Human vs “Animal” Remains
Police in rural areas get a lot of calls from hikers, hunters, and nature lovers who inadvertently stumble across bones in the course of their activities. Sometimes, the person’s dog may bring a strange bone back to the house and deposit it on the back porch. I know a detective who actually found a homicide victim while he was elk hunting! However one discovers such bones it’s natural for people to suspect the remains might be human and call police. In North America the bones of bear paws are commonly mistaken for human bones (they are very similar in appearance). If the bones have been chewed on by various scavengers then the identification process can become even more complicated.
If you’re looking to get into a tiff with a forensic anthropologist go to a crime scene littered with bones and ask them if they are human or animal bones. If you’re really lucky they will just respond with a simple ”yes”. If you aren’t so lucky they may offer a dismissive glare followed by something like “Well, they’re not from a f***ing plant!” If your character is a natural born smart-ass like me they may ask the question just to get their blood pressure up. It’s a common mistake of terminology (especially among police) but one you’d be wise to avoid in your novel. It’s another one of those devil is in the details issues with your readers. The fact of the matter is that all “animals” (including humans) have bones. It doesn’t matter if they are from an elk, a blue jay, house cat, or a murder victim.
But non-human remains can be an effective tool for your plot development. It’s interesting really. A good forensic anthropologist can look at some bones from ten feet away and instantly recognize them as non-human. The average detective or CSI can’t tell the difference though and may call out numerous people to the scene assuming that the bones are human. In your novel you can use this confusion to your advantage. In one scenario you could have a home owner or other laymen who’s dog has brought back a human bone (or collection of human bones) and buried them on the property. If the home owner thinks they are from deer or elk they may not call police until something definitive like a skull shows up. By then the police may actually think that person was the killer. In another scenario you might have a ton of volunteer searchers mobilized over a bear paw who, in the searching process, trample over the ground and destroy evidence of the “real” homicide scene (i.e. shoe prints, tire tracks, etc left by the killer). However you choose to use non-human remains just be sure you don’t call them “animal”.
Posted on November 11, 2011, in The Autopsy, The Crime Scene and tagged autopsy, bones, Crime Scene, csi, detective, fiction, forensic anthropologist, forensic archaeologist, forensics, human remains, murder, mystery, non-human remains, police, thriller, tom adair. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.