Tag Archives: Pathology

WHO REALLY KILLED JONBENET RAMSEY?

A41On December 26, 1996, the beaten and strangled body of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found hidden in the basement of her Boulder, Colorado, home. Immediately, police and media suspicion focused on her wealthy parents, John Bennet Ramsey and Patricia (Patsy) Ramsey, as being responsible. Nowtwenty years laterthe child beauty queen’s cold case has little new to offer except for the recent suggestion that JonBenet never really died and that she’s actually the current pop-star, Katy Perry.

A31Setting stupid conspiracy theories aside, the fact remains that someone viciously slaughtered JonBenet. The little girl became a cultural obsession and the person or persons guilty of JonBenet’s death were never prosecuted. Was it a lack of viable suspects? Lack of admissible evidence? A homicide investigation mishandled right from the start? Or was it failure to properly decipher the murder mystery’s most important clue?

Here’s a look at what the case facts tell us about who really killed JonBenet Ramsey.

Patsy Ramsey claimed to have come downstairs to the kitchen at five o’clock on Boxing Day morning and found a two-and-a-half page, hand-written ransom note on the landing of their secondary staircase. The author directed the letter at John Ramsey and claimed to represent a group of individuals from a foreign faction who were “in possession” of JonBenet. The note demanded a ransom of $118,000 be paid in certain bills or JonBenet would die.

A2Boulder Police recorded Patsy Ramsey’s report being phoned in at 5:51 am. Two patrol officers attended and took basic information but did not treat the Ramsey house as a crime scene. It was not secured, nor searched, and an unrecorded number of people had access to the residence until early afternoon when a detective took over and asked a family friend to assist John Ramsey to search the house for “anything unusual”.

The recorded events are confusing but it’s said John Ramsey located JonBenet’s dead body in a far corner of a basement wine cellar, covered with her bedroom blanket. She had a ligature cord around her neck, her hands were bound above her head, and her mouth was sealed with duct tape. John Ramsey apparently removed the tape and carried the body up to the living room where it was laid in front of the Christmas tree. The police were called back and the case began being treated as a homicide.

A32A forensic crime scene examination identified several points of unsecured ingress to the house but no sign of forced entry nor anything to clearly suggest an unauthorized intruder had been present.

Prominent was the ligature or cord around JonBenet’s neck that was tied to a wooden handle, described as a “garrote”. It was physically matched to a broken paint brush handle in Patsy’s art room which was in the basement, near the wine cellar. Similar pieces of cord were also found in the home. As well, the pad which the note-paper originated from was located on the main floor, as was the pen used to write it.

The Ramsey parents were not formally interviewed, no statements were taken, and continuity of the note—being a prime piece of evidence—as well as its forensic treatment was questionably handled.

A10The pathologist attended the residence at 6 pm and did a cursory examination of JonBenet’s body before removing her to the morgue. She was dressed in a white nightie and white panties with white tights overtop. The panties and tights were soaked in urine. Postmortem changes were advanced with rigor mortis already passing and early decomposition presenting.

Though the stages of mortis are not precise science for conclusively identifying the time of death, the body’s physical condition suggested that JonBenet had been dead for a considerable time, estimated between 10 pm the previous evening and no later than 5:51 am when the police report was received.

In pathologist John E. Meyer’s words — “Far closer to 10 pm than to 5 am.”

JonBenet’s autopsy determined her cause of death as “asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma” and the medical diagnosis was:

I. Ligature strangulation

  1. Circumferential ligature with associated ligature furrow of neck
  2. Abrasions and petechial hemorrhages, neck
  3. Petechial hemorrhages, conjunctival surfaces of eyes and skin of face

II. Craniocerebral injuries

  1. Scalp contusion
  2. Linear comminuted fracture of right skull
  3. Linear pattern of contusions of right cerebral hemisphere
  4. Subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhage
  5. Small contusions, tips of temporal lobes

III. Abrasion of right cheek

IV. Abrasion/contusion, posterior right shoulder

V. Abrasions of lower left back and posterior left lower leg

VI. Abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa

VII. Ligature of right wrist

VIII. Toxicology

  1. Blood ethanol – none detected
  2. Blood drug screen – no drugs detected

A23From reading this, it’s clear JonBenet received a massive blow to the upper right of her head from contact with a blunt object, approximately an hour or more before death. This is supported by the contusion (bruise, not a laceration or cut) to her scalp, the linear fractures to her skull, and the subdural (underlying) hemorrhaging (bleeding) in her brain. This cannot occur after death and the known pathology established a considerable time period elapsed between when the blow was administered and when the cardiovascular system stopped functioning. The pathologist opinioned that JonBenet was alive but unconscious for an hour, possibly an hour-and-a-half, before she was strangled.

