Terminology for the Savvy Crime Writer: Abrasion Collars to the Rare Cadaveric Spasm
For the day when you need just the right word to enhance a crime scene.
Abrasion Collar – The circular pattern and charred, blackened skin surrounding the area/wound caused by a gunshot.
Adhesive Lifter – Any tape-type material containing an adhesive backing that’s used to retrieve prints from a surface.
Atomized Blood – Patterns of blood stains that appear to have been caused by a fine mist, or spray. Think of the mist that expels from an aerosol can, such as paint or deodorant.
Adipocere – A waxy substance with a texture that’s similar to soap. It’s formed on the dead, decomposing bodies of animals and humans that are typically found in moist, damp locations. Also called Grave Wax.
Antemortem – Before death.
Bilary Tract – Pertains to bile or the gallbladder and the ducts that move bile throughout.
Blow-back – Tissue and blood that’s found on the surface of a firearm that was in close proximity to a victim’s skin when a shot was fired. Blow-back material may also be found inside the barrel of the weapon. For example, a gun barrel is held close to a victim’s temple area when the trigger is pulled. Biological material then “blows back” toward the shooter and the weapon, adhering to those surfaces.
Bradycardia – Abnormally slow heartbeat that sometimes cause dizziness and chest pains due to low cardiac output.
Burking – Smothering a victim in such a manner where there are no telltale signs of the crime. The body is then sold for anatomical dissection.
The term “burking” was named after William Burke, who, in 1815, killed several intoxicated people after following them for the purpose of murdering them. He and a friend participated in the macabre activity. One of the two held a hand over the victim’s nose and mouth, using the other hand to hold the jaw up, while the other sat on the victim’s chest. The held this position until the victim, either a man or woman, died of asphyxia. The sold the fruits of their crimes, the dead bodies, to medical schools in Edinburgh, Scotland.
[Titlow v. Burt, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111459 (D. Mich. 2010)].
Cadaveric Spasm – A rare form of muscular stiffening that occurs at the moment of death, continuing into the rigor mortis stage. In fact, it can and has been mistaken for rigor mortis. The cause is unknown, but is thought to occur with violent deaths in conjunction with intense emotion. Also known as postmortem spasm, or instantaneous rigor.
Some scientists state that cadaveric spasm is a myth.
Bedford PJ, Tsokos M. The occurrence of cadaveric spasm is a myth. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2013 Jun;9(2):244-8.
However, in an April 2013 article for Forensic Science and Medical Pathology, Dr. Marcella Fierro, , former Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, said in the 30-years she served as a medical examiner she’d seen the occurrence of cadaveric spasm only three times. Note that she specified “only three times” when speaking of how often she’d seen the condition occur. But she had seen it.
The three cases she spoke of were:
“… a smothered infant who was discovered grasping the asphyxiating blanket enclosing him so tightly in front of his body that it could only be removed with great difﬁculty.”(1)