On vein patterns and dead pythons – outdoor body recovery course

Categories: News, Sciblogs

The Outdoor Body Recovery Course was fun.  It’s a difficult thing to say to people because how can it be fun collecting samples from unfortunate individuals who have died and whose remains are found outdoors?  It’s one of those uncomfortable  definitions of ‘fun’ that would probably be more appropriately labelled ‘rewarding’ or ‘fulfilling’.  However, on this occasion it was fun because there was no real corpse and the idea behind the course is to educate police officers, crime scene examiners and other crime scene attendees on how to collect samples from any crime scene found outdoors (including vehicles).

It was fun because the weather was great, the attendees were interesting, interested and motivated and I left the course feeling that I had really added something to their arsenal of tools for investigating crimes. As I indicated last week though, the course was not without its problems when our training grave was robbed.

I always think that a good course is one where not only have you taught someone something but you also come away with more knowledge than you had at the start. This is a selection of bite-sized knowledge nuggets that I learnt:

  • Burying a human ornamental skull with your dead pet python in the woods can cause unnecessary police hassle when the skull is exposed through loss of top soil and freaks out passers-by who call in a full police excavation team.
  • When only a torso is recovered, examination of the lymph nodes can help determine if the deceased had tattoos because the ink collects in the nodes.
  • There is a vast database of penis vein patterns – these can be used for including or excluding men who choose not to show their faces but rather their genitalia in pornographic and abuse videos.
  • Vein pattern analysis in other body areas can be used in the same way – facial features are not the only way to identify a person in video footage and photographs.
  • Archaeologists really should be the people excavating graves – without them there is a real risk of loss of stratigraphic information (i.e. the order in which events occurred), which can help with, amongst other things, determining the age of the grave. There are apparently several classic examples where archaeologists were not fully involved including the Yorkshire Moors searches and digging up the patio of serial killer Fred West’s house in Cromwell Street.
  • Freshly boiled water is how to properly preserve a maggot; if the water’s not hot enough then the maggot is preserved in a curled fashion, rather than straight which is what is required for proper examination.
  • Birds’ nests really can contain hair and fibres – I found one on the ground near my body recovery site. A valuable if rare source of trace material when trying to locate human remains in difficult terrain.

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Dr Anna Sandiford

The Forensic Group was established in 2008 by Dr Anna Sandiford, a Senior Forensic Science Consultant with many years’ experience in New Zealand and overseas who started her forensic science career in 1998.