It’s also clear that ligature asphyxia (strangling with the cord) was her death’s triggering mechanism and this is corroborated by the presence of petechial hemorrhages (tiny bloodspots) in her eyes and on her face. This is a classic symptom of mechanical strangulation and is peculiar to the airway being violently interrupted.

A16The presence of various abrasions and contusions are evident of physical violence being inflicted on JonBenet prior to death, as is the violation of her vaginal area. Her cheek abrasion is consistent with a slap to the face, her shoulder and legs marks are consistent with her still-alive body being roughly handled as if dragged, but caution must be taken in interpreting her vaginal injury as being consistent with sexual assault.

There was no presence of semen, however some blood spotting was noted in her underwear. Later forensic examination would identify a foreign pubic hair on her blanket and an unknown DNA sample on her underwear that was consistent with a male contributor.

The police and district attorney’s investigation focused on the improbability that a total stranger would break into the home, severely wound JonBenet, then kill her at least an hour later after packing her body from an upper bedroom and down two floors to the basement of a house in which three others were present—all the while hanging around to write a lengthy note.

A27From the start, Patsy Ramsey’s behavior was suspect—as was her husband’s. Though there was no suggestion of previous child abuse in the home, it was well known Patsy Ramsey selfishly promoted her daughter like a trophy doll who she desperately wanted to shine in fame and fortune.

As police and media attention centered on the Ramseys, they limited their contact with investigators and quickly “lawyered-up” until a controlled, counter-offensive in the media could be established.

A3The evidence against the Ramseys was examined by a grand jury empaneled during a ten-month period in 1998. The jury returned an indictment against John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in JonBenet’s death but was quashed by the district attorney who felt there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. The grand jury’s findings were sealed and only released to the public in 2013, seven years after Patsy Ramsay’s death from cancer.

To this day, the smoking gun in JonBenet’s homicide is the alleged ransom note.

If the note is legitimate, then it’s a kidnapping that went sideways. If it’s fraudulent, it’s a murder staged to look like a kidnapping. Regardless, there’s no doubt the note’s author is responsible for killing JonBenet and it’s within the note where the killer reveals their true identity.

Let’s look at it:

A12

The note needs to be examined in three ways.

First—was there any forensic evidence present to physically identify the author? I can’t imagine it not being fingerprinted nor examined for DNA, however I can’t find any internet reference one way or the other and existing photos don’t show the normal discoloration associated with chemically checking for fingerprints on paper.

A33Second—what do forensic handwriting analysists say about the writer? A number of document examiners have analyzed the note and have eliminated John Ramsey as well as fifty-three other subjects as the author. But, they cannot rule Patsy Ramsay out as penning it. To be fair, no one conclusively states she was the writer but all agree the author intentionally attempted to disguise themselves.

Third—what does the science of statement analysis tell us? It’s here where the killer’s identity is revealed.

Let’s look at the note again:

*   *   *

Mr. Ramsey,

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We don respect your bussiness but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our posession. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.

You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attache to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a earlierdelivery pick-up of your daughter.

Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with Law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to out smart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back.

You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities. Don’t try to grow a brain John. You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!

Victory!

S.B.T.C

*   *   *

A34

 

The first thing that comes to my mind when reading the note is that it’s nonsense.

A37It’s complete and utter bullshit and here’s why:

A35

  • It’s very long with a lot of unnecessary, redundant information. It’s written on three pieces of paper which took a considerable amount of time to compose. True ransom notes are exceptionally rare and all are short and to the point: “We have your daughter! We will kill her if you don’t give us X-amount of money by __!. Wait for instructions!! DO NOT call the police or she dies!!!
  • The writer introduces themself as representing a “group of individuals from a small foreign faction“. Foreign? Faction? Who calls themselves a foreign faction?
  • Patsy had been up an hour before calling police

    Patsy had been up an hour before calling police

    The writer states to not respect Ramsey’s business, but not his country then changes the message by striking out “don’t” to reflect a friendlier tone.

