My First Post Mortem

This was my first visit to a mortuary as well as my first Post Mortem. I followed CSI Girl down the corridor, which was very similar to a hospital corridor. We found a room labelled "POLICE BRIEFING ROOM." Inside was a Detective Sergeant and Detective Constable from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and 'Dr Scrubs' the Pathologist. CID were in attendance because the deceased person had died shortly after being beaten up badly in his own home. The deceased male had spent a week in hospital before he passed away.

The briefing was necessary for Dr Scrubs to understand the circumstances surrounding the deceased male's death. We had a maxpac coffee whilst the Dr read the thick wedge of notes on the deceased male. This took about fifteen minutes.

Luckily CSI Girl had told me that I would have to go into the changing rooms and change into scrubs after the briefing so I knew that bit was next.

I walked into the changing rooms. They looked like a leisure centre changing room, a couple of cubicles with toilets and a shower. There was a large cabinet against one wall full of light and dark blue scrubs. I took a pair of trousers and a top. I undressed and put all my clothes in a locker. I put the scrubs on, luckily there was a pull cord on the waist of the trousers as they didn't quite fit.

As I was in the male changing room I was accompanied by the Detective and the Doctor. Once we were all changed, we walked through to the next room. It was small, along one wall was a rack full of wellington boots. Some were stood in a solution and some were hung on the racking. I took a pair of size tens off the rack and put them on.

CSI Girl and the Detective Sergeant came through another door and booted up. We all went into the examination room.

The room wasn't as big as I was expecting. I could see a sealed 'body bag' on a trolley in the corner by the fridges. There was a table in the middle of the room with a contraption above it, which looked like an assortment of lights.

The Doctor pulled the trolley closer to the table in the middle of the room. I took a step backwards. He read the seal number on the bag out loud and it was recorded.

The bag was unzipped and opened. The male lay inside the bag. He looked pale. He had an assortment of bruises all over his torso but he looked clean.

The trolley was pushed alongside the table so it was parallel and touching. The Dr and the technician lifted the male out of the bag by his arms and legs onto the examination table. The male wasn't slim. As they lifted him, they let out a gentle grunt.

The technician looked as if he worked in a Mortuary. He was tall, frail looking, he must have been in his early fifties, had long grey hair and was missing a tooth, exposing his upper gum about three teeth in.

The Doctor began with a visual exterior examination. The most obvious injuries were the bruises. The Pathologist examined each part of the body in turn and dictated notes, which the Detective recorded. As the Doctor said something, he would often repeat it, "There is reddening, there is reddening"

The Doctor used a scalpel and cut into some of the bruises, this allowed him to interpret the damage. On the left forearm he cut the complete length and all the way down to the bone. I could hear the blade scraping n the bone. He did this front and back.

Once the exterior examination was done, it was time for the bit I was expecting but wasn't looking forward to. The Doctor began to cut open parts of the male's body.

He started with the back. It was surprising how easy the body could be opened up with such a small scalpel. The incision was an upside down Y.

The body didn't bleed when it was cut, when the heart doesn't beat there is no blood pressure.

The room smelt like a butchers. It wasn't a particularly unpleasant smell.

The skin was lined with fat on the inside, it was a strange yellow colour and textured.

Once the back was done, the technician used a rather large needle and thread and stitched the back up again. I was impressed by the speed in which this was done.

The Doctor and technician then turned the male's body over on his back.

The front of the body was cut open and you could clearly see the ribs. The Doctor cut a section out of the ribs in the middle and placed it on the table. You could then see most of the internal organs. It's interesting to see how all of the organs are organised into such a small space.

There was a large amount of straw coloured fluid in and around the body and it's organs. This fluid was scooped out with a ladle into a few jugs and measured.

Each of the organs was cut out and put into a large bowl. It looked like a plastic mixing bowl. When this was done, the body lay there with just the ribs exposed. Each rib had been cut between.

The Technician dragged a machine close to the table and plugged it in the wall. It looked like a hoover. It was an electrical cutting blade with a suction tube attached to it.

The technician used a razor and took the male's hair off around the back of his head. He then used a scalpel and cut around the back of the male's head. The skin was then folded up and forward, it came down over his face. This exposed the skull.

I then realised what the machine was for.

It started up and sounded like a drill. The technician used it to cut away a section at the rear of the skull. The section that was cut was persuaded off with a T shaped chisel. The attached tube sucked the dust away. It stank. It smelt of burning.

