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Thread: Time of death

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Georgetown, TX

    Default Time of death

    I just started reading the book "Corpse Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death" by Jessica Snyder Sachs. After a discussion on the simplicity of Nysten's law giving forensic pathologists a deceptively precise chart of the time of death, Ms. Sach's gets into the timetables and the signs of death.

    I found these statements very interesting: "The generally accepted timetable began with the first signs of jaw stiffness and hour after death and wrapped up with the lock of hips and knees ten hours later. The twelfth hour brought "full rigor," a fascinating state in which the body appears fully petrified."

    In order for John to carry JonBenét up the stairs the way Arndt stated he did, IMHO, we can presume JonBenét had been dead at least 10 hours and more like 12 which puts her death at 1 a.m. or earlier. When I was reading this, the thought struck me that if the Ramsey's are the killers, having this knowledge (and we know they basically were getting all information) this may be one reason they backed up their time schedule from the evening before.

    Of more interest to me though was this passage: "As soon as fifteen to twenty minutes after death, an experienced observer can see the first diffuse blotches take form on the under side of the body. ... Within an hour or two, the telltale discoloration becomes obvious to even an untrained eye."

    This statement along with the manner in which John had to carry JonBenét makes me question why John would ask, "Is she dead?"

    I suspect from what I have read already, that the BPD know a lot more than has been revealed. Lividity is fixed at 10 hours and reaches it's maximum intensity at around twelve hours (and stays there.) If JonBenét had not been dead at least that, the coroner would have documented that she was moved prior to lividity being fixed IMHO.

    Further, according to Ms. Sachs, moving a body once livor has fully set leaves behind a stark and permanent imprint of death's original position. She states, "Oftentimes, the detail can reveal the very texture of the surface on which the victim dropped - be it the stippled inscription of a gritty path, the weave of a carpet, or the design of kitchen linoleum.

    If JonBenét was killed in the basement and the body never moved from where she was killed, one could suspect that the texture of the basement floor or the blanket (if she was on it the whole time) might have been imprinted on the side of the body she rested on. IMHO, clothes might interfere with this but her little hands and feet were bare. If JonBenét was moved to the blanket very long after she was killed then it would be obvious (and documented) that she was moved.

    Thoughts anyone?

  2. #2

    Thumbs up Sounds like a neat book

    Excellent points you make, J.R. I know that room temperature also can make a difference and it must have been cold in that basement, with the open window down the hall.

    If parts of her were laying on the thermal blanket, I imagine its bumpy pattern might transfer. There's probably a lot we could learn if we saw the complete set of crime scene and autopsy photos.

    I'd also like to see those pix to confirm what a consulting pathologist told me -- that on the crime scene pix there was no defect on her back, but once she was on the morgue slab there was one. The theory was that it was something she was rolled on, possibly in transit or at the morgue.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Lincoln, Nebraska

    Default interesting JR

    FedoraX, that is also interesting about the pathologist's statement to you. Are you saying that this occurred when they were taking her to the morgue? What exactly was found? Any other info you can pass on?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Georgetown, TX

    Default FedoraX and Thor

    This is a very interesting book so far though I haven't gotten very far into it.

    Yes, cold slows the process and heat speeds it up. However, one thing I read last night was also quite interesting.

    Quote"  While Newtonian physics would demand that heat loss be fastest during this initial period (when the temperature gradient between the newly dead body and it's surroundings was greatest), (Dr. Harry) Rainy showed that initially, body temperature didn't budge, sticking at a normal 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) for anywhere from several minutes to several hours.

    Due to physical consequence of insulation: any inert object with low thermal conductivity will have a "holding period" during it's early cooling phase. The mere existence of an initial temperature "holding period" means one thing: A corpse found at 98 degrees could be anywhere from four seconds to four hours dead. IMHO, this is why we always see the experts state TOD as between hour X and hour Y rather than a definite TOD.

    The reading is going slowly because I want to absorb it all plus the writer is getting into some formulas. My math skills aren't all that great and the latest formula is kind of complicated:

    Let the excess of temperature of the rectum at the first observance be t and at one hour later t-I: and let the excess temperature of the body at death be tI + D, where D = the rectal temperature at death minus environmental temperature. Further, let t/tI = R and, because t is greater than tI and consequently R will be greater than unity, then: log D-log tI divided by log R=X, which is the number of hours which have elapsed since death.

    The above giving me a much greater respect for why TOD is always limited and hence, why the Simpson case couldn't be pinned down to the one hour for which OJ had no alibi. Makes me more cognizant of why a jury can get hung up on reasonable doubt too.

  5. #5

    Default Ok let me try this again.

    My first post disappeared.

    This is Misty's theory page. The 6th picture down or so shows impressions on her back. Looks to me like those of a wrinkled blanket. Maybe?

    WARNING: These images may be upsetting. They are very graphic.
    Last edited by Twitch; December 3, 2001, 8:19 pm at Mon Dec 3 20:19:09 UTC 2001.