  • The asking sum of $118,000.00 is a bizarre number. Some examiners equate it to a similar salary bonus amount John Ramsey recently collected but how would a foreigner know if it’s even in his bank account never mind how much?
  • Calling “tomorrow between 8 and 10 am” indicates the note was written before midnight on December 25th.
  • “The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be well rested” indicates someone thinking about a lack of sleep before the event is exposed.
  • And hence” is a unique phrase that’s rarely used except in very formal correspondence or in biblical phrases.
  • A18There are obvious misspellings in common words like “possession” and “business” while more easily erred words such as “adequate”, “attache (with the accent)”, “deceive”, “deviation”, and “scrutiny”. Otherwise, the writer uses proper punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure which indicates an attempt at disguise by a person with a fair degree of education.
  • The use of exclamation points in only the opening and closing is not realistic of a desperate person’s threat. You’d expect emphasis being put on the instructions to get money and threats to retaliate.
  • Beheaded” and “stray dog” indicate a feint towards some sort of middle-eastern ethnic decoy.
  • Proper burial” is indicative of someone who knew what JonBenet’s final disposal would be. Burial was the accepted practice in the Ramsays’ religious faith, rather than cremation.
  • The phrase “two gentlemen watching over” stands right out. “Gentlemen” being a term used in a ransom note? Totally unrealistic. And “watching over” is another term like “and hence” where it doesn’t remotely resemble normal speech, rather it reflects a biblical overtone where “God watches over”.
  • A44I advise you not to provoke them” and “I advise you to be rested” are passive statements and reflect a feminine touch.
  • Four times the writer uses the phrase “she dies.” If JonBenet was still alive when the note was written, the author would likely use the term “she will die”. This indicates the writer knew JonBenet was already dead.
  • The note’s address changes from “Mr. Ramsey” being used once to “John” being repeated three times. This is far too familiar for an unknown kidnapper and strongly indicates the writer knew John Ramsey personally.
  • The closing terms “Victory!” and “S.B.T.Cappear cryptic and of some personal, religious significance to the writer.

*   *   *

A45A principle behind the science of statement analysis is that truthful people rarely use synonyms. They remain consistent in language whereas deceitful people change language and weave in synonyms to distract. Another principle is that people expose their psychological profile in their writing.

So what does the JonBenet Ramsay note say about the author?

It’s clearly a deceitful attempt to distort the facts, using unrealistic, bizarre, and unbelievable demands to shift attention from the reality of the situation. It’s apparently written by a woman of higher education, with a religious background, familiar with John Ramsey, who can’t bear to bring JonBenet’s name into the equation, yet cryptically reveals a personal message.

A47It’s written in characters that can’t be eliminated from Patsy Ramsey’s known handwriting and it was written with a Sharpie pen and foolscap paper found in her home—the home in which JonBenet was murdered and who’s body was stashed on the cold basement floor.

Patsy Ramsey denied culpability until her death but denials are cheaper than a thrift store suit. A look at her psychological profile is telling.

A48Patsy Ramsay was a beauty queen, herself—crowned Miss West Virginia in 1977. She graduated from university with a B.A. in journalism and was a devout member of the Episcopalian church and a wealthy socialite in her community. Perversely, she flaunted an air of modest integrity while flogging every chance to sexually exploit her six-year-old daughter in front of every pageant and camera she could find.

Patsy Ramsey was an educated, articulate, and calculating woman. She was also very religious.

It’s in the Bible where the key to the ransom note’s lock is hidden.

The terms “watching over” and “and hence” are consistent with a religious mindset and they are known to be used in the Ramsey family Christmas message which Patsy wrote the year after JonBenet’s death.

The numeric figure “118” is highly revealing and it fits with a notable Bible passage recognized by the Episcopalian faith. It’s found in Corinthians 1:18.