I walked to the head end of the table and I could see the brain, inside the skull. It looked just like I expected it to, even though I hadn't seen one before. It was cut and removed. It was then weighed and put into a tub and sealed.

The Doctor then took the bowl of organs to the sink. He washed each under a running tap. I wonder where the waste waters ends up?

"The Liver is enlarged, the Liver is enlarged"

He conducted a visual examination of each organ, dictating his thoughts to the Detective. He weighed each organ and this was recorded also.

Each had a section cut away and this was put into a separate tub. This was for histology reports. The tissues would be examined and studied in detail.

The male was an alcoholic and this had an adverse effect on his organs. The damage was clearly visible.

Once the Doctor had completed this we left the room. I asked CSI girl what would happen to the body and she explained that the organs would be returned to the body, in a plastic bag and the male would be sewn back up. The male would stay at the Mortuary for a period of time, so that a second Post Mortem could be conducted if required.

We left via the wellington boot room, I took my boots off and put them in the solution. I removed my gloves and put them in the yellow clinical waste bin, using the pedal to open it. We unchanged and put our clothes back on.

We all met back in the briefing room where the Doctor told the Detective Sergeant what his thoughts were.

This whole process took about four hours. We went back to the office completed some paperwork before finished duty for the day.

Although anxious at what I might feel and think during the Post Mortem, I found it really interesting. I am now prepared for the next one, whenever that may be.

Deceased Male in Bath

Deceased Male in Bath

Although this is the second out of three posts that involves a death I must add that we don't deal with these discoveries every day!

We don't know when we turn in for work at 0700 what the day will present. We can, however, expect certain jobs on a regular basis. Burglaries, TOMV (Theft of Motor Vehicle) as well as TFMV (Theft From Motor Vehicle) and assaults. We photograph injuries for certain levels of assaults, I will cover this in a future post. Every now and then, probably a few times a week, we will also attend a house or other building that has been used for the cultivation of Cannabis. We call these Cannabis Factories. This list in not definitive and we'd attend most scenes if there was a requirement for forensic recovery.

I want to share my experience of a discovery of a male who had been deceased for somewhere between 10-12 months.

The male lived alone in a local authority owned property. The male was not elderly and well below 50.

He was discovered by bailiffs acting on behalf of the local authority, who had attended the property to evict the tenant for non payment of rent.

They found out why he hadn't paid it.

There was a mass of envelopes and flyers, mainly junk and overdue bills, nothing personal. There were a number of handwritten and hand delivered debt collection notices.

The Police will often attend incidents of unexplained deaths. CSI will attend, normally we are the first to enter the scene, and we will work with CID to determine the cause of death.

When both CSI Girl and I arrived we put on gloves (I've always got a pocket full!) and a full body suit.

When we walked in I could smell the decomposition.

The property was a maisonette and had one living room, one bedroom, a kitchen and small bathroom. There was no furniture in the living room, not even a TV, something many of us consider a necessity.

The male had died whilst in the bath.

Decomposition or putrefaction is the gradual breakdown of dead organic matter and the release of elements and compounds into the environment. In the human body, decomposition usually starts immediately but isn't noticeable for a few hours.

The energy and water suppliers had cut the supply to the address. The toilet had no water in it, it was just lined with brown staining. With no heating, the property was noticeably colder than outside. This meant that although decomposition had occurred, it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

The male was on his back with his knees bent slightly, like some taller people do in the bath. The stopper was in but most of the water had seeped down the plughole. There was about 3 inches of bodily fluids, a dark brown colour, in the bottom of the bath.

It stank, I had a mask but chose not to wear it. I got use to it after a few minutes.

There were hundreds of dead flies in the house. There were also little brown marks on the windows and sills. These marks were transfer from the body caused by the flies landing on the male and moving away again. Entomology can assist to establish an estimate to the time of death but only really within a number of hours rather than months. Certain insects will appear before others and these insects go through certain cycles.

A police surgeon attended the scene to pronounce the male as deceased. A medical practitioner needs to do this and strangely the male was pronounced deceased at the time of the examination, but had clearly been dead a long time.

The male's neighbours didn't really know him. It appears that he'd lived there for about 3 years, but never really spoke to anyone else. No one missed him either.

My next blog will discuss some of the chemical treatments used to find fingerprints on items unsuitable for powdering.

