Decomposition involves two processes: autolysis and putrefaction. Autolysis is the breakdown of cells and organs from an aseptic chemical process caused by intracellular enzymes. Since it is a chemical process, it is accelerated by heat, slowed by cold, and stopped by freezing or the inactivation of enzymes by heat. Organs rich in enzymes will undergo autolysis faster than organs with lesser amounts of enzyme. Thus, the pancreas autolyzes before the heart.

The second form of decomposition, which to most individuals is synonymous with decomposition, is putrefaction. This is due to bacteria and fermentation. After death, the bacterial flora of the gastrointestinal tract invades the vascular system, spreading through­ out the body, producing putrefaction. This is accelerated in septic individuals because bacteria have already spread throughout the body prior to death.

When we talk about decomposition, we usually mean putrefaction. The onset of putrefaction depends on two main factors: the environ­ment and the body. In hot climates, the most important of these two factors is environment. Most authorities would give the following sequence of events in decomposition of bodies. First there is greenish discoloration of the lower quadrants of the abdomen, the right more than the left, usually in the first 24-36 h. This is followed by greenish discoloration of the head, neck, and shoulders swelling of the face due to bacterial gas formation and "marbling." Marbling is produced by hemolysis of blood in vessels with reaction of hemoglobin and hydro­gen sulfide and development of greenish black coloration along the vessels. The body soon undergoes generalized bloating followed by vesicle formation, skin slippage, and hair slippage. By this time, the body is a pale green to green-black color.

From Forensic Pathology by Dominick J. Di Maio, MD and Vincent J. M. Di Maio, MD


Cause of Death

Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D.

Forensic pathologist re-examines the evidence and casts “bold, brilliant and often shocking new light” on the JFK and RFK assassinations, the innocence or guilt of Claus von Bülow, the medical malpractice surrounding Elvis and Chappaquiddick, among others. Computerized “second gun” evidence from Dallas: “For six weeks, Tom played with his new hobby. He would slowly eliminate layer after layer of shade, hoping to discover what the metal was that glittered from near the fence area of the grassy knoll… Each time, the piece of metal became brighter until it was in full view—a badge. It was that of a police officer or police detective… as the layers of gray continue to vanish, it appears that the fourth piece of metal is hidden behind smoke… All at once, you are faced with an image of a man’s head behind what appears to be a gun. It was hidden behind the smoke.” GR

Publisher: Onyx
Paperback: 326 pages

The Detection of Human Remains

Edward W. Killam

“This volume is the first of its kind—a how-to manual for finding buried, concealed or discarded bodies. As an experienced legal investigator, the author is keenly aware of the courtroom implications of the detection and recovery of evidence. Detection methods include ground contact, proximate and remote sensing techniques. Many methods are known to archaeologists but not law enforcement and vice versa. Search supervisors are advised how to decide on procedures and how to justify their decisions, how to consider the press and the victim’s family—and how to balance time, manpower and costs against expected results.”

Publisher: C.C. Thomas
Paperback: 284 pages

Forensic Medicine: An Illustrated Reference

J.K. Mason, M.D., LL.D.

“The opportunity to visualize what the author is verbally depicting is undoubtedly greater in forensic pathology, and probably more important as an educational tool, than in any other field of medical practice… Professor Mason has compiled 730 photos that vividly demonstrate the various pathological entities and phenomena described by the author at the beginning of the 19 chapters. Every illustration is accompanied by a clear description that enables the reader to readily comprehend the salient features of a specific injury or post-mortem artifact. These legends are relatively lengthy and contain more detail than is customarily found in medical texts of this nature… Thus the author has ensured a complete pictorial coverage of frequently encountered entities in violent, unnatural, unexplained and mysterious deaths, as well as many of the more bizarre kinds of post-mortem findings which even veteran forensic pathologists have rarely experienced.”—Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D., past president, American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Nearly all photo illustrations are in full color and very graphic.

Publisher: Chapman and Hall
Hardback: 213 pages

Forensic Pathology

Dominick J. DiMaio and Vincent J.M. DiMaio

“Without a doubt the most comprehensive, definitive and practical medicolegal textbook on forensic pathology today.” Chapters include: “Medicolegal Investigative Systems” (definition of death, operation of a medical examiner system, etc.), “Time of Death” (livor mortis, rigor mortis, decomposition, insect activity, etc.), “Deaths Due to Natural Disease” (cardiovascular disease, deaths due to intracranial lesions, respiratory system, etc.), “Wounds Due to Blunt Trauma” (abrasions, contusions, lacerations, defense wounds due to blunt force, etc.), “Blunt Trauma Injuries of the Trunk and Extremities,” “Trauma to the Skull and Brain: Craniocerebral Injuries” (impact injuries, acceleration/deceleration injuries, death due to cerebral concussion, boxing injuries, etc.), “Wounds Due to Pointed and Sharp-Edged Weapons” (stab wounds, incised wounds, chop wounds, etc.), “Asphyxia” (suffocation, strangulation, sexual asphyxia, crucifixion, etc.), “Deaths Due to Motor Vehicles,” “Airplane Crashes,” “Neonaticide, Infanticide and Child Homicide” (battered baby syndrome, “impulse” or “angry” homicide, the shaken baby syndrome, etc.), “Death Due to Fire,” “Drowning” (drowning in bathtubs, scuba divers), “Topics in Forensic Pathology” (primary cardiac arrest during exercise, starvation, death in the dental chair, water intoxication, deaths due to electrolytic disorders) and more. Provides “graphic and descriptive photographs throughout the text that highlight for the reader exactly what to look for and how to handle specific situations.

