Tuesday, January 17, 2012

4 Ways To Determine Time of Death In a Dead Person

Regardless of your desire to know this information, we're here to discuss the four primary indicators of time of death in a corpse. (Because you obviously can't determine the time of a person's death if they're still alive) I would like to point out that all of these indicators can only help you estimate the time of death, since many environmental factors can change the observed events. Hopefully, you won't come back with pitchforks and torches if you come across a dead person (as often as you do) and quickly induce the person's time of death, only to find out how wrong you were, based on what we've told you.

If you look closely enough, you can see the imminent, post-apocalyptic future. On the other hand, there are some neat skulls there. 

4. Livor Mortis

Livor Mortis is one of the first things you don't see on crime shows and movies, despite it being one of the first things that happen to a dead body. Livor mortis is the resultant color of a dead person's pooling blood at the work of gravity. What do I mean? Think of it this way, once you're dead, your heart stops beating. If your heart stops beating and your blood vessels stop moving, there is nothing to circulate your blood. Therefore, after you die, your blood simply flows down your once active blood vessels, into the lowest part of your body. (Regardless of body position.)

Livor mortis is clearly observed by a dark purpleish hue onto the skin in which the blood has flown and pooled. Depending on the time, this color can/will become permanently fixed onto the body in a matter of time. What this all means is that you can determine the position the person died, along with the the estimated time of death.

Don't worry, this is the most graphic picture in this article. (Even though I found hundreds of pictures of half-decomposing bodies everywhere, so you owe me one.)

After the first two to eight hours of death, lividity (pooling of blood in body) will be present on the body. However, it would be easily removed by pressing onto the afflicted area with a finger/any pressure. If the color disappears, the person probably died less than eight hours ago. If the color remains, the person must have died beyond the eight hour time frame.

Before you start jumping around like some type of leprechaun with your new-found knowledge, allow me to inform you about the factors that affect livor mortis. First off, the environmental temperature of the body can greatly influence how long it takes before lividity becomes permanent. If the temperature happened to be extremely cold at that time, livor mortis could be slowed down. (The opposite is true as well) Accessories and clothing such as tight belts and wristwatches could easily externally constrict blood passage as well, which can also slow down livor mortis.

3. Rigor Mortis

Anyone who has ever seen a dead animal, would have probably observed rigor mortis. Rigor mortis is basically the extremely stiffening of the body's muscles due to the build up of calcium in the muscle fibers due to the inability to remove the excess calcium, due to death. (Because when you die, things sorta go down hill for your body.) This stiffness is always temporary since the muscle fibers will eventually relax as they begin to dissolve by autolysis. The time it takes for full stiffness to occur, and for it to dissipate can be very useful in determining time of death.

Rigor mortis begins after two hours of death, starting from the head and slowly progressing to the feet. After twelve hours of death, the body will be at it's most rigor state. It's been said that it's possible to stand on the middle of a fully rigid body with only two platforms to support the head and feet, without snapping the body in half. After 36-48 hours, the body will resume soft-dead body status.

So yes, your corpse-bridge idea is possible.

Now, before you soil your pants in excitement of standing on the center of a fully rigid body with only two platforms while determining time of death, allow me to ruin the party. The progress of rigor mortis is largely dependent on the temperature, body weight, body temperature, and even sun exposure. Generally, the hotter the body, the faster the proccess, the colder the body, the slower the process.

2. Algor Mortis

This is one of the most rudimentary things you can learn about dead bodies that can help you determine time of death. Algor mortis, is the body's temperature after death. As simply put, the colder the body, the longer the person's been dead and vice versa. What you didn't know, was the rate of temperature lost in relation to a  general ambient temperature. Basically, the body loses about 1.4  degrees Fahrenheit every hour on average. (The rate of temperature lost varies if you're in the middle of a snow bank or on the surface of the sun.)

If your body happens to be here, it's unlikely that we can determine time of death.

1. Basic Decomposition

Here's a no-brainer, if a body appears to be only comprised of a skeleton, the person most likely died after breakfast. (Most likely.) Generally, a body will decompose in the stages of the following:

2 Days

  • Cell autolysis (Cell self-destruction)
  • Green-purple staining from blood decomposition
  • Marbled appearance on the skin
  • Discolored face

4 Days

  • Blistering Skin
  • Bacteria from the intestines will cause the abdomen to swell from all the gases (CO2) it produces as it digests delicious human flesh

6-10 Days

  • Random fluids begin to leak out of body openings
  • Eyes and other soft tissues are now liquefied
  • Skin begins/continues to melt away
  • The entire body will bloat up with CO2. Sooner or later, the gases will cause the abdominal cavities, along with the chest, to burst with gases, and then collapse.
Again, I'll like to stress how much different variables such as temperature, previous ailments, and even the amount of clothes on a person, can effect a person's decomposition rate. 

Fun Fact: The reason you don't usually see lividity , crazy color dancing, or extremely quick decaying on dead bodies in caskets, is usually because of the quick embalming and draining of blood from the body before the body is presented and put into a casket.

That way, you can look good after you die.