Autopsy: From Crime Scene To Toe Tag

Autopsy: from crime scene

Death investigations are conducted by both the police and medical examiners or coroners. Each jurisdiction determines whether or not they have a coroner or medical examiner. A coroner is an elected official and may or may not be a medical doctor. A medical examiner is a medical doctor who has been hired by a city or county to conduct autopsies and investigate the cause of suspicious deaths. Elected coroners who are not doctors must hire a pathologist to conduct autopsies.

The police are in charge of all murder scenes, but medical examiners and coroners are in charge of the body. Medical examiners and coroners do not interrogate suspects and detectives do not examine bodies.

Bodies are placed in body bags and delivered to the morgue in specially equipped vehicles (pictured above).

Upon arrival at the morgue, bodies are rolled onto scales where they’re weighed.

After weighing, the body is placed inside a cold room until autopsy. In this jurisdiction black or dark gray, leak-resistant body bags are used pre-autopsy. The paper bag resting on the body of the murder victim at the top of the photo contains the victim’s personal belongings. Notice there are no individual drawers for bodies.

Cold rooms also store amputated body parts. The gray trays on the right contain severed limbs. White, paper-like body bags, like the one lying on the gurney in the rear of the cold room above, are used post-autopsy for bodies waiting to be transported to funeral homes.

Our tour of the morgue continues with a peek into the autopsy room/suite, where we’ll examine some of the tools of the trade. If your stomach holds up we’ll even have a glimpse of the star of the show, a murder victim.

The photograph above is of an autopsy station. Think of it as a pathologist’s workshop. To begin the autopsy, a body is placed on a gurney and is then positioned against the center, sink area of the station (feet-first in this morgue).


Pathologists in this particular morgue select instruments from a rolling cart placed at each workstation.

Tools of the autopsy trade.

Some M.E.’s prefer to use a bone saw used for cutting through the rib cage beneath the “Y” incision. It’s also used for cutting through the skull.

Scales for weighing internal organs.



Not for the weak of heart, or those who are squeamish or offended by graphic images of death and/or autopsy. 










Bodies are positioned on a gurney, at the autopsy station, prior to autopsy. Notice the lividity (the gravity-indiced purplish staining of the tissue at the lowest point of the body). This indicates the victim above was lying on his back after the heart stopped beating, and remained in that position until the lividity became fixed (12 hours, or so). Had this victim been found on his stomach with the lividity fixed on his back, well, that would be a sign that the body had been moved sometime after death.

Upper chest area of a murder victim. Ligature mark on the neck from strangling – upper left of photo.

Post autopsy “Y” incision sutures, above and below. Below image is of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Autopsy table, during autopsy. Body fluids are washed down the drain.

The end. Really … it is.

6 replies
  1. PatMarinelli
    PatMarinelli says:

    Awesome stuff, Lee. Loved seeing the tools of the trade up close and personal. I could handle seeing the body because there was no errie music playing to scare me like TV.

  2. Mona Krissman King
    Mona Krissman King says:

    “Autopsy: From Crime Scene To Toe Tag” Great class for WPA 2013? or send us to watch a real Autopsy?…. YEAH!!

  3. Marti
    Marti says:

    Great info and timely for my story line too! You clarified the difference between the Coroner, Medical Examiner and Pathologist. Whew.

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Thanks, Lee. This was very interesting and informative! I noticed the victim’s toe appeared to have blood on it. On TV, they always show the examiner washing the body. What is the story on that?

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