Combined chemical and optical methods for monitoring the early decay stages of surrogate human models
AuthorStatheropoulos, Miltiades K.
Pallis, George C.
SourceForensic science international
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As the body decays shortly after death, a variety of gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) constantly emanate. Ethical and practical reasons limit the use of human corpses in controlled, time-dependent, intervening experiments for monitoring the chemistry of body decay. Therefore the utilization of pig carcasses serves as a potential surrogate to human models. The aim of this work was to study buried body decay in conditions of entrapment in collapsed buildings. Six domestic pigs were used to study carcass decay. They were enclosed in plastic body bags after being partially buried with rubbles, resembling entrapment in collapsed buildings. Three experimental cycles were performed, employing two pig carcasses in each cycleVOCs and inorganic gases were measured daily, along with daily visible and thermal images. VOCs were collected in standard sorbent tubes and subsequently analyzed using a Thermal Desorption/Gas Chromatograph/high sensitivity bench-top Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer (TD/GC/TOF-MS). A comprehensive, stage by stage, detailed information on the decay process is being presented based on the experimental macroscopic observations, justifying thus the use of pig carcasses as surrogate material. A variety of VOCs were identified including almost all chemical classes: sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen compounds (aldehydes, alcohols, ketones, acids and esters), hydrocarbons, fluorides and chlorides. Carcasses obtained from a pig farm resulted in more sulfur and nitrogen cadaveric volatiles. Carbon dioxide was by far the most abundant inorganic gas identified along with carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. Visual monitoring was based on video captured images allowing for macroscopic observations, while thermal camera monitoring which is mostly temperature dependent, resulted in highlighting the local micro-changes on the carcasses, as a result of the intense microbial activity. The combination of chemical and optical methods proved very useful and informative, uncovering hidden aspects of the early stages of decay and also guiding in the development of combined chemical and imaging methods for the detection of dead bodies. © 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.