Decomposed Body

Written by Dr. D. Rao


The examination should be complete and should be held on the same lines as in ordinary autopsies.

In cases of fatal injuries, it is not difficult to find the cause of death.e.g.Gunshots,Stab wounds,Blunt Weapons.However the limitations exist in differentiating the Entry and Exit wounds in Gunshot wounds and Direction in Stab wound due to discoloration,swellingand softening of External Tissues and the Internal Organs.

The Other Limitations in Decomposed bodies commonly faced is the interpretation of Pathological Changes in Organs both Gross and Microscopy as to the Natural Causes of Death. In case of Atherosclerosis of Vessels the patency can be made out even in advanced decomposition as the calcium present in the sclerosed Vessels retards the normal putrefactive process.

The necessary viscera should always be preserved for chemical analysis in those cases where the cause of death cannot be found due to Injuries,and in absence of proper Medical History, owing to advanced decomposition.

In advanced Decomposition the Following tissues will be of Tremendous scientific value to conclude the Identity like the Long Bones( Marrow),Prostate and Uterus, Vitreous Fluid, Psoas Muscle, Tendons and Tooth


Mutilation of a dead body is not always the act of a criminal who wants to destroy all traces of identity and thus, to get greater facilities for its disposal. In India, animals, such as rats, dogs, jackals and hyenas, and birds such as vultures, may attack a dead body and mutilate it in a very short time, when exposed in an open filed on the outskirts of a village or a town. Besides, it is not an uncommon sight to notice the dead bodies of lunatics, fakirs and pilgrims, lying on the roadside or in remote spots in the vicinity of villages, and attacked by birds of prey, dogs and other animals.

In such cases, the medical examiner should first ascertain if the parts sent are human or not. This is only difficult when a piece of muscle without  the skin or a viscus is sent. In such a case, a definite opinion can be given by resorting to the precipitin test, which is equally applicable to blood as well as muscle or any other soft tissue, provided the tissue is not severely decomposed. If specialized laboratory facilities are available, the anti-globulin inhibition test is also definitive. Having determined that they are human, he should try to elucidate the following points:

  1. All separate parts should be fitted together, and it should be determined whether they belonged to one and the same body. Bones from different skeletons can be distinguished by exposing them to a short wave ultraviolet lamp, which show different colour emissions from different skeletons.
  2. The nature and character of the parts should be described, as also the colour of the skin, if any.
  3. The manner of separation, as to whether they had been hacked, sawn through, cut cleanly, lacerated, or gnawed through by animals.
  4. If the head or trunk are available, the sex can be determined from the presence and distribution or absence of hair, generally conformation and shape of pelvis, sacrum or femur. It may also be determined from the recognition of Prostatic, ovarian, mammary or uterine tissue under a microscope, if available, and unrecognizable with naked eye.
  5. The probable age may be ascertained from the skull, teeth, colour of the hair, trunk, size and degree of development of fragments and ossification of the bones.
  6. Identification can be determined from tattoo marks, fingerprints, scars, colour of hair, condition of teeth, deformities, recent and old fractures, or from the discovery of certain articles of clothing known to have belonged to a missing person in association with the mutilated bodies or fragments of a skeleton. Height can be calculated from the measurements of long bones.
  7. The probable time since death may be ascertained from the condition of the parts.
  8. The cause of death can be ascertained, if there is evidence of a fatal injury to some large blood vessel or some vital organ.

Identity can be established by superimposing a life size photograph of the head of a person on the skull, and thus reconstructing the features. This superimposition technique has a limited value and full of difficult problems, but corroborative and even conclusive evidence may be obtained.