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A medical examiner must identify the victim of murder by conducting a postmortem examination (Crime Museum, 2016). To this end, all physical evidence that can be retrieved should be examined. Numerous methods are being used for identification purposes, but the most important are forensic odontology and anthropology. The best possible outcome of a postmortem examination is either confirmation or identification of a murder victim supported by firm evidence (Crime Museum, 2016).
This task can be either simple or difficult and laborious. Their family members recognize the majority of the deceased individuals. In such cases, medical examiners are presented with taking facial photos and making two sets of fingerprints (Crime Museum, 2016). However, various factors, such as massive head trauma, decapitation, mutilation, or prolonged submersion in water, could significantly complicate the process of identifying the deceased individual (Claridge, 2015).
It can stop the progress of crime investigation and impede the family of the deceased from settling insurance claims (Crime Museum, 2016). Therefore, it is a medical examiner’s responsibility to use all their knowledge and skills for the purpose of positive identification of the murder victim (Claridge, 2015).
One of the essential instruments for determining the victim’s identity is the examination of palm and fingerprints. It is also the most reliable method for identification purposes that has been adopted at the beginning of the twentieth century by the New York City Civil Service Commission (Crime Museum, 2016). The medical examiner searches an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) for possible matches (Fisher, 2012).
Their reports usually contain one of three results: the person made the print, the person did not make the print; it was impossible to evaluate the print (Fisher, 2012). Patterns of skin on the soles of the feet or palms are considered to have the value of evidentiary power that is equal to that of fingerprints (Fisher, 2012).
If the body has been substantially deformed due to the influences of external forces, it is necessary to make a comparison of existing prints with the latest ones that could be found in the home of the deceased or at their work (Fisher, 2012). However, even in cases when the subject is significantly decomposed, unconventional methods for taking fingerprints could be utilized. But only specialists with many years of fingerprint classification experience can successfully employ those techniques. In the majority of cases, those methods might result in a positive identification (Fisher, 2012).
Dental records could also be used for the identification of a murder victim. They rely on antemortem records similar to palm and fingerprints (Crime Museum, 2016). The most effective technique for identification with the use of dental records is antemortem radiography (Crime Museum, 2016). However, if such type of evidence is not available, the dental examination can be utilized for obtaining a positive identification.
During the process of teeth examination, the presence of an experienced dentist might be very useful. For example, a trained specialist could help to assess root fillings (Crime Museum, 2016). If there is a possibility to establish the dentist’s identity who has treated the subject, it is necessary to ask them for help. They might confirm the victim’s identity and provide x-ray photographs that could be compared to those made by the medical examiner (Crime Museum, 2016).
The data obtained from the dental examination is especially valuable in cases where the body is decomposed or substantially damaged. It could help to establish a victim’s age, unhealthy habits, or even occupation. While conducting the dental examination, forensic odontologist looks for characteristics such as missing teeth, disease marks, fractured or chipped teeth, groves on teeth, and worn surfaces, among others (Fisher, 2012). Even one tooth retrieved from the crime scene could prove highly valuable for identification purposes (Fisher, 2012).
Determination of Gender
The bones found at the crime scene could be used for the determination of gender. The size and shape of a pelvis and especially preauricular notch, could help to unequivocally establish the gender of the subject. The walls of male craniums are usually thinner than those of females. The frontal nose angle and curve of the eyebrows are different for two sexes; therefore, they could also help in the process of a postmortem examination (Fisher, 2012).
The Head of the joint of the upper arm is normally larger in male skeletons than in female ones. The sizes of breastbones, thighbones, and shinbones could also serve as reliable indicators of the victim’s gender (Fisher, 2012). The female skeleton without pelvis has a lighter construction than a male one (Fisher, 2012). The child’s teeth might be used to determine their gender if other indicators are missing.
The use of DNA is the most reliable method to identify the victim of murder by conducting a postmortem examination. The forensic examiner has to prepare samples of skin, hair, or bone marrow and compare them with existing antemortem records or samples (Crime Museum, 2016). Therefore, if a body has significantly decomposed, and only bones are left, DNA can be used for positive identification (Crime Museum, 2016).
Claridge, J. (2015). Identifying the Victim. Web.
Crime Museum (2016). Postmortem Identification. Web.
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Fisher, B. J. (2012). Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation (8th ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.