know what [without needing translation] a degloved head looks like, like my detective in Nobody Girl and the pathologist in How to Steal a Romance.)
Now evaluate the wound tract. Make certain specimens are collected from the eyes (vitreous humor–contains chemicals that can be evaluated to compare to tissue, organs and blood). Collect hair from scalp, pubic hair. Collect all specimens there. Measure blood loss before or after removing the viscera (fatty material plus the small, large intestines), and the stomach. And if not done yet, evaluate the vagina and anus, as well.
Now ya’ll might be thinking, so why do I have to take tissue samples from everything when the dude was obviously hit by a bus and his head crushed?
Well, good point, Dr. Watson.
But … you’re wrong. What if your victim was hit by the bus not due to bus driver’s menacing or careless driving but because he had a brain tumor that caused confusion? And lookie there, right on the street, your CSU can gather that brain matter up for you. Now how bad would you feel if Mr. (or Ms.) Detective determined, and judge/jury locked up some poor schmuck for murder when it had everything to do with the victim’s health?
And how would Mr. (or Ms.) Detective feel if she didn’t check for psych records, mental status with the family? Hmm. You see where I am going. PLOT TWIST! Because homicide … it ain’t easy.
And yep. Another post in a few days on what follows when your pathologist is done slicing and dicing.