International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 131, Issue 5, pp 1299–1306 | Cite as

Entomotoxicology in burnt bodies: a case of maternal filicide-suicide by fire

  • V. Bugelli
  • L. Papi
  • S. Fornaro
  • F. Stefanelli
  • S. Chericoni
  • M. Giusiani
  • S. Vanin
  • C. P. CampobassoEmail author
Case Report


One of the most common methods of maternal filicide is by fire. In this case study, a 40-year-old female and her children were found completely burned in a burnt out car. All bodies showed a degree of destruction by fire consisting to a level 3 of the Crow-Glassman Scale (CGS) and early stage of insect activity. Toxicological analyses were performed on soft tissues and body fluids still available. The results were positive for diazepam and its metabolites only for children with blood concentrations consistent with therapeutic doses of benzodiazepines. Home video surveillance cameras confirmed sedation prior to death recording the mother while administering some drops of sedative drugs in a soft drink to the children just a couple of hours before setting fire to the car. Based on autopsy findings, all victims were still alive at the time of fire. The cause of death was determined as carbon monoxide poisoning and fatal thermal injuries by fire. This case study has a special focus on the entomotoxicology and the potential role of insects in death investigations of burnt bodies, supposed to be an inadequate substratum for insect colonization. It demonstrates that in burnt bodies, arthropod colonization can be quite immediate after fire is extinguished. Toxicological analyses performed on larvae actively feeding on the children’s bodies were positive for diazepam and its metabolites in small amount compared with blood concentrations, whereas the larvae collected from the mother’s body were totally negative. These data, according to the autopsy findings and the toxicological results from the victim’s blood and tissues, supported the suspect of a non-lethal sedation prior to death, which is a common behaviour in maternal filicide.


Entomotoxicology Filicide-suicide Burnt bodies Forensic entomology Lucilia sericata Benzodiazepines 



The authors are really grateful to the anonymous reviewers who have enriched the value of the article with their precious comments.

Supplementary material

414_2017_1628_Fig2_ESM.gif (494 kb)
Fig. 2

The burnt bodies of the two children with CGS level 3: the 10-year-old daughter (A) and the 3 year old boy (B) (GIF 494 kb)

414_2017_1628_MOESM1_ESM.tiff (1.2 mb)
High resolution image (TIFF 1193 kb)
414_2017_1628_Fig3_ESM.gif (233 kb)
Fig. 3

Toxicological results: the mass chromatogram of tissues collected from the daughter’s body (GIF 233 kb)

414_2017_1628_MOESM2_ESM.tiff (8.3 mb)
High resolution image (TIFF 8490 kb)


