How are coroners able to find specific details about a dead body, like the time of death, cause of death, and even the distance between the victim and the attacker?



How are coroners able to find specific details about a dead body, like the time of death, cause of death, and even the distance between the victim and the attacker?

In: Biology

If you know the temperature where the body is then you can work out rate of heat loss from the body. This will give a time of death if not too much time has passed (it’s going to not be 100% accurate and so will be a range but won’t be like 2 or 3 days, more like 12 to 14 hours). If too long for this method has passed then they can tell from things like which bugs are eating the body and how much decomposition has taken place. Bugs will show up after a certain amount of times before they start to feed on the body especially those which are laid in the body as eggs first. They take time to hatch and then mature.

Cause of death can be rather obvious if they’ve been stabbed, shot, etc. They can even tell if the stabs, etc were while the person was alive due to if the blood was pumped out by a still beating heart or not.

If the victim was shot they can tell if it was close range if there’s powder residue on the victim. This powder residue comes out of the gun when it’s fired but doesn’t travel very far.

Human bodies decay on specific time lines. From when rigor mortis sets in to when it releases, the cooling of the body, and so on. Specific modalities of death, strangulation, gunshot wounds, stabbing, blunt force trauma (beating someone to death) all deliver specific information. Like, after a certain distance, you no longer get gunpowder burns on a body and so on. Then there are insects. Certain bugs will be in/on the body at specific times during decomposition. All of these various details add together to build a specific picture of when a person died and the modality of that death.

The coroner figures this out by examining the body. Things like rigor mortis (the stiffening of the body’s muscles) happen in under 15 hours; determining how close the body is to full rigor mortis can help them nail down a timeline.

Bodies decompose; examining how much the body has decomposed adds another datapoint. The eyes in particular have a series of changes they go through that can help a coroner determine time of death.

As for cause of death, the coroner can look at a few things. The stomach’s contents can be tested to rule out poisoning. The type of impact wound can help determine what killed an individual. For example, finger marks around the neck could be consistent with strangulation. A bullet wound could explain cause of death as well. You could check for blood/water in the lungs, etc…

There’s a lot you can find out from a person’s body.

Time of death…found based on what they see and the current time…for example, if the body is stiff, then the person died a few hours earlier but a day earlier (then it would be limp again). Usually this is determined by maggots…which take 3 days to form…no maggots = 2 days or less

Cause of death…look for anything out of the ordinary that couldn’t exist in a living person…like a hole in the head. If there’s water in the lungs, then they drown.

Distance….that’s determined by blood splatter. The size of the droplets and the pattern when it hits a surface tells a lot. I know the least about this but the old O.J. trial taught a lot about it. Round drops mean the blood fell from above. A linear splatter means the blood came at an angle…and it points in the direction it came from.

There are really three distinctions that need to be made here.

The *cause* of death is the injury/disease that produced the death. Example: a gunshot would to the head.

The *mechanism* of death would be what happened to the body to make it die. Example: it’s brain was displaced and/or the person bled out from a gunshot wound to the head.

The *manner* of death is how the death came to be. Example: self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Different details apply to each of those three things which paints a clearer picture for professionals who interpret it.

Edit: there are other good explanations that have been posted already that apply details of how things happen physiologically, which may have answered your question, just didn’t think it was explained to you like you were 5.

There is a specialty in medicine called pathology, which is the study of disease. Pathologists study disease and death to recognize the signs of early, intermediate and advanced stages of disease. I went with a med student to his pathology lab once, when he was studying gunshot wounds. Point blank wounds had burn marks on the victim’s skin, because of the hot gasses and the hot barrel of the gun. A few feet away, there were markings called stippling, caused by specs of residue. Shots from farther away lacked these signs.
You can test tissue samples from someone’s liver (which filters impurities from your blood) to see what kind of abnormal chemicals are present. These are important clues for cause of death.