Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death

Book - 2001
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Baker & Taylor
Provides an intriguing look at the role of forensic ecology--the study of plants, insects, chemicals, and other factors--found near a body in helping forensic pathologists determine a time of death. 25,000 first printing.

Perseus Publishing
When detectives come upon a murder victim, there's one thing they want to know above all else: When did the victim die? The answer can narrow a group of suspects, make or break an alibi-even assign a name to an unidentified body. But outside the fictional world of murder mysteries, time-of-death determinations have remained infamously elusive, bedeviling forensic pathologists throughout history. Scientists are doing their best to right this situation, using DNA testing and other high-tech investigative methods. But as Jessica Snyder Sachs argues in Corpse, this is one case in which nature might just trump technology: plants, chemicals, and insects found near the body are turning out to be the fiercest weapons in our crime-fighting arsenal. In this highly original book, Sachs accompanies an eccentric group of entomologists, anthropologists, and botanists-a new kind of biological "Mod Squad"-on some of their grisliest, most intractable cases. She also takes us into the courtroom, where "post-O.J." forensic science as a whole is coming under fire and the new multidisciplinary art of forensic ecology is struggling to establish its credibility. Corpse is the fascinating story of the 2000year-old search to pinpoint time of death. It is also the terrible and beautiful story of what happens to our bodies when we die.

How the hot new science of forensic ecology is cracking some of the world's toughest criminal cases.

Book News
Sachs (a freelance science writer) tells the story of how the time of death of a corpse is determined, giving the history of the studies used to develop the tests for time of death. She incorporates familiar stories from famous murders and their trials into the narrative to illustrate the importance given to these tests. The main focus of the book is the researches of 12 forensic entomologists who study and time the process of decomposition in the natural world. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

Looks at the role of forensic ecology--the study of plants, insects, chemicals, and other factors--found near a body in helping forensic pathologists determine the time of death.

Publisher: Cambridge : Perseus Pub., c2001
ISBN: 9780738203362
Branch Call Number: 363.25 Sachs
Characteristics: x, 270 p


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nftaussig Sep 11, 2012

Jessica Snyder Sachs, who writes about science and health issues, presents a lucidly written history of efforts to determine time of death, an important consideration in murder investigations. She begins with a discussion of the three factors historically used to determine time of death: rigor mortis (the temporary stiffening of the muscles after death), algor mortis (decrease in body temperature after death), and livor mortis (in light-skinned people, the gradual darkening of the skin as blood pools after death). She then discusses how scientists came to realize that these factors could not be used to pinpoint the time of death since factors such as a bacterial infection could affect the decay process, an important consideration in murder cases since determining time of death can be used to narrow the field of possible suspects. Snyder Sachs traces how occasional requests from law enforcement officials investigating murders to scientists doing research in physical anthropology, entomology, and botany led to the development of the field of forensics. She lucidly explains how this research helped scientists determine a more accurate clock of the decomposition process, while also making the reader aware of the factors (such as ambient temperature, the presence or absence of clothing, and local ecology) that create uncertainties in determining the amount of time that has elapsed since death. Snyder Sachs also cites specific cases in which scientific testimony by researchers in forensics helped to convict or exonerate defendants accused of murder. As she acknowledges, Snyder Sachs had help from researchers in the field in writing this compelling history. She also provides a list of books for further reading on the subject. What she fails to do is supply footnotes, even as she quotes unnamed sources.

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nftaussig Sep 10, 2012

nftaussig thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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nftaussig Sep 10, 2012

Jessica Snyder Sachs discusses the historical efforts to pinpoint the time of death of a murder victim (or apparent murder victim). She begins with a detailed discussion of the decay process a corpse undergoes. Next, she explains how time of death was determined historically, the growing awareness of the uncertainties involved (such as ambient temperature or the presence of a bacterial infection), and why addresssing those uncertainties is important in investigating murder cases. Snyder Sachs explains how research in entomology, forensic anthropology, botany, and chemistry has led to improvements in gauging the time at which a person died. In conjunction with her explanations of the research, Snyder Sachs includes examples of criminal cases in which the research was used to convict or exonerate a suspect. She concludes with a discussion of the lines of research that were being explored at the time the book was written.


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nftaussig Sep 11, 2012

Other: This book includes a detailed discussion of the decomposition process of human corpses. Specifically, the author discusses in grisly detail how bacteria and maggots decompose the body. These discussions are not for the squeamish. However, the book is not illustrated.


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