So I'm fairly thrilled to say that one of my collectors and long time supporters is a forensic pathologist. I suppose I think that the occupation is deadly cool because when I was young (for a while, at least) I wanted to go into forensics and become one of those wildly intelligent people who could catch Dahmer types by correctly identifying a pollen species from a tyre tread.
Anyway, Dr Ben said I was welcome to ask him any question that might come to mind. I did. His answer was so was fascinating that I thought I would post it here for you all to enjoy.
Q. When I was too young I started reading this book written by a journalist who followed a case about a serial killer operating in Cape Town who was killing kids (mainly boys). It was a big hoo-ha because I was 6 at the time and therefore likely to die at any minute (according to the adults who were freaking out) He was called the Station Strangler, if I remember correctly.
Anyway! They found the body of one boy on the sand dunes. He'd been there a while and it was the middle of summer and so he was crawling with maggots. How do they transport a corpse in that state? Do they even bother with something like a stretcher/body bag shape, or do they just transport it in pieces? Also, do they clean off all the maggots first?
A. I shall tell you some fun stuff about maggots. They are wonderful recyclers and can be very useful forensically. Firstly, the newly hatched larva have very weak jaws and cannot chew through skin, so the adult lays its' eggs either on softer linings of the body (the eyelids, nose, mouth, anus or genitals (if exposed)) or on open wounds. So, if you find a large maggot activity on the wrists or hands you should look for cuts to the skin: they act as pointers to possible woundings. They are also well designed to feast, especially in a big maggot mass: as a maggot is trying to feed constantly, it doesn't really want to keep "coming up for air". So the spiracles (breathing tubes) are located around its' bum. So, the bum goes up in the air and the head down and it can chew away happily for hours.
They form three larval stages (first, second and third instars) and, depending on the environmental temperature and species of fly, can give you an indication of the time since death depending on the age of maggots. When the third instar stage is reached and the maggot is ready to pupate, it will crawl away from the corpse (giving others a chance to feast) and find a dark place to turn into an adult. So, you usually find older maggots crawling up walls or trees, or burrowing into the soil around a body. As the body is consumed and the remains dry out (like jerky), you get different types of flies, such as the Cheese Skipper which ordinarily feeds on dried hams and cheeses, and beetles. Spiders then feast on those species. So you get a whole little environment going on around a body...not to mention large animals that will chew, which I'm afraid includes cats and dogs in a domestic environment, or foxes, rodents and birds outside.
So, a body is picked up and put in a body bag and it usually holds together fine. If i doesn't the parts still get transported in a single body bag. Many of the maggots hide in the clothing, as they don't like sunlight much, so they often pour out at the mortuary when you undress the body...then you find them crawling up your leg and getting in your wellies!
Maggots can also be useful if you have little corpse left as you can scoop up a few handfuls and send them to the lab for toxicology tests: obviously a maggot wouldn't normally have drugs or medications in them, so if you test them (by liquidising them) for such you might identify if someone took an overdose.
All in all, maggots are helpful, but we do end up washing a large number down the drains!
On the down side, they can obliterate a body in days and ruin trace evidence, such as DNA, on the skin so not always helpful.
Has that helped?
That's the best industry standard based information I've ever, ever heard.
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