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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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 criminal investigators throughout history. Armed with an array of high-tech devices and tests, the world's best forensic pathologists are doing their best to shift the balance, but as Jessica Snyder Sachs demonstrates so eloquently in Corpse, this is a 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, biochemists, 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

Excerpt

On the evening of November 8, 1983, friends and relatives of Susan Hendricks were reeling from the news that police had found the soft-spoken woman and her three young children hacked to death in their beds. What could they say to David, the affectionate husband and doting father, who had just arrived home from an out-of-town business trip to find squad cars swarming around his home in the suburbs of Bloomington, Illinois? Their shock was only compounded when police let it be known that David Hendricks was their prime suspect.

"There's just no way David could kill those children or Susie," the children's stunned grandmother told a reporter as she watched two hearses pull out of the family driveway, orange body bags visible through the long, tinted windows. "He loves them. They're a perfect family."

In the sensational murder trial that followed, relatives on both sides of the Hendricks family as well as members of their close- knit Christian fellowship rallied behind the accused. They described a considerate husband and charitable businessman who had recently thrilled his wife with a romantic tenth wedding anniversary trip to England and who funneled tens of thousands of dollars to the needy from the sales of his patented orthopedic braces. Neighbors described how, the evening before the mur-

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