Entomology in Cases of Abuse and Neglect
Forensic entomology is the study of insects as they relate to a medico-legal question. Most of the time when people talk about using insects to solve crimes they are referring to murders. Entomologists examine the life stages of various insects present on the body to determine what we often refer to as the postmortem interval (PMI). The PMI is also referred to as the time since death because it assumes that the insects will invade a body only after death. But there are other crimes which the life stage of an insect can provide valuable evidence; cases of abuse and neglect. I’m not talking about assaults or domestic violence. I’m talking about crimes in which a person’s healthcare isn’t properly administered. These are serious cases that can eventually end in serious injury or death. Most of the time the victims are either infant or elderly and dependent on others for their welfare. So in a homicide the entomologist will examine insects recovered from a body. In cases of abuse and neglect the entomologist may be examining insects from areas such as:
- Bed sores
- Infected lesions
- Soiled (feces) diapers or clothing
In such cases the entomologist is using the age of the insect to determine how long the conditions of abuse have been occurring. For example, if three day old maggots are found in a pair of dirty diapers then this indicates the abuse has been negligent. Failure to change a diