Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology

Physical Laws of Death

Left to the forces of nature and unimpeded by the sentimental attempts by society to slow the inevitable entropy that accompanies every manner of death, a body is very active after a person dies. While poets may note the stillness and peaceful appearance of the dead, in fact, postmortem activity begins almost immediately to break down the corpse into its component parts in a process that can continue, under certain circumstances, for years.

In the case of India and Cody, even before their bodies were moved from the site where they were killed, decomposition began the moment they ceased to live. This decomposition, which begins as autolysis when the body's cells begin to digest themselves, is determined by physical laws based on the variables of temperature, body mass, manner of death and other factors, but generally follows a distinct process. Investigators can use this information to help answer many questions about a death.

One of the most important concepts of a proper forensic investigation is determining the postmortem interval (PMI), or the time elapsed from the onset of death to discovery of the corpse.


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