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

A46Significant are the note’s closings—“Victory!” and “S.B.T.C”. Victory is well established as a Christian slogan which refers to Christ’s triumph by rising from the dead and symbolizing the triumph of good over evil and the forgiveness and everlasting salvation of a soul from sin. “S.B.T.C” is the well-known acronym for “Saved By The Cross.”

The “Victory” reference is also revealed in Corinthians 15:51-57.

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must be put on the imperishable, and this mortal must be put on immortality… then will come about the saying that is written “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In my opinion, a convincing case is made that Patsy Ramsay was the author of the ransom note and, therefore, the person who really killed JonBenet.

A25It’s also likely that John Ramsey had some knowledge and was covering up for his wife. He’s already had a previous daughter die—now a second—and he couldn’t bear to lose the rest of the family. Only he will know.

But this still leaves the question of why Patsy Ramsey killed her daughter? What were the horrific circumstances that led to such a senseless, barbaric crime?

I think the best theory is offered by Steve Thomas who is the original Boulder detective who investigated the case and wrote the book “JonBenet—Inside The Ramsey Murder Investigation“.

Detective Thomas postulates that Patsy and John Ramsey returned to their home around 10 pm Christmas Day after a social event. Patsy checked on JonBenet and found she’d been bed-wetting again. At the time, Patsy was already on emotional overload—about to pop a breaker. She was under severe psychological stress with heavy socialite commitments, seasonal depression, struggling to face her fortieth birthday, keeping the perfect faceand… who knows what all else.

A50With temper stretched, Patsy severely admonished JonBenet for the urinary mess and likely did an aggressive wiping simulation on her daughter’s crotch, accounting for the “abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa”. This escalated to a violent event where JonBenet’s head was smashed into a hard, blunt surface such as a doorframe or piece of furniture which rendered her unconscious with a potentially lethal brain injury.

Possibly thinking JonBenet was dead and probably panicking, Patsy went into damage control which may have involved John Ramsey at this point. It’s inconceivable to think he didn’t know or at least suspect something.

Somewhere during the next hour to an hour-and-a-half, JonBenet was finished off with a garrote fashioned from available materials, her body was moved, and the stage was set to simulate a ritualistic killing. A plan was then devised to deceive the authorities by way of a concocted ransom note which contained a cryptic justification with some hope of divine reconciliation.

A4But what’s really evident to me—why I truly believe both Patricia and John Ramsey were culpable in JonBenet’s murder—is the date on the inscription they jointly approved for the headstone on their daughter’s grave. 

They knew she was dead before midnight.

THE EXCRUCIATING DEATH OF MISTER RED PEPPER PASTE MAN

A17“Sounded like someone was skinning a live cat,” the neighbor told us. She sniffed, wiping her eyes. “Then loud crashing and banging, then… everything went quiet. I waited a while, didn’t hear nothing more, so I went and checked and found him dead on the floor.” 

I was in my first year of coroner understudy and shadowing my mentor, senior coroner Barbara McCormick. We were in the kitchen of a tiny suite on the poor side of town, standing over this skinny, old guy who was in a semi-fetal position with one arm wrapped around his abdomen and his other hand clutching his throat. I’ll never forget his wide-open eyes or the gritting grimace of teeth—the expression of excruciating pain etched in a cold, deathly stare.

“Heart attack or brain aneurysm, Barb?” I asked, ready to flip a coin. I was new to the coroner service, but no stranger to dead bodies after a career as a homicide cop. There was zero sign of foul play at this scene and my experience told me people only drop dead from one of these two natural events.

A19Barb was bent over, starting the head-to-toe examination that coroners do before removing a body for a thorough autopsy back at the morgue. “Wouldn’t bet on either.” Barb was trying to pry his jaw for a look down the throat. “Check his color. Blue-gray. He’s asphyxiated. I’m thinking he might have choked on something but, for the life of me, I don’t know how he could let out a curdling cat-scream if something was stuck in his yap.”

While Barb was messing with his head, I snooped around. It was typical digs for a single pensioner—a bachelor suite crammed with junk. Empty booze bottles and overflowing ashtrays testified to a lifestyle that suggested he should be dead of something by now. I checked for meds, which was routine. The pathologist would want to know what was likely in his system and the toxicology lab would want it for sure.

