Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology

Dr. Bass for the Defense

Dr. William Bass
Dr. William Bass

Defense attorney Diane Menashe questioned Dr. Bass. After laying the groundwork that allowed Bass to qualify as an expert witness in both anthropology and human decomposition, she questioned him about the time line of human decomposition. What was the quickest he'd ever encountered for going from "How I am today?" to a skeleton? she asked.

"I've seen the number at 14 to 21 days," he replied.

Next, she addressed another point raised by Dr. Lehman, the coroner. How long does it take for the fatty acids in a putrefying body to kill the vegetation where the body lays? Menashe asked. Five to seven days, Bass responded.

"By seven days, it's very prominent," he added. "By five, you can see it if you know what you're looking for. By 10 days to two weeks, it's very obvious."

She then turned to the consumption patterns of the blow fly maggots, questioning why the skulls of the children would be skeletonized, the torsos essentially hollowed out with some mummified skin and liver tissue remaining, and the legs apparently untouched by bugs.

"How long would it take, based on your expertise, to get a skull to be that bleached, or essentially that bare?" she wondered.

"Two to three weeks," Bass replied. "Certainly by two weeks the skull will be off, and it's lying in the sun and it will bleach."


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