Fire Fatality

Fire Fatality

The call came over the radio:

"CSI Guy and Girl, can you please attend 123 Any Street, CID are in attendance, there has been a house fire with a fatality"

I looked at my crew mate, she had a puzzled expression on her face. I asked her how far away it was. It was only a matter of minutes away. We diverted to the station to collect extra kit. We needed our 'arson kits' that contain boiler suits, a special face mask and a hard hat. Although we weren't going to an arson (it was an accident) we would need the same protective equipment. My crew mate said that we normally require this kit as fire scenes tend to be dangerous, even after the fire has been extinguished.

As we approached 123 Any Street, there was a PCSO diverting traffic down a parellel road.
He recognised our unmarked van and waved us through. There were three fire engines in the road. I could hear indistinct voices on their radios. The shutters were up on the side of each engine. There was dirty water in the gutter where excess water from the hoses ran over the small patch of grass regarded as a garden at the front of the flats.

The flat was the last on the ground floor of a block of twelve which was arranged four side by side on three floors. Both CSI Girl and I bent over and made our way under the police tape and gave our names and collar numbers to the officer managing the scene log.

We walked down the side of the flats and through the gate. The back door was open, there was what looked like rubbish scattered over the grassed area. It turned out that these items were personal effects from the flat that the fire officers had removed in order to gain entry to the flat.

There were one or two fire officers inside, without breathing apparatus surveying the scene. I stepped closer to the back door. The door was a UPVC frame with two large sections of glass, top and bottom. I put my hand on the glass, it had a thick coating of soot, my hand left a void in the soot.

I'd never smelt it before but I new what it was.

As I entered the flat, I stood in the living room. It was full of charred belongings, each item with a thick black coating. There was hardly room to stand. There were items everywhere that hadn't been moved for years. It was a one level flat, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. No bedroom. This was accommodation provided by the local authority for one elderly male. It was shocking. This male had been left on his own, without aid for months and months. There was little evidence of any substantial diet.

The hallway was the root of the smell. Naked from the waist down lay a seventy something male, on his back on top of a collapsed bicycle, an expression on his face of shock. His mouth was wide open.

Rigor Mortis had fully developed and was present in his face, jaw, arms, legs and hands.

I won't forget the smell. It was mixed with smoke and soot. It wasn't as strong as it could have been. The door had been open for some time when I had arrived which provided some ventilation.

The Fire Brigade had sent a member of FIT, the Fire Investigation Team, to determine the source of the fire. It transpired that there was an electrical fault on a light in an old display cabinet that had slowly burnt the chipboard.

It was unclear what had caused the elderly male to die. Had he died before the fire or as a result of it? He had soot in his nostrils, which may suggest he was breathing when the smoke was present. The cause of death wouldn't be determined until a Post Mortem was complete.

I held the male's arms in place as well as I could so that CSI Girl could photograph his hands and arms. This was done as a way to show that there were no injuries, defensive or otherwise. His arms were cold to touch.

CSI Girl took a number of photographs of the male. She also took photographs of the flat. This helps show the standard of living of the deceased male. The bath was full of belongings piled almost as high as the top of the door frame. The kitchen surfaces had rubbish and frying pans scattered over them with an additional layer of dust and dirt that had collected over the months.

It was decided that the fire was accidental and not suspicious. All the doors were locked and there was no sign of forced entry. The male was elderly and visibly frail. He had no injuries. The photographs would be kept for evidential purposes. The post mortem was likely to confirm the FIT's thoughts.

One thing that I will remember is that the smoke detectors had been removed. The elderly male was a smoker and didn't like going outside to smoke. If the detector was in place it may have given an early warning.

The Start of My Career as a Crime Scene Investigator

This blog will allow me to share my experiences and thoughts during my training and development as a Crime Scene Investigator.

Although I have worked for a police force before I have never had any experience of the role of a CSI.

I've been in the role now for just under two months. I'm based with other CSI's who vary in experience. Some have been in the role for almost as many years as I am in age and others not so long. I have a mentor who has been in the role for around 9 years.

I have a very good understanding of the law and how a police force operates.

I know that I am going to see so many things. Some will be odd. Some will be run of the mill and some will be disturbing.

People have asked me how I will deal with the things I will see and my reply is that I will do everything as professionally as possible and not attach myself to the incident. Afterall, this will be work.