Publisher: CRC
Hardback: 528 pages

Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics and Forensic Techniques

Vincent J.M. DiMaio

“Provides critical information in the classification of gunshot wounds caused by handguns, rimfire and centerfire weapons, rifles and shotguns, as well as some less common weaponry. Covers issues concerning small-arms fire and forensic pathology, such as: basic forensic aspects of ballistics and wound ballistics; the importance of x-rays in autopsy; the detection of gunshot residues; the correct handling of deaths caused by firearms; and suicide by firearms.”

Publisher: CRC
Hardback: 454 pages

Homicide Investigation: A Practical Handbook

Burt Rapp

Small primer on homicide investigation. General beginner’s book especially helpful for law enforcement, private investigators, writers, filmmakers. Does not go into exhaustive details or feature many photographs or illustrations. Basic tasks, tactics and tools for investigation are covered. Includes a glossary and other references. This book will give the reader a basic beginning understanding of homicide investigation. Lists the stages of death; how to estimate time of death; what is done first at a murder scene; when search warrants are needed; how to sketch murder scenes; what happens at an autopsy and more. MC

Publisher: Loompanics
Paperback: 180 pages

How To Solve a Murder: The Forensic Handbook

Michael Kurland

At first glance this looks more like a “Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?” book, but author Kurland has written a more serious book than either the cover or the inside illustrations convey. The reader is taken through a typical murder investigation step by step, using a fictional crime tailored so that as many forensic techniques as possible are covered. Interspersed are anecdotes of real crimes; the historical notes are worthy and give a good background to the contemporary information. From blood spatters to ballistics, for the novice crime buff or mystery-novel reader, a good introduction to the world of the homicide voyeur. TR

Publisher: Macmillan
Paperback: 194 pages

Medicolegal Investigation of Death: Guidelines for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigation

Werner U. Spitz

“Known as the ‘bible’ of forensic pathology to pathologists around the world… This authoritative and complete textbook is written by some of the most respected experts in the United States.” Contents include: “History of Forensic Pathology and Related Laboratory Sciences”; “Time of Death and Changes After Death”; “Identification of Human Remains”; “Forensic Odontology”; “Trauma and Disease”; “Blunt Force Injury”; “Sharp Force Injury”; “Injury by Gunfire”; “Thermal Injury”; “Asphyxia”; “Drowning”; “Electrical and Lightning Injuries”; “The Road Traffic Victim”; “Aircraft Crash Investigation”; “Sex Crimes”; “Mechanical Injuries of Brain and Meninges”; “Microscopic Forensic Pathology”; “Deaths in Childhood”; and more. Illustrated throughout.

Publisher: C.C. Thomas
Hardback: 856 pages

Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques

Vernon J. Gerberth

“The world of the homicide detective is permeated with human tragedies which involve a variety of sudden and violent death scenarios. Many of these events, which are seemingly beyond the comprehension of the average person, reveal motivations and patterns of repetition which are recognized by the experienced homicide detective. Professional homicide investigators become keenly aware of the reality of death and the impact it has on both society and the surviving family… The professional homicide investigator must learn to deal with death in a clinical manner.”
At nearly 1,000 pages, this is a handbook expressly for the professional detective, extensively illustrated, including such morbid gems of police photography as a suicide by rifle fire to the face; evisceration and anthropophagy (“Subject engaged in post-mortem mutilation of the victim’s body. He eviscerated her and removed her ovaries, which he consumed”); contents of a “murder kit” (a camcorder with an x-rated porno tape, black nylon stockings and fishnet stockings, a pair of gloves, a bottle of chloroform with a mask, a syringe containing a horse tranquilizer, a bondage gag, two clothes pins and a number of pre-tied ropes with slip knots); a female victim posed for “shock value” with a shotgun placed into her vagina; Ted Bundy shortly before his execution; and hundreds more. Also features Jeffrey Dahmer’s personal Polaroids of posed victims and decapitated heads and body parts courtesy of the Milwaukee Police Department. Chapters include: “The Homicide Crime Scene,” “Specific Investigative Duties at the Scene,” “The Crime Scene Photographs,” “The Crime Scene Sketch,” “The Homicide Crime Scene Search,” “Estimating the Time of Death,” “The Identity of the Deceased,” “Suicide Investigation,” “The Investigation of Sex-Related Homicides,” “Homosexual Homicides,” “The Autopsy,” “The News Media in Homicide Investigations,” “Identification of Suspects” and “Investigative Assessment: Criminal Personality Profiling.”

Publisher: CRC
Hardback: 599 pages

The Practical Methodology of Forensic Photography

David R. Redsicker

“Photographic documentation of evidence for presentation of an argument in a court of law is forensic photography… The purpose of this text is twofold; first, to bring together in one readily available resource all the latest methods of photographic documentation, including the old tried-and-true methods with cameras, film and lighting sources as well as new procedures involving video and thermography. Second and most important, the format of the text is a practical step-by-step application of forensic photography. Students and professionals alike will be capable of using any camera together with the aid of this methodology in producing their own photographic documentation.” Covers still photography for fire/crime scenes, motor-vehicle accident scenes, aerial and underwater photography, surveillance photography, photographic aspects of physical injuries and fatalities, evidence documentation and legal aspects of visual evidence.

Publisher: CRC
Hardback: 292 pages