  1. 1.
    Flynn SM, Shaw JJ, Abel KM (2013) Filicide: mental illness in those who kill their children. PLoS One 8:e58981. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058981 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Porter T, Gavin H (2010) Infanticide and neonaticide: a review of 40 years of research literature on incidence and causes. Trauma Violence Abuse 11:99–112. doi: 10.1177/1524838010371950 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tyler N, Barnoux M (2016) Filicide by fire. In: Doyle RM, Dickens GL, Gannon TA (ed) the psychology of arson: a practical guide to understanding and managing‬ deliberate firesetters.‬ root Lege, New York, pp 82-99Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Marzuk PM, Tardiff K, Hirsch CS (1992) The epidemiology of murder suicide. JAMA 267:3179–3183CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Dobson V, Sales B (2000) The science of infanticide and mental illness. Pshycology, Public Policy and Law 6:1098–1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Shelton JL, Muirhead Y, Canning KE (2010) Ambivalence toward mothers who kill: an examination of 45 US cases of maternal neonaticide. Behav Sci Law 28:812–831. doi: 10.1002/bsl.937 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Lewis CF, Baranoski MV, Buchanan JA, Benedek EP (1998) Factors associated with weapon use in maternal filicide. J Forensic Sci 43:613–618CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Pitt SE, Bale EM (1995) Neonaticide, infanticide, and filicide: a review of the literature. Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law 23:375–386PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Haapasalo J, Petäjä S (1999) Mothers who killed or attempted to kill their child: life circumstances, childhood abuse, and types of killing. Violence Vict 14:219–239PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mensah A (2001) When parents kill: an analysis of filicides in Fiji. Int J Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 45:144–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Liem M, Koenraadt F (2008) Filicide: a comparative study of maternal versus paternal child homicide. Crim Behav Mental Health 18:166–176. doi: 10.1002/cbm.695 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Meyer CL, Oberman M, White K (2001) Mothers who kill their children: understanding the acts of moms from Susan Smith to the “prom mom”. NYU PressGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Campobasso CP, Dell’Erba AS, Belviso M, Di Vella G (2007) Craniofacial identification on the basis of antemortem and postmortem radiographs: two case reports. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 28:182–186. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31806195cb CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Introna F, Campobasso CP, Di Fazio A (1998) Three case studies in forensic entomology from southern Italy. J Forensic Sci 43:210–214CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Vanin S, Zanotti E, Gibelli D, Taborelli A, Andreola S, Cattaneo C (2013) Decomposition and entomological colonization of charred bodies—a pilot study. Croat Med J 54:387–393CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Introna F, Campobasso CP, Goff ML (2001) Entomotoxicology. Forensic Sci Int 120:42–47CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Glassman DM, Crow RM (1996) Standardization model for describing the extent of burn injury to human remains. J Forensic Sci 41:152–154CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ogutu BR, Newton CR, Crawley J, Muchohi SN, Otieno GO, Edwards G, Marsh K, Kokwaro GO (2002) Pharmacokinetics and anticonvulsant effects of diazepam in children with severe falciparum malaria and convulsions. Br J Clin Pharmacol 53:49–57CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Knudsen FU (1977) Plasma-diazepam in infants after rectal administration in solution and by suppository. Acta Pediatr Scand 66:563–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Shorvon S (1994) Emergency treatment of status epilepticus. In: status epilepticus: its clinical features and treatment in childhood and adults. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Agurell S, Berlin A, Ferngren H, Hellstrom B (1975) Plasma levels of diazepam after parenteral and rectal administration in children. Epilepsia 16:277–283CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Amendt J, Campobasso CP, Gaudry E, Reiter C, LeBlanc HN, Hall MJ (2007) Best practice in forensic entomology—standards and guidelines. Int J Legal Med 121:90–104. doi: 10.1007/s00414-006-0086-x CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Grassberger M, Reiter C (2001) Effect of temperature of Lucilia sericata (Diptera: Calliphoridae) development with special reference to isomegalen- and isomorphen diagram. Forensic Sci Int 120:32–36CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Nishida K (1984) Experimental studies on the estimation of postmortem intervals by means of fly larvae infesting human cadavers. Nihon Hoigaku Zasshi 38:24–41PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Karch SB (2007) Drug abuse handbook, 2nd edn. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FLGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Gosselin M, Wille SM, Fernandez Mdel M, Di Fazio V, Samyn N, De Boeck G, Bourel B (2011) Entomotoxicology, experimental set-up and interpretation for forensic toxicologists. Forensic Sci Int 208:1–9. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2010.12.015 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Campobasso CP, Gherardi M, Calligara M, Sironi L, Introna F (2004) Drug analysis in blowfly larvae and in human tissues: a comparative study. Int J Legal Med 118:210–214. doi: 10.1007/s00414-004-0448-1 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Pien K, Laloup M, Pipeleers-Marichal M, Grootaert P, De Boeck G, Samyn N, Boonen T, Vits K, Wood M (2004) Toxicological data and growth characteristics of single post-feeding larvae and puparia of Calliphora vicina (Diptera: Calliphoridae) obtained from a controlled nordiazepam study. Int J Legal Med 118:190–193. doi: 10.1007/s00414-004-0441-8 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Williams KR, Pounder DJ (1997) Site-to-site variability of drug concentrations in skeletal muscle. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 18:246–250CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Kintz P, Godelar B, Tracqui A, Mangin P, Lugnier AA, Chaumont AJ (1990) Fly larvae: a new toxicological method of investigation in forensic medicine. J Forensic Sci 35:204–207CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Tracqui A, Keyser-Tracqui C, Kintz P, Ludes B (2004) Entomotoxicology for the forensic toxicologist: much ado about nothing? Int J Legal Med 118:194–196. doi: 10.1007/s00414-004-0442-7 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Wood M, Laloup M, Pien K, Samyn N, Morris M, Maes RA, De Bruijn EA, Maes V, De Boeck G (2003) Development of a rapid and sensitive method for the quantification of benzodiazepines in Calliphora vicina larvae and puparia by LC– MS-MS. J Anal Toxicol 27:505–512CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Hatters Friedman HS, Hrouda DR, Holden CE, Noffsinger SG, Resnick PJ (2005) Filicide-suicide: common factors in parents who kill their children and themselves. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 33:496–504PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Wardle RA (1921) The protection of meat commodities against blowflies. Ann Appl Biol 8(1–9):1921Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Catts EP, Goff ML (1992) Forensic entomology in criminal investigation. Annu Rev Entomol 37:252–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Bohnert M, Rost T, Pollak S (1998) The degree of destruction of human bodies in relation to the duration of fire. Forensic Sci Int 95:11–21CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Avila FW, Goff ML (1998) Arthropod succession patterns onto burnt carrion in two contrasting habitats in the Hawaiian Islands. J Forensic Sci 43:581–586CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Anderson GS (2001) Insect succession on carrion and its relationship to determining time of death. In: Byrd JH, Castner JL (eds) Forensic entomology, the utility of arthropods in legal investigation. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 143–176Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Anderson GS (2010) Factors that influence insect succession on carrion. In: Byrd JH, Castner JL (eds) Forensic entomology: the utility of arthropods in legal investigation, 2nd edn. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 201–250Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Gruenthal A, Moffatt C, Simmons T (2012) Differential decomposition patterns in charred versus un-charred remains. J Forensic Sci 57:12–18. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.01909.x CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Mahat NA, Zainol Abidin NL, Abdul Wahab R, Jayaprakash (2016) Patterns of oviposition and development of Chrysomya megacephala (Fabricius) (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and Chrysomya rufifacies (Macquart) (Diptera: Calliphoridae) on burned rabbit carcasses. Forensic Sci Int 260:9–13. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2015.12.047 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Amendt J, Zehner R, Reckel F (2008) The nocturnal oviposition behaviour of blowflies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) in Central Europe and its forensic implications. Forensic Sci Int 175:61–64. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2007.05.010 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Campobasso CP, Introna F (2001) The forensic entomologist in the context of the forensic pathologist's role. Forensic Sci Int 120:132–139CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. Bugelli
    • 1
    • 2
  • L. Papi
    • 3
  • S. Fornaro
    • 3
  • F. Stefanelli
    • 3
  • S. Chericoni
    • 3
  • M. Giusiani
    • 3
  • S. Vanin
    • 4
  • C. P. Campobasso
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Medicine & Health SciencesUniversity of MoliseCampobassoItaly
  2. 2.Department of Medicine and Health Sciences, Forensic Science SectionUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly
  3. 3.Department of Forensic PathologyUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Biological Sciences, School of Applied SciencesUniversity of HuddersfieldHuddersfieldUK
  5. 5.Department of Experimental MedicineUniversity “L. Vanvitelli” of CampaniaNaplesItaly

Personalised recommendations