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

By Jessica Snyder Sachs | Go to book overview

2 REASONABLE DOUBT

Unfortunately, it is often the least experienced medical witness who tends to offer the most accurate estimates, not having seen enough cases to appreciate the many pitfalls and fallacies in the process.

—BERNARD KNIGHT, THE ESTIMATION OF THE TIME SINCE DEATH IN THE EARLY POSTMORTEM PERIOD

JUST BEFORE II A.M. on June 13, 1994, special investigator Claudine Ratcliffe of the L.A. County Coroner's office held an electronic thermometer in the air above another crumpled corpse. The digital dial at the end of the five-inch spike read 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Returning the device to her kit, Ratcliffe knelt beside the body, curled in a fetal position just inside the gate to a private walkway. She pressed her latex-gloved hand against the young woman's jaw. No movement. She tried shifting an arm, but it too remained locked in place, bent at the elbow and held close to the body. Lifting the short skirt of the victim's black dress, Ratcliffe noted a pale red stain across the underside of each thigh. She pressed her thumb against the discoloration and squinted to see if it would blanch. It did not. With a nod, she signaled the waiting officers to help her lift the body into the back

-27-

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