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

By Jessica Snyder Sachs | Go to book overview
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I THE BODY HANDLERS

The psychiatrist knows nothing and does nothing The surgeon knows nothing and does everything The pathologist knows everything ... but is always a day too late.

—TRADITIONAL MEDICAL MAXIM

THE TYPICAL AMERICAN goes into the ground injected with three to four gallons of preservatives. But a sizable segment of even our oversanitized culture will always escape quick processing. Prominent among this population: the abandoned and the murdered. In theory, their moldering bodies—slumped under bridges, forgotten in bed, or dumped along roadsides—retain the natural if repulsive clues that might disclose time of death. For reasons as sensible as sensory, police are quick to pass these unvarnished dead to the next in line of custody—the coroners and medical examiners whose job it is to coax secrets from a corpse.

Many trace the work of forensic pathology—the medicolegal investigation of death—to the ancient Greeks who, circa 380 B.C., began dissecting various animal carcasses and applying their findings—at times absurdly—to humans. Greeks physicians did perform the rare human dissection. But Hippocratic writings ex

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