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Recovery and Interpretation of Burned Human Remains

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2012
236 pages
This study addressed the multiple forensic issues associated with the recovery and interpretation of burned human remains by linking rigorous scene recovery and documentation methodologies with subsequent laboratory analyses of heat-altered human remains from fatal fire scenes.
The new protocols developed from this research demonstrated that a fatal fire scene could be completely excavated, with comprehensive documentation, high evidence detection and recovery rates, as well as minimal evidence alteration, all in a matter of days. The research results show that a complex fire scene can be processed and documented in 2-3 days. The high rate of evidence recovery, as well as the identification of spatial and stratigraphic patterns attained during the mock-scene exercises also showed that these elements could still be detected, identified, and analyzed even after aggressive fire-suppression efforts. Further, the study demonstrated that regular, clear normal patterns of heat alteration of the human body can both be identified and successfully used to detect suspicious cases. Specifically, the agreement between the patterns observed in funerary cremations and those inferred from regular case documentation strongly indicate that efficient and systematic case documentation, analysis, and comparison may be the most promising research approach for improving understanding of heat-related trauma to the human body. In addition, the study shows the high rate of preservation even after calcination of forensically significant tool marks, indicating that it is erroneous to assume that fatal fire scenes can be processed more rapidly than conventional ones, or using substandard recovery protocols under the assumption that most evidence is destroyed. Contrary to popular belief, diagnostic traits indicative of the class characteristics of the tools used to inflict trauma on bone appear to be easier to detect and identify in burned bone. 15 tables, 14 figures, approximately 30 references, and appended data collection and protocol forms

Date Published: February 1, 2012