2003-09 Kelly Myers: Forensic Entomology

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Benecke.Com/Benecke Forensic Biology presents:

Forensic Entomology

Kelly Myers

Zionsville High School , USA

September 2003

            Forensic Entomology can best be defined as the use of the insects, and their arthropod relatives that inhabit decomposing remains to aid legal investigations (Forensic Entomology). Entomology is not an area of science that many people relate with Forensics. Several cases are solved by the use of Forensic Entomology even though that detail won’t hit the front page of the New York Times. When asked if Forensic Entomology is useful in solving cases, Dr. Mark Benecke says, “
Forensic Entomology is just one more method—the more methods you got in your toolbox the better.” (Benecke)

            Forensic Entomology can give helpful hints in determining several different facts of a case. If the body has been moved after death, some insects may be native to the original location of where the body was found whereas it wouldn’t be to the actual location where the death took place (Department of Agriculture Western Australia). A Forensic Entomologist can tell if a child or senior has been abused or neglected by the presence of certain bugs. The person does not necessarily have to be dead for this to occur. For example, they can often tell when a baby is neglected because their diapers may be maggot infested. These types of cases usually only occur with seniors or young children. Some other helpful hints may be the disruption of the body after death, presence and position of wounds, presence of drugs, or even place a suspect at the scene of the crime (Department of Agriculture Western Australia).

            Forensic Entomologists go through a strict protocol when arriving to a crime scene. First they examine the scene and the weather. The amount of sunlight or shade, temperature, distance from windows or doors, and vegetation have to be carefully studied so the explanation for the presence of certain insects can be determined (Forensic Entomology). During this the entomologist may use a high resolution camera and/or draw a very descriptive sketch (Benecke). After all descriptive details are recorded or photographed. The insects are then collected: the adult flies and beetles are the first collected. The flies are trapped by a hand net but often hard to catch because they escape very quickly when the body is disturbed. The beetles are collected with forceps or gloved hands. Both are placed into jars where they become immobile and are then moved to a vial containing 75% ethyl alcohol where they are killed and sent to be further studied in the laboratory (Forensic Entomology). See Figure A, it gives a image with pictures of the tools used and why they are needed (Department of Agriculture Western Australia).

            Not only do they collect insects from the bugs they also collect many insects once the body is removed because they were buried or just on the ground. It is sometimes necessary to dig into the ground 4-6 inch squares to recover any insects under the head, torso, and extremities (Forensic Entomology).These insects are too collected and put into the vials so they can be transported to the laboratory to be studied. The bugs, carefully packaged and not touched, are mailed to a laboratory over night to be carefully examined and tested for any possible evidence. When in the laboratory, the scientist use growth curves to determine what stage the insect was at when on the body. This information is very helpful in determining when the time of death was. See Figure B for an example of what a growth curve of an Isomorphen Lucilla Sericata (University of Vienna).

             Forensic Entomology can easily be used in courts when the expert is an expert, states Dr. Benecke. In a case in 1999 “ The Zoo Man and the Insects”, a young man named Huskey, also known as the “Zoo Man”, had been convicted for the murder of 4 young women who had been buried by a zoo where he had often taken ladies for intimate reasons. He admitted to murder but when a famous Entomologist Dr. Goff studied the insects collected from one of the bodies he discovered that the body couldn’t have been killed before the date which he had been convicted. In this case, the Forensic Entomologist’s opinion was very critical in the case. Unfortunately the jury had a hard time coming to a sentence because Huskey suffered from mental illnesses (Ramsland).

            Today Forensic Entomology is used more often to help solve a crime. Forensics becomes more and more popular each day with the influence of today’s nightly television shows. The insects studied from a crime scene are not only helpful in discovering the time of death or location but can recover human remains which can be very helpful for the toxicology department of a forensics laboratory (Forensic Entomology).

(c) Kelly Myers, Zionsville, USA.

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