A20I found the usual pill vials indicating treatment for coronary and respiratory ailments that heavy drinkers and smokers all have. The place was relatively clean, although cluttered, and didn’t reek of garbage and bodily waste like most of these places do. I saw a part-eaten sandwich on the table and a freshly cracked beer—seemed like the old boy was doing lunch when violently seized by the death monster and taken down hard to the mat.

Barb stood up, looking puzzled. “I have no idea. Should be an interesting postmortem.” We finished photographs, bagged the man, then stretchered him out to the transport van and drove him off to the morgue.

We’d recorded his personal details, which is part of a death investigation, but his real name never stayed with me. Most are like that. In the death business it’s not a good idea to get too close to your clients, but some you never forget because of how they checked out.

A15It’s normal—in black humor behind the scenes—for coroners to name their files by earned handles. I’ll always remember Capn’ Crab Bait, Voltage Vern, Methlab Mikey, Arachnoid Ann, Lawn Tractor Guy, Tarzan of the Caterpillars, Freight Train Ference, The Krosswalk Kidd, The Drill Sergeant, Pole Dancer, Cats-Sup, and… as long as I live… I’ll never forget The Electric Carving Knife Lady.

And, it came to pass, I’ll also never forget the dead little man we’d just rolled into the cooler. 

Next morning my favorite pathologist, Dr. Elvira Esikanian, was on the roster to autopsy our guy from the kitchen floor. I loved dealing with Elvira. She’s Bosnian with a wicked sense of dry humor and an equally wicked curriculum vitae, including exhuming mass graves for the UN and serving in some of the busiest morgues around the world where she’d often do a dozen different cuttings per day.

A21Although Elvira was exceptionally thorough, she was a go-to-the-throat prosector. She’d assess the circumstances, then head straight to the most likely cause.

“I’m suspecting an acute respiratory event,” Elvira stated. “Note the petechiae in the eyes.” She pointed to pricks of blood in his whites. “We normally see petechiae in cases of sudden and severe loss of oxygen, such as in strangulation, although on this man I see no sign of exterior trauma.”

We Y-incisioned the thorax/abdominal cavities and began removing organs.

A16“His lungs are clear, with the exception of tobacco effects.” Elvira had cross-sectioned them. “And his airway is unobstructed. This man did not choke, nor was he suffocated by fluid.” She examined the heart, which showed expected signs of advanced coronary artery disease. “And he did not suffer a heart attack.” Elvira placed the gastro-intestinal tract in a plastic tub and set it aside on her bench.

She proceeded straight to a cranial exam, inspecting for the tell-tale bleed of a cerebral hemorrhage. “Nothing obvious here.” Elvira put the brain in a stainless bowl. “You indicated this man was eating lunch when he expired.” She looked at me. I nodded. She reached for her plastic tub. “I’m going to examine the stomach.”

A22For most pathologists and coroners, digging in the digestive tract is the most unpleasant part of the job. It was no different with this man. Elvira incised the stomach and poured its contents into a clear, glass tray. She flipped on her magnifiers and bent a gooseneck light overtop. Immediately, she let out a wolf-whistle. “Look at this!”

To me, it was a messy slime-goo of chewed bread mixed with some rude and red, pasty substance.

To Elvira, it was the smoking gun.

A25I watched Elvira excise a culture, fix it in a slide, and examine it under her microscope. “Have a look.” She directed me to the eyepieces.

What I saw was a squiggling biological mass of sub-terrain aliens—looking out-of-this-world like agitated, animated, turquoise tampons breathlessly mingling in a magnified mess of greenish-gray snot.

I swear they had heads, horns, and hoofs.

Clostridium  Botulinum,” Elvira announced. “Botulism. I’m sure this man died from the deadliest food poison known.” 

Now, I’d heard of botulism. Everyone has. That’s why my mum would sniff the tin cans when she opened them and why she’d boiled preserves for four hours. But this was the first time I’d seen a real case of botulism.

A12“We won’t know the strain or the severity level until we get toxicology results but I can tell you, given how quickly this poor fellow expired, it must be an extremely toxic ratio.” Elvira went on. “What happens is the neurotoxin produced by the botulinum bacteria acts as a blocking agent preventing neurotransmitters from issuing instructions to the muscles. Once this poison hit his system, every nerve in his body would have felt on fire and he’d quickly fall into total paralysis. That would soon stop his lungs and he’d fall into a state of anoxia, or lack of oxygenated blood to the brain. He’d be conscious throughout and would feel everything… but would be unable to react.”