  6. #6

    Default Wow on those pix

    They're crisper in detail that I remember having seen. You could be right about the blanket wrinkles, Twitch. That triangular mark is certainly puzzling. Could the knot possibly have been in front to do that, while the stick and cord tightening came from the back? Misty's work seems good, though I haven't had time to read thru. Does she have a particular theory? Is she the same Misty who got into a spat with Jams? She never posted on JW, did she?

    JR, your book is so far over my head it's not funny. One needs a Ph.D. to follow that, though you've admirably made it
    understandable. I'm tickled you're reading it and appreciate whatever details you can share. You're right about the Nicole TOD being critical to the timeline. It will be an important aspect for reasonable doubt on this case too, esp now that it seems Melody Stanton's story about the scream won't help.

    Thor, my discussion with that doctor related to whether the marks were from a stun gun. The doctor was adamant that they were not from that, and that there was a mark on the lower back that wasn't present for the crime scene pix, but showed up in the autopsy pix. Wish I could remember more.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    North Carolina

    Default I recall

    several discussions by experts on lividity, rigor mortis,full rigor, TOD, etc. It was said that body size and density has to be figured into the mix, and that Jonbenet's body , being a small child's would take less time to go through the processes.

    Also, I believe I remember hearing that the body again will relax (lose rigidity) after rigor mortis is completed.

    AH! Found this at

    rigor mortis
    rigor mortis
    rigr môrtis , rigidity of the body that occurs after death. The onset may vary from about 10 min to several hours or more after death, depending on the condition of the body at death and on factors in the atmosphere, particularly temperature. Rigor mortis affects the facial musculature first and then spreads to other parts of the body. It is caused by chemical changes in the muscle tissue. The state of rigor usually lasts about 24 hours or until muscle decomposition takes place by acid formation.

    Just my 2 cents worth

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Georgetown, TX

    Default Lots to think about...

    FedoraX - LL!  The book is fairly straight forward. I get hung up on the formulas but as I said, math isn't my strong point.

    It's true ambient temperature and air movement can make a difference, but the impression I get is that it may not make a difference in the first few minutes up to several hours, based on this statement:

    "While Newtonian physics would demand that heat loss be fastest during this initial period (when the temperature gradient between the newly dead body and it's surroundings was greatest), (Dr. Harry) Rainy showed that initially, body temperature didn't budge, sticking at a normal 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) for anywhere from several minutes to several hours.

    Your comment about the marks on JonBenét's back not being there initially but then showing up at the morgue are very interesting.  This book states: (when lividity is not yet fixed," or permanent) Press your thumb against an area of livor in the first hours after death, and it will blanch. (Just as moving the body will cause blood settling patterns to shift.) The book goes on to state, "By ten hours past death, lividity's stain has become fully fixed. The body has now cooled to the point where the fatty lining of the blood vessels congeals, pinching shut the tiny capillaries near the body surface. The dark stain of seepage can no longer escape inward when pressed, nor will it resettle, even partially, when the body is shifted.

    Driver - Children are discussed later in the book (sorry haven't gotten there yet.) However, the author does state, "Age, body size, health, manner of death, ambient temperature, air movement, even something as seemingly ineffable as the agony of a victim's final moments have been found to skew the body's postmortem changes beyond predictability. ... Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after death, lividity reaches it's peak, the body reaches room temperature, and rigor disappears."

    We only have to account for the time between when JonBenét was definitely last seen alive and when her body was found.  I believe it's safe to say JonBenét was in full rigor at the time her body was brought up from the basement based on how she was carried. IMHO, JonBenét was dead no later than 3:00 a.m. and probably closer to midnight. Again, I think the coroner would want to document any changes in lividity. Changes would have occurred when JonBenét was carried up from the basement had lividity not been fixed. Therefore, IMHO, either lividity was fixed or we still don't have a complete coroner's report. Based on FedoraX's comments, I have to wonder if lividity was in fact fixed, yet how could it not be at the point JonBenét was in the morgue? Remember, her body wasn't taken from the house until after 8:00 p.m. (as I recall.) We know she had been dead at least seven hours and probably closer to twenty-four hours at that point. It would be interesting to talk to a coroner and also confirm that the marks were not there initially.

    Since we presume JonBenét was alive when the Ramsey's left the White's dinner party on December 25th and her body was found by 1:00 p.m.ish (as I recall) on December 26th, I skipped over the paragraph that states: At typical room temperatures this rock-solid state lasts for 24-36 hours, before advanced decomposition begins to loosen the muscle groups in the same order that they were seized.

    To me, the key statement I have read is this: "It is now known that the general progression of joint paralyses is actually from smaller to larger muscle groups."

    Twitch - thanks for the link. Interesting pictures.

    You'll love this, "Indeed, the pale imprint of the toilet seat across buttocks of heart-attack victims helped twentieth-century pathologists recognize the heightened danger or cardiac arrest in the minutes immediately after rising from bed." Guess that means do your duty later in the day so you don't put strain on your heart?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    San Francisco, CA

    Default Although, alone, it is relatively meaningless... context, the fact that the Ramseys chose to date JonBenet's death, on her headstone, as December 25th, 1996 is odd and may add some dimension to the TOD issue.

    Personally, I would have guessed that any crime taking place in my house might have happened in the wee small hours (1-3 a.m.) rather than as early as before Midnight on Christmas Day.
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