Friday, March 22, 2013
In the first part of this series on an actual death investigation, Kenny, a male corpse in various stages of decomposition, was discovered dumped in a wooded area near a Canadian west coast city on a hot summer day.
There was no immediate identification, no apparent time of death, no location where he might have died, and certainly no obvious cause of death. Even without these basics, the corpse and the scene still crawled with information. On the surface, thousands of things were going to help in narrowing down the length of time that Kenny had been there.
Entomology is a long accepted forensic science in determining the progression of nature’s recycling program. It relies on the study of the insect life cycle; egg, larva, pupa, adult, and back to egg. Each species has a specific time frame and a collection of specimens from the scene is critical. By determining which insects were present and what stages of development they were in, you can simply count the days of production. Fortunately, two factors were in favor this day.
One is that the conditions were perfect for insect proliferation; early summer, hot and dry weather, being in a semi-shaded rural area, and having a huge supply of rotting flesh. The second was having a world renowned lady entomologist residing a phone call away at the University of British Columbia – the ‘Bug Bitch’ as she’s affectionately known in the forensic world.
The scene was held until the entomologist arrived and took samples of the insect life and surrounding vegetation. A forensic pathologist was consulted by phone but declined to attend. Contrary to popular police shows, pathologists rarely examine a body on site as there’s little they can do that the coroner and police forensic officers can’t. A common misconception is that time of death can be readily determined by a pathologist taking rectal temperature or pulling some rabbit from their hat. Absolutely not so.
A must-do was a manual search of the corpse for any identifiers; wallet with ID, jewelry, pocket contents – anything – and in Kenny’s case nothing was found. There were some apparent things for follow-up. His mummified left arm showed numerous tattoos and his teeth, very visible in the skeletonized skull, showed a large gap between the top incisors. Without a doubt, in life, Kenny would have been very recognizable when he smiled.
A scene search had been methodically conducted by a small army of police officers and two service dogs. This was done in a strict grid pattern and anything of interest was recorded on a GPS data point, then collected, catalogued as evidence, and mapped out in a computerized reconstruction. This sounds easy, but the thick woods and step terrain made the search a logistical hassle.
Compounding the challenge was that the site had been used as an unauthorized waste dump. For years, careless people had chucked stuff over this bank and it was strewn with plastics and papers, tires and tools, boards and bags and boxes. Determining what was current, what was historic, and what was relevant, was a judgment call however something of interest could be seen trapped under the body.
Remains removal is usually a matter of physically lifting the corpse and placing it in a body bag, then carrying it to a van and transporting to the morgue. In Kenny’s case – not so easy. His state of decomp was to the point of disarticulation; in other words coming apart at the joints. Now this is not the first time a rotting corpse had been transferred and a trick of the trade is to use large, plastic snow scrapers to effectively ‘team shovel’ the cadaver in one piece into a bag. Again, sounds simple, till you consider this was on an incline and the first disturbance caused a swarm flies and a reek of gassing off.
With Kenny now on his way to the morgue, a better look was taken at what had been underneath him. A white plastic bag was recovered which contained the usual garbage; 7-11 wrappers, Big Gulp cups, napkins, pop cans… and a receipt with a time and date.
This obviously had been down the bank before Kenny landed on top of it, but did it come with him? It’d eventually proved corroborative in determining Kenny’s time of death, but who was he? How’d he get here? And what or who the hell killed him?
There was a lot of science ahead. And some good ‘ol detective work.
Garry Rodgers has lived the life that he writes about. Now retired as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective and forensic coroner, Garry also served as a sniper with British SAS–trained Emergency Response Teams and is a recognized expert-witness in firearms. A believer in ‘What Goes Around, Comes Around’ Garry provides free services in helping writers through his crime and forensic expertise. Garry’s new supernatural thriller No Witnesses To Nothing is based on a true crime story where many believe that paranormal intervention occurred. An Amazon Top 10 Bestseller, it’s available on Kindle and print on demand. You can connect with Garry via his Website: www.dyingwords.net