She glanced at the cut-open cadaver on her examining table. “What a positively excruciating way to die.”

A8Barb McCormick already had her digital camera out and was scrolling through shots from the scene. “This might be it.” Barb enlarged a photo showing the kitchen. Evident was a jar with its top off, containing a reddish substance.

Realizing the lethality of the situation and the danger to others, Barb and I immediately went back to the apartment. There, on the counter, was a jar of red pepper paste with a label indicating it originated in China and was far past its expiry date. A tag showed it’d been purchased at the Dollar Store.

Cautiously, we peered inside.

And—I’m here to tell you—that red, peppery, pasty scum was actually moving.

A26It took over a month for the toxicology results to come back. They proved positive for Botulinum toxin—Type E—and the dosage was staggering.

Toxicology measures the presumed lethal dose of a substance in digital units of LD50/ (mg/kg) which translates to the Lethal Dose (LD) required to kill half of the tested laboratory animals in a controlled volume and time.

The LD for Botulinum toxin is 0.00001. Our red pepper paste man’s reading was over 0.02000—two thousand times the amount needed to kill a human being.

*   *   *

A27It’s been a few years since the red pepper paste case and I thought I’d review the pathology around Botulinum toxin. Here’s a quote from a paper by the World Health Organization on the medical process of how botulism works on the human body:

To understand the role of Botulinum toxin, it is necessary first to understand how the brain initiates a muscle contraction as it is in this process that Botulinum toxin intervenes.
Muscles are connected to the brain by the nervous system which is a complex network of neurons – these are long cells that can pass information using either electrical or chemical signals. Chemical signals pass between neurons and muscles through synapses, which are specialized connections linking cells. The chemicals that are used to pass these messages are called neurotransmitters.
A30In the case of a muscle contraction, the chemical signal is passed using a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This sits in the neuron in a vesicle, a small bubble surrounded by a membrane, until it is required. When the neuron receives a message from the nervous system to initiate a muscle contraction, the acetylcholine is released from the vesicle and passes through the synapse into the muscle fiber.
To achieve this, the vesicles need to be transported to, and fuse with, the neuron membrane that adjoins the synapse between the nerve and the muscle. This process is controlled by a group of proteins called the SNARE complex.
A29The three main proteins involved are Syntaxin (which connects to the nerve membrane), Synaptobrevin (which connects to the vesicle) and SNAP-25 (which helps the other SNARE proteins link up). These proteins join together to cause the vesicle to move to the nerve membrane and fuse with it. The acetylcholine can then be released across the synapse and pass into the muscle. This then triggers a chain of events that causes the muscle contraction.
Botulinum toxin prevents the release of acetylcholine through the synapse.
Botulinum toxin is produced by a bacterium called Clostridium Botulinum. This bacterium is associated with causing botulism, a rare but deadly form of food poisoning.
A33Botulinum toxin is exceptionally toxic but, when purified and used in tiny, medically controlled doses, it can be used effectively to relax excessive muscle contraction and is now commonly used in cosmetic surgery.

Hmmm… BOtulinum TOXin… BoTox. 

A23The same gruesome stuff in the red pepper paste that painfully killed our old man is commonly stuck into people’s faces to make them look younger and pretty.

I’m sure, for the most part, BoTox injections are perfectly safe. But… if you’re thinking of cosmetically shedding some years, remember the Excruciating Death of Mister Red Pepper Paste Man.

MORTIS – UNDERSTANDING BODY CHANGES AFTER DEATH

AA5Many crime writers mistakenly believe there’s a precise science to pronouncing time of death (TOD). There is a progressive process, but the sequence and time intervals are influenced by many factors. To craft convincing death scenes, authors need to know how a body actually breaks down.

Mortis is the anatomical term for changes in a body after the moment of death. Medically, that’s when the central nervous system gets unplugged and oxygenated blood is no longer delivered to the tissues, which naturally start recycling. The five types of mortis are:

  • Rigor – stiffening of muscles

  • Livor – settling of blood

  • Algor – change in temperature

  • Palor – change in color

  • Decomp – breakdown in tissue

AA6All these mortis conditions are integral to a decomposing process. Death is a part of life and decomposition is a part of death. Just as life is not always predictable, neither is estimating the post-mortem interval (PMI) between when death anatomically occurred and when first examination of the body begins.

