Question: Scenario: A victim is found in a forest, unknown time of death, unknown gender; the car is burnt and shows signs of collisions, there are signs of freshly dug earth about 1.7 metres long. If you were called in, how would your job contribute to the case?
Katherine Davies answered on 21 Mar 2011:
My main aim would be to estimate time since death (TSD) using insect evidence. We would have to take into account the temperature, humidity, rainfall and general environment of the forest as well as the car. Burning of the body would also contribute to the TSD estimate.
We may also be able to use any larvae present to test for drug abuse to help contribute to a drug-driving case.
If you are suggesting there is a buried body, this would also be examined for insect evidence, and any larvae or pupae found in the surrounding area (if young enough) could be tested to see which came from which corpse (to help determine TSD of each body, they may not have been together!!).
Jamie Pringle answered on 21 Mar 2011:
Sounds like a good exam question to me, I’ll use that one if you dont mind 🙂
My colleagues on this website can tell you more about analysis for most of the variables that you have mentioned, but for me, the disturbed ground would be of the most interest. As it is a relatively small and obvious area, I would run over it with the GPR instrument to see if anything has been buried there. The forensic investigators woudl then presumably do some excavating!
Niamh Nic Daeid answered on 21 Mar 2011:
If I was involved in your case it would be related to the burnt car. the important questions would be how did the car catch fire, was it because of the collision or was the fire deliberately set.
Car fires can be difficult to investigate because there is ignitable liquid (petrol or diesel etc) always present at the scene so you can’t use its presence as an indicator of arson. An obvious starting point would be to look at how and what the car could have collided with and what if any effect this may have had on potential ignition sources such as the electrical system or the engine and work from there.
Burn patterns left on the car can help narrow down which areas of the car might have been more involved in the fire but they can be hard to evaluate because the fire can often be very intense.
Mark Hill answered on 22 Mar 2011:
Is this a ‘full-house’ question?
I think that my last answer, to the car in a collision, assault, scenario would also probably encompass the sorts of protocols and considerations that we all would have. I would also put on my vehicle fire investigators hat as well and work with Niamh.
Other experts, such as Jamie, Jodie and Kat – well everyone – would all play their part. This would be a synergy of expertise to conduct a comprehensive investigation.
Flexible frameworks to be utilised and adapted accordingly are all important in my work. I investigate anything vehicle related, including cliff drive-off suicides, fatal crashes, assaults/murders with vehicles, or true accidents, such as trees falling on vehicles, where death results. All sorts of experts assist my investigations, from my colleagues here, the medical profession, arboriculturalists, as with a recent tree felling, and others.
I hope that this helps.
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