Research ArticleRESEARCH METHODS

Reconstructing the time since death using noninvasive thermometry and numerical analysis

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Science Advances  29 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 22, eaba4243
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba4243

Abstract

The early postmortem interval (PMI), i.e., the time shortly after death, can aid in the temporal reconstruction of a suspected crime and therefore provides crucial information in forensic investigations. Currently, this information is often derived from an empirical model (Henssge’s nomogram) describing posthumous body cooling under standard conditions. However, nonstandard conditions necessitate the use of subjective correction factors or preclude the use of Henssge’s nomogram altogether. To address this, we developed a powerful method for early PMI reconstruction using skin thermometry in conjunction with a comprehensive thermodynamic finite-difference model, which we validated using deceased human bodies. PMIs reconstructed using this approach, on average, deviated no more than ±38 minutes from their corresponding true PMIs (which ranged from 5 to 50 hours), significantly improving on the ±3 to ±7 hours uncertainty of the gold standard. Together, these aspects render this approach a widely applicable, i.e., forensically relevant, method for thermometric early PMI reconstruction.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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