Monday, April 26, 2010

CSI: Kentucky

A fun article about forensic anthropologist Emily Craig:


Friday, April 23, 2010


This guy went to a lot of trouble to off himself. No doubt there are dozens of more-convenient ways to commit suicide. Of course, had this been merely your average handgun-to-the-head scenario, it probably wouldn't warrant much attention here.

An Unusual Zip Gun Suicide—Medicolegal and Ballistic Examination (Full .PDF Journal article)

ABSTRACT: Home-made guns are imitations of typical firearms and usually have handgun characteristics. This article presents an unusual case of a suicide carried out by means of a fatal gunshot wound to the head using a home-made zip gun. A 49-year-old male, with a history of paranoid psychosis was found dead in the dwelling place of a family house. The investigation at the crime scene did not lead to suspicion of a gunshot wound because of the unusual nature of the firearm used. A medical examiner diagnosed an opened head injury as the primary cause of the victim’s death. The autopsy findings provided immediate grounds for further inspection of the crime scene. Subsequently, a simple zip gun, which had been overlooked during the scene investigation, was discovered. An undeformed projectile recovered from the victim’s head was consistent with the use of the home-made firearm. Following the completion of the investigations and autopsy, the death was classified as a suicide.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


I must admit to harboring a personal fear of this particular type of accident. I grew up on a farm and also spent some years in a factory, working daily around heavy industrial machines. There were always horror stories circulating, most involved an article of clothing becoming stuck in a mechanized part and dragging a person towards inevitable mutilation or death. Accidents involving mechanical equipment happen fast, and machines--being, well, machines--are utterly unforgiving.

Accidental Ligature Strangulation by an Ironing
Machine: An Unusual Case
(Full PDF Journal article)
ABSTRACT: In this paper, we present a case of a 53-year-old woman who had her headscarf catch on the cylinder ironing machine in the laundry of the hospital where she worked. The hospital workers found the woman dead with her head stuck to the ironing machine. After the death scene investigation and autopsy were completed, it was determined that the death occurred as a result of accidental ligature strangulation. Accidental ligature strangulation in which an article of clothing is caught in such an electrical machine and strangles the wearer is very rare. This case highlights the fact that these kinds of machines can be hazardous to work around and that increased safety measures should be taken to insure worker safety; additionally, the people who use these machines should be educated on the potential hazards.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Here are a few articles commenting on fingerprint analysis, its usefulness and reliability, as well as our common perceptions regarding the practice:

Fact Is, Science Has Never Put Its Finger On Prints

The Myth of Fingerprints

ACE-V - Is It Scientifically Reliable and Accurate?


Sunday, April 18, 2010


From Gould and Pyle's Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1901):



An interesting article from Popular Science(Sept. 1997) on Bill Bass and The Body Farm research facility in Tennessee:




I've been reading some fascinating and extremely well-written journal articles regarding the forensic evidence of violent crime left on clothing. The following is excerpted from Daroux, et al. [1]

Blunt force assault is a growing issue worldwide. In New Zealand, recorded cases of grievous blunt force assault increased steadily from 1011 in 1999 to 2139 in 2008 [2]. In many cases of blunt force assault victims are struck on parts of their body covered by clothing, yet the use of damage to apparel as forensic evidence largely appears to have been overlooked. The current research investigated blunt force impact
(BFI) damage in common apparel fabrics and the effects prior and post-laundering had on this damage. Two 100% cotton fabrics (single jersey knit, bull drill) were impacted as single and double layers using an impactor representative of a hammer face, the force transmitted through specimens was measured and impulse calculated. Impacting and laundering were completed cumulatively to establish the effects of impact damage on new, dimensionally stable (laundered 6 times) and aged fabrics (laundered up to 30 times), and the effects of laundering on impacted specimens. BFI left recognisable patterns of damage in specimens, although the extent of this damage varied. Laundering after the impact event altered the visible and microscopic damage. Laundering previously impacted fabrics produced holes in some specimens and some fibres exhibited failure characteristic of blunt force impact.

Fig. 5. Typical examples of fibre failure: (a) impacted, not laundered; b–d impacted then laundered fibres (b = example of fibre retaining flattened appearance, little fibrillar separation after laundering, c and d = fibres regained more three-dimensional appearance; c = short, uneven break, perpendicular to fibre axis, d = examples of messy, bulbous and collapsed fibre ends after laundering).

