Chapter

Unique Characteristics at Autopsy that may be Useful in Identifying Human Remains

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Abstract

When a person dies, it is a legal requirement in most countries for the body to be formally identified. In Australia, it is the responsibility of the State Coroners to accept the identification and to release the body for burial. Usually, identification can be carried out by friends or relatives viewing the body and confirming the identity to a member of the police force (visual identification). In some cases, however, postmortem changes such as decomposition, or facial trauma or disfigurement, incineration or skeletonisation make visual identification unacceptable. In this instance other methods of identification are attempted. These include dental, fingerprints, DNA or, as a last resort, circumstantial identification. On a national and global scale, the issue of identification becomes a particular challenge in situations of multiple fatalities, for example in circumstances of natural disaster or tragic events such as aeroplane crashes, genocide, war or terrorist attacks. In these situations, identification of victims becomes one of the primary aims of the disaster relief teams. During the postmortem examination, the pathologist facilitates identification by examining the body and documenting any unique characteristics that may be useful in identifying the person. This information can then be used to corroborate any other information on the identification, and becomes especially useful when visual identification is not possible. KeywordsMass disaster–Identification–Fingerprints–Birthmarks–Frontal sinus comparison–Tattoo–Postmortem changes

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... The benefits of tattoos are the stability and the fact that early decomposition does not influence the visibility; in some cases the skin slippage may even enhance the colors of the tattoos (81). Tattoos can persist after death in water for a short time and can also be obtained from superficially burned skin (81). ...
... The benefits of tattoos are the stability and the fact that early decomposition does not influence the visibility; in some cases the skin slippage may even enhance the colors of the tattoos (81). Tattoos can persist after death in water for a short time and can also be obtained from superficially burned skin (81). Moreover, the radiographic examination may be used to locate removed or modified tattoos (82). ...
Article
The use of the physical appearance of the deceased has become more important since the available antemortem information for comparisons may consist only of a physical description and photographs. Twenty-one articles dealing with the identification based on the physiognomic features of the human body were selected for review and were divided into 4 sections: (a)visual recognition, (b)specific facial/body areas, (c)biometrics, and (d)dental superimposition. While opinions about the reliability of the visual recognition differ, the search showed that it has been used in mass disasters, even without testing its objectivity and reliability. Specific facial areas being explored for the identification of dead, however, their practical use is questioned, similarly to soft biometrics. The emerging dental superimposition seems to be the only standardized and successfully applied method for identification so far. More research is needed into a potential use of the individualizing features, considering that postmortem changes and technical difficulties may affect the identification.
... The benefits of tattoos are the stability and the fact that early decomposition does not influence the visibility; in some cases the skin slippage may even enhance the colors of the tattoos (81). Tattoos can persist after death in water for a short time and can also be obtained from superficially burned skin (81). ...
... The benefits of tattoos are the stability and the fact that early decomposition does not influence the visibility; in some cases the skin slippage may even enhance the colors of the tattoos (81). Tattoos can persist after death in water for a short time and can also be obtained from superficially burned skin (81). Moreover, the radiographic examination may be used to locate removed or modified tattoos (82). ...
Article
In humanitarian emergencies, such as the current deceased migrants in the Mediterranean, antemortem documentation needed for identification may be limited. The use of visual identification has been previously reported in cases of mass disasters such as Thai tsunami. This pilot study explores the ability of observers to match unfamiliar faces of living and dead persons and whether facial morphology can be used for identification. A questionnaire was given to 41 students and five professionals in the field of forensic identification with the task to choose whether a facial photograph corresponds to one of the five photographs in a lineup and to identify the most useful features used for recognition. Although the overall recognition score did not significantly differ between professionals and students, the median scores of 78.1% and 80.0%, respectively, were too low to consider this method as a reliable identification method and thus needs to be supported by other means.
... It is a legal requirement in a majority of countries for a body to be formally identified upon an individual's death. To this end, the pathologist facilitates identification in postmortem examinations by examining the body and documenting any unique characteristics that may prove useful in identifying the deceased [1]. ...
... Scars, a consequence of damage to the dermis, are invaluable identifying features as they remain throughout life and into death. While they can be accidental or intentional in their origin, they may also provide information on medical, cultural, or social persuasions [1]. ...
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Article
While researching the histories of 492 German soldiers killed in Southern France in August and September 1944, three cases of soldiers having falsely been reported as killed in action were discovered. There were different reasons for each of the misidentifications; in the first case, the precise circumstances are unclear, but may have occurred after an accidental exchange of identification tags with a fellow soldier; the second case was probably caused by a mistaken report from a witness; the third seems to have been misidentification by medical personnel unfamiliar with the bodies they were dealing with. The Wehrmacht used poorly designed identification tags, while there was no use of methods such as fingerprinting and tooth charts when identification tags were not available. Unreliable methods such as visual identification or witness testimony were deemed to be sufficient to report a soldier dead. As a consequence, false reports of death seem to have been relatively commonplace.
