, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 9-14
Date: 07 Aug 2007

Diagnostic yield and characteristic features in a series of decomposed bodies subject to coronial autopsy

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A study was undertaken of 629 cases autopsied at Forensic Science SA, Adelaide, Australia over a 10-year period from 1994 to 2004 where significant decomposition had been documented. The age range of victims was 10 months to 92 years (mean 51.5 ± 18.1 years). There were 498 males (79%) and 131 females (21%) (M:F = 3.8:1). Deaths in 289 of the 629 cases (46%) were due to natural causes, with 179 suicides (28%), 83 accidents (13%), and 36 homicides (6%). The cause of death was ascertained in 89% of cases and the manner of death in 93% of cases. In 35 cases (6%) both the cause and manner could not be determined. Numbers of suicides were higher in younger age groups while deaths from organic illnesses predominated in later life. The number of cases in summer was significantly greater than in winter. Despite technical difficulties in handling decomposed bodies, and artifactual alteration of tissue structure and microscopic features, the autopsy was still a useful diagnostic exercise. While it is likely that more information may be gleaned from fresh bodies in perfectly preserved states, decomposed bodies may reveal significant anatomical and pathological features that enable both the cause and manner of death to be established.