Brian Innes's
The Body in Question: Exploring the Cutting Edge of Forensic Science
Notes by J. Zimmerman

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Chapter highlights:

  1. Beyond reasonable doubt.
  2. Who was John - or Jane - Doe.
  3. Suspicious circumstances.
  4. Time of death.
  5. Cause of death.
  6. The guilty party.
  7. The mind of the criminal.
  8. In the courtroom.


Everyone intrigued by developments in the power of DNA testing and other forensic science, or with such events as the OJ Simpson trial, need this enthralling, readable, and thoroughly illustrated book.

"The public is no longer satisfied with motion picture and television programs that soft-pedal the scientific process, instead demanding more realism and better science in popular depictions of investigative procedures."

Packed with murder investigations and new techniques in USA, and Britain.

Beyond reasonable doubt

Early development of methods of determining causes of death and likely perpetrators. Initial codification of fingerprint (friction-ridge) patterns after Sir Frances Galton's observation of specific types of fingerprint patterns:

  1. Plain arch
  2. Tented arch
  3. Simple loop
  4. Central pocket loop
  5. Double loop
  6. Lateral pocket loop
  7. Plain whorl
  8. Accidental
Initial blood typing:
A: antigen A present, antigen B absent. 42% G.B. 39% USA.
B: antigen B present, antigen A absent. 8% G.B. 13% USA.
O: neither antigen present. 47% G.B. 43% USA.
AB: both antigens present. 3% G.B. 5% USA.

Initial ballistics analysis:

  1. Began 1835 with Henry Goddard's comparison of bullets.
  2. Determined the burglary was staged by the butler!

Who was John - or Jane - Doe?

  1. The coroner and the autopsy.
  2. Initial examination of six sites for body hair.
  3. Fingerprints.
  4. Dental characteristics.
  5. Blood.
  6. Skulls and bones. Including the reconstruction of a person's features from their skulls.

Suspicious circumstances

What is discovered at the scene determines if further investigation is required:

  1. Tools for collecting evidence.
  2. How fingerprints are investigated, including prints in discarded gloves.
  3. Foot and tire prints.
  4. Blood and biological fluids, including blood patterns.
  5. Trace evidence.
  6. Fire and explosion. E.g., the reconstruction of how the Lockerbie disaster happened.

Time of death

Are they dead? No detectable heartbeat, respiration, or brain activity?

  1. Body temperature.
  2. Rigor mortis.
  3. Stomach contents.
  4. Adipocere - a corpse buried in water or wet surroundings can form this greyish soap-like wax by chemical action on body fat.
  5. Cadaver fauna. The Body Farm (U. of Tennessee's Anthropological Research Facility) measures the decay of human bodies.
  6. Decay products allow calculation of 'degree hours' since start of decomposition.

Cause of death

  1. Initial examination.
  2. Stages of the autopsy.
  3. Asphyxiation. E.g., Jonestown.
  4. Contusion and other injuries.
  5. Wounds with sharp instruments.
  6. Gunshot wounds. E.g., the Kennedy Assassination (Nov 22, 1963); 'the Warren Commission published twenty-six volumes of evidence presented before it, but did not consult a single forensic pathologist.'
  7. Internal examination.
  8. The nature of death: natural, accident, suicide, or killed by someone else.
  9. Toxicology screening: chemical spot tests; chromatography; mass spectrometry; and immunoassay.
  10. Analysis of materials.
  11. Diatoms tested for in a drowned body, to determine if alive on entry into water.

The guilty party

  1. Eyewitnesses first register
    1. hair, mouth, eyes,
    2. then the shape of each,
    3. then eye color,
    4. and only with those in place does one register the general form of the face.
  2. Photo-fit and video-fit.
  3. Every contact leaves a trace. E.g., Wayne Williams (Atlanta, 1981).
  4. DNA: A brief history.
  5. Fragmented DNA:
    1. Restriction enzymes cut DNA strands into sections but only at the site of a specific sequence of base pairs.
    2. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis.
    3. Southern blot: method (for RFLP analysis) developed by Scottish scientist Edward Southern (1975) to detect the position of separate DNA fragments.
    4. Variable number tandem repeats (VNTR): detects the occurrence of a number of identical base sequences.
    5. Disadvantages: requires a large-enough sample; DNA may be degraded by light, temperature, chemicals, etc.
  6. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) DNA:
    1. Discovered 1983 by Kary Mullis at Cetus Corp. Awarded 1993 Nobel Prize for this technique.
    2. Claims to recover DNA from a single cell.
    3. An enzyme copies and recopies a single DNA strand: 'molecular photocopying'.
    4. Vulnerable to contamination.
  7. National DNA Information System (NDIS).
  8. The Innocence Project (by April 2002) has used DNA to show 104 people had spent on average 10 years in prison for crimes they had not committed.
  9. Bullet identification.
  10. Voiceprints.
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The mind of the criminal

The investigative methods above assume we have leads on, or actually have in hand, a suspect. But what if we don't?

  1. Sherlock Holmes' predictions arose in Arthur Conan Doyle's mind because of his teacher, Surgeon Dr. Joseph Bell.
  2. Psychological profiling.
  3. Crime Classification Manual (CCM).
  4. Geographic profiling.
  5. Analysis of handwriting and text.

In the courtroom

Case study of the O.J. Simpson trial includes:

Case study of Wayne Williams (Atlanta serial child murderer):

The work of the crime investigators is:

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