5. Conclusions
BFI can cause recognisable damage in apparel fabrics. Laundering apparel fabrics prior to impacting did not significantly alter the visible damage. Laundering apparel fabrics after impacting did not generally destroy evidence of BFI damage, but rather altered the damage. BFI damage to fabrics varied considerably due to other variables investigated, i.e. fabric structure, number of layers. Further research is required to develop comprehensive knowledge regarding BFI damage in apparel fabrics. Of particular importance would be consideration of incorporating an underlying human
tissue simulant, as fabric damage due to BFI is likely to be significantly affected by the underlying substrate. Different methods can be used to compare BFI damage. The most effective method investigated in this work, but one which needs to be
interpreted with care was SEM.


1. Daroux, F.Y., Carr, D.J., Kieser, J., Niven, B.E., Taylor, M.C. (2010). Effect of laundering on blunt force impact damage in fabrics. Forensic Science International Vol. 197 (21-29).

2. Statistics New Zealand, New Zealand recorded crime tables, available online at (14.02.08). [This is a direct reference from the journal article.]


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The identity is revealed, but the mystery remains.

Coroner identifies mystery foot as belonging to Darla Kustra
By Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer
April 14, 2010, 2:59PM

ELYRIA, Ohio -- The severed foot found on an abandoned railroad trestle belonged to Darla Kustra, 56, a divorced mother of four who lived less than two miles away.
But investigators cannot say definitively what happened to Kustra, only offering several theories about what may have occurred.
The leading theory is that she was walking to work at a local plastics company along Ohio Route 57 the morning of March 26 and was struck by a southbound vehicle. But sheriff's investigators and the Lorain County Coroner acknowledge that it is very unusual for a pedestrian to be hit by a car and to not find a body, significant blood or clothing.
The trestle where the foot was found was 16 feet above the roadway and would have needed to be thrown high in the air for it to end up there.
"It was very bizarre that the foot was located there but there was no other evidence," Lorain County Sheriff's Captain John Reiber said.
Investigators did find some traces of blood on the northern face of the trestle structure but found no other body parts or even the shoe to the foot, which was found wearing a sock.
Kustra's coworkers reported her missing and investigators then contacted her four daughters to obtain a DNA sample from one to make the identification. Though the family can claim the foot, the Lorain County Coroner has not issued a death certificate because there is no body.
Coroner Paul Matus said he assumes that Kustra died because people cannot suffer those kinds of injuries and survive without immediate medical treatment.
Investigators have speculated that the body may have become lodged beneath a truck or other vehicle that struck her and either remains there or fell off away from the site. They have issued a national police alert for any body that turns up.
The foot was found by four youths on March 29.
Kustra was last seen in security footage leaving her apartment building in Lorain at 4 a.m. Friday, March 26.



A recent study by Albert, Mulhern, Torpey, and Boone [1] reinforces the usefulness of vertebral epiphyses in drawing accurate age estimation from skeletal remains.

Union of the vertebral centra or “ring” epiphyses occurs during adolescence and early adulthood, providing valuable age at death information. We present a system for estimating age based on the timing and pattern of vertebral ring union. Data from 57 known individuals aged 14–27 years were used to establish age ranges for various patterns of union in females and males. Female age ranges were more well defined with less overlap in patterns of union than male age ranges. The age ranges are accompanied by descriptions of the stages of union observed that aid in applying this method. A test of interobserver error in scoring stages of union demonstrated strong consistency among three observers ( r = 0.91–0.97). Estimating age by observing all stages documented resulted in 78%, 88%, and 100% accuracies using vertebral data alone. We encourage the continued use of this method, in conjunction with other age indicators.

For the layperson, an epiphysis is a sort of "cap" that fuses to the end of a long bone (diaphysis) in adulthood. Prior to its fusion with the bone, the epiphysis is separated by a layer of articular (hyaline) cartilage. Age can be estimated from skeletal remains based on the stage of epiphyseal growth.
A fibula and unfused epiphysis. [3]

An epiphysis that has not yet fused with the bone will have a craggy surface texture, like this: (note that the picture is not of a human vertebra)

Developing epiphyses in human vertebrae look like this:

"Progressing union , T9 superior and inferior" [2].