Death investigations work on a triangle of Body – Scene – History. It’s a holistic approach to determining cause of death (COD) and it’s the coroner’s responsibility to answer five universal questions:

  • Who is the deceased?

  • Where did they die?

  • When did they die?

  • What caused their death?

  • What was the means of death?

AA7Some people are confused about the difference between cause and means. Cause is the medical reason. In this fellow’s case the cause of death would be traumatic brain injury. Means is the mechanism or physical reason – gunshot wound to the forehead.

There can be thousands of causes of death, but there are only five classifications:

  • Natural

  • Accidental

  • Suicide

  • Homicide

  • Undetermined

AA8How this ties into mortis is that satisfying the five universal questions, great weight is placed on interpreting the body’s condition when first examined. This is where understanding the mortis process is so important and a lot of the interpretation comes from years of experience.

The proper pronunciation of the mortis states puts emphasis on the first syllable and it’s a long ‘I’ (RYE-gore).

Let’s look at each one.

Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of muscles. It’s caused by the body’s energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), being depleted. With no energy left to keep the muscles flexible, they naturally go to a rigid state until another enzyme begins the breakdown of tissue and relaxation returns.

AA10Immediately upon death, the body enters a brief period of primary flaccidity where it’s dead limp. Depending on many factors, temperature and body mass being the big ones, the muscle stiffening begins in 1- 2 hours, first setting into the eyelids, jaw, and neck. It proceeds to the limb joints and extremities after 4-8 hours and fixes in the organs in about 12 hours. Rigor releases in a reverse sequence and can be absent in as little as 12 hours or can stay for days, again depending on factors.

Livor Mortis is the pooling of blood caused by gravitational settling once the heart stopped pressurizing the vascular system. It’s evident by purplish-red blotching where blood is free to pool and blanched-white where pressure points restrict it. Lividity, as it’s also known, sets in between 30 minutes to 1 hour after death and ‘fixes’ in about 8-12 hours. ‘Fixing’ is the entire settling where blood has coagulated and no longer runs free.

Algor Mortis is the change in body temperature. A cadaver will always achieve ambient temperature, regardless of time. A normal, living human’s core temperature is 36 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) but the scene temperature could be anywhere above or below. In a cold environment, the body will drop to equilibriate. In a hot environment, it will rise. Here’s where so many peripheral factors come into play. Body size. Layered Clothing. Air movement. And the list goes on. A rule of thumb is that a body’s temperaature will change about 1 degree Celsius per hour.

AA11Palor Mortis is the change of color. Live humans are pretty much a reddish tinge due to oxygenated blood flowing (different tones for different races). Immediately upon death, a bluing phase occurs, following by a grey, then a white, and it can be a rainbow of colors as decomposition takes over.

Decomp, or decomposition, is not really a true class of mortis – rather it’s the culmination of the four mortis processes which leads to a breakdown of the body tissues and a return to nature.

Decomposition is a complex and unpredictable thing. There are two processes that morph into one:

  • Putrefaction – action of bacteria on body tissues

  • Autolysis – body breakdown by endogenous substances

AA9In most deaths these two work in tandem, starting with a breakdown in internal organs which produces gas. This causes bloating and skin discoloring, as well as the foul odor from purging or ‘gassing-off’. As the muscle tissues change, the skin begins to dislodge, the joints become loose enough to disarticulate, fats become liquefied, and bones become exposed. Advanced decomp can become skeletonized, mummified, or consumed – again depending on so many factors, which all start from the mortis process.

The changes in a human’s body after death can be just as varied as their experiences in life.

Biological, environmental, and circumstantial factors will shape your death, just like they’re shaping your life.

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I originally wrote this post for Kristen Elise, PhD, on her blog site at MurderLab.com. I think it’s useful information for other crimewriters so I shared it here at DyingWords. Here’s the link to the original post on Kristen’s site:

http://www.murderlab.com/2015/07/mortis-understanding-body-changes-after.html