... The ABO blood group system is one of the most recognized genetic traits in humans, and its antigens are of significant clinical importance, particularly in regard to organ transplantation and blood transfusions. The ABO blood group system has been used in large-scale disasters, to narrow down the search for a missing person [1,2]. ...
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... One critical role of race estimation today lies in the forensic identification of crime victims and missing persons. Physical characteristics are often used to describe missing people, and the documentation of these is the first step towards visual identification of a crime body 1 . ...
Article
Full-text available
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Article
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Chapter
On September 11, 2001 two hijacked airplanes struck the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. All of the recovered human remains (21,741) to date have been examined by the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). The major goals of the forensic medicine investigation of mass fatalities depends upon the circumstances and typically includes the determination of the cause and manner of death, accurate identification of the decedents, prompt issuance of death certificates, and collection of evidence from the remains. For the World Trade Center fatalities, the overriding concern was identification of the decedents. As of December 2008, there were 1,625 (59%) identifications of a total of 2,751 people reported missing. Of these, 996 were identified by a single means which included DNA analysis in 877 of the victims. DNA analysis markedly improves the ability to identify remains and has become the standard method for identification in these types of disasters. Expert anthropologic involvement also is a vital component. KeywordsForensic pathology-Forensic biology-Terrorism-Fatalities-Mass disaster-DNA-Anthropology
Conference Paper
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Chapter
DNA analysis from very old tissues such as skeletal remains has been possible since the 1990s and has been relevant in fields such as human evolution, population migrations, and paleodiseases. Polymorphisms (short tandem repeats and single nucleotide polymorphisms) on nuclear (including the Y chromosome) and mitochondrial DNA allow sex identification, kinship analyses, and individual identification to be performed. Polymerase chain reactions are the most widely used technique in the field of molecular anthropology to amplify and analyze degraded samples, in spite of the fact that next-generation sequencing technologies which sequence complete genomes are now available.
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Article
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Article
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Article
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Article
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Article
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Article
The 1993 Supreme Court case Daubert v. Merrell-Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. underscores the importance of validating forensic science techniques. This research examines the validity of using posterior-anterior radiographs of the hand to make positive identifications of unknown human remains. Furthermore, this study was constructed to satisfy the requirements of Daubert's guidelines of scientific validity by establishing a standard methodology for hand radiograph analysis, testing the technique, and noting rates of error. This validation study required twelve participant examiners from the forensic science community, working independently, to attempt to match 10 simulated postmortem radiographs of skeletonized hands to 40 simulated antemortem radiographs of fleshed cadaver hands. The overall accuracy rate of the twelve examiners was 95%, while their collective sensitivity and specificity were 95% and 92%, respectively. However, the accuracy of each examiner was related to the amount of radiological training and experience of the observer. Six Ph.D. forensic anthropologists and four experienced forensic anthropology graduate students correctly identified all the matches. Participant examiners noted bone morphology, trabecular patterns of the proximal and middle phalanges, and distinctive radiopaque and radiolucent features as the anatomical features that aided the identification process. The hand can be an important skeletal element for radiographic positive identification because it contains 27 individual bones for comparative analysis.
Article
The boxing day tsunami of 26 December 2004 caused devastation and loss of life around the Indian ocean. International disaster victim identification efforts were centred in Thailand, with many odontologists from over 20 countries contributing to the examination of deceased, collection of antemortem information, comparison and reconciliation of data. The contribution of forensic odontology to the identification process conducted in Thailand in response to the tsunami devastation is presented in a composite of short reports focused on the five phases associated with disaster victim identification. To date 1,474 deceased have been identified. Dental comparison has been the primary identifier in 79% of cases and a contributor in another 8%, a total of 87%.
Article
Four cases of fatal dog attacks are reported in 3 children aged 6, 10, and 11 years and in an infant aged 3 weeks. The cases were all characterized by extensive and mutilative stripping of soft tissues from the face and scalp, progressing to decapitation in the infant. The attacks were highly focused, involving 2 dogs in all but 1 case, with the area of trauma localized to the craniofacial region. The injuries resembled those found after postmortem animal depredation. The involvement of more than 1 dog may account for the severity of the injuries due to "pack" behavior. Deaths were due to exsanguination, air embolism, and decapitation. Necropsy examination of the attacking dogs revealed tissues from the victims in 2 of the animals' stomachs. These cases demonstrate the vulnerability of infants and young children to fatal dog attacks, with an unusual concentration of severe injuries to the head regions. Necropsy of the canine assailant, with collaboration between pathologists and veterinarians, is an important part of such investigations as it may provide information helping to establish the identity and ownership of the animal, along with trace evidence confirming that the dog was involved in the attack.
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Medical Device Evaluation Committee meeting Summary of key resolutions
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Identification of 9/11 remains comes to an end
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