Post-ossification, the epiphysis resembles the rest of the bone, with a generally uniform, smooth texture.

Many ossification centers (the locations where bones fuse) can be useful in determining age, including areas of the wrist, the clavicle bones, the os pubis, and various parts of the cranium, just to mention a few. The high degree of accurate age estimation from the thoracic and lumbar ephyseal unions as noted by Albert, et al., makes their inclusion in the investigator's toolbox invaluable.


1. Albert, M., Mulhern, D., Torpey, M., & Boone, E. (2010). Age Estimation Using Thoracic and First Two Lumbar Vertebral Ring Epiphyseal Union. Journal of Forensic Sciences Vol. 55, No. 2.

2. Id., Figure 4.

3. Figure 1, The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology (2009) Vol.3, No. 2. [Labeling added].


Monday, April 12, 2010


A recent (2009) report by the National Academy of Sciences (PDF):

If nothing else, I'd recommend chapters three through six as essential reading. The Federal Rules of Evidence and related case law covered in Chapter Three are relevant to every United States citizen. The purpose, method, and scope of science is misunderstood by far too many, and Chapter Four provides a great resource towards which the uninformed might be directed (this also ties in with law, insofar as jury instruction and the judge as "gatekeeper" are concerned). Chapter Five is a useful primer/history of forensic science, but is likely redundant for anyone who has taken an introductory forensic anthropology class. Chapter Six is essentially a plea for greater research, more rigorous standards/practices, and greater autonomy for science laboratories.



Teeth remain one of the best indicators of age in pre-adults.

(You can click on each picture for the full-size image.)



One of the most interesting and recent developments in individualization techniques is detailed in the Homeland Security Bulletin below:

New Biometric Identifier

Each individual has "personal" bacteria communities living on the fingers and palms of individual computer users; members of these communities are deposited on keyboards, mice and other things we touch; the link between the bacterial communities and the bacterial DNA signatures of individuals may soon become a tool in forensic identification.

I'll be posting more on this subject as the methodology and science develop.



Well, it's Monday. Perhaps today we will discover who the victim was.

Identity of woman whose severed foot was found may be known
By Pat Galbincea, The Plain Dealer
April 09, 2010, 9:53PM
ELRYIA TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Lorain County Coroner Paul Matus said Friday the identity of a woman whose severed foot was found March 29 by two teenagers on an abandoned bridge over Ohio 57 might be revealed as soon as Monday.
Matus said an individual provided investigators with information about a missing relative whose description matched that of a woman reported "not seen or heard from" since March 26.
The coroner said the foot belonged to a white woman between ages 47 and 60, weighing between 190 and 215 pounds, and with a height between 5-5 and 5-7. He said a DNA sample from that person was taken, and will be compared with DNA taken from the foot.
The woman's foot was severed "as would be seen" in an auto accident, Matus said. He also added the woman would not likely be alive because of the severity of the injury.
The case has been under investigation by the Lorain County Sheriff's Office.



This is a local story that I'll be avidly keeping tabs on. The kids who discovered the body have some relation to a colleague of mine, and he has pictures of the foot on his cell phone. It was severed about one-third to halfway up the tibia (from the ankle) and the flesh was extremely swollen, bloody, and splayed. The development of this case should be interesting, if it doesn't dead-end. There is the question of victim identification, the location of the remainder of the body, and of course the suspect.

Severed foot found in Lorain County

Sheriff's deputies are investigating.
By Colleen O'Neill, Newsradio WTAM 1100
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
(Sheffield Township)- Lorain County sheriff’s deputies are investigating a grisly find...

Cpt. John Reiber says two kids walking along railroad tracks near Route 57 and 254 Monday night found what appeared to be a human foot. That turned out to be the case. Sheriff’s deputies searched the area but did not find the rest of the body.

Deputies are trying to find out where it came from...Reiber says there isn't anyone missing from the area that fits the description so it may not have come from Lorain County.

The Lorain County Coroner has taken custody of the limb. Dr. Paul Matus says this is a female's foot and they believe she was 5'5’’ to 5'7’’ tall, 210 to 215 lbs. and in her 50's. The foot is in tact with a portion of the right lower leg attached. Matus adds it's fresh only 24 to 48 hours old.

A bulletin has been sent to police departments and coroners all the way to east of the Mississippi. If need be, a DNA test will be done on the foot.