Cadaver Research in the Northern Territory

01.03.2017

tags: NT Police, Forensics, Crime Scenes,

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By Bindi Burnell

From the March 2017 issue of the APJ.

Burying the Evidence

Where the death of a person has occurred under suspicious circumstances, offenders may try to cover their involvement by disposing of the deceased person in a number of ways, one of which is by effecting a burial of the deceased person in a clandestine grave.

The introduction of a cadaver into the soil and its subsequent decay begins a complex process. While not widely studied, the analysis of soil associated with decomposed remains can also provide useful forensic information, particularly for estimating time since death. It is important for crime scene examiners to have a greater understanding of not only their role at the scene of a clandestine burial but also the complexities involved in such a scene. A clandestine burial in Hobart, Tasmania would present differently to a clandestine burial in Darwin, Northern Territory. Although the process of the grave excavation and the recovery of the human remains would be similar, if both bodies were of the same weight, height, health and were buried at the same time and at the same depth, the condition of the human remains would be vastly different due to a variety of factors; some of which are temperature, soil type and moisture.

Due to the large land mass and relatively small population of the Northern Territory, crime scene examiner’s access to other forensic experts at the site of a burial scene is virtually non-existent. Therefore, it is appropriate that the crime scene examiner is trained appropriately in the best collection and recording methods for soil from a clandestine burial site so that they can later be forwarded for further examination to a forensic soil expert.

This research was undertaken to compare decomposition rates of buried remains in five different soil profiles located in the Top End of the Northern Territory and to see if the organisms contained within the different soil profiles would affect the decomposition rate of buried remains. It is critical that Northern Territory-based crime scene examiners get a better understanding of their own environment in the Top End and how that might affect decomposition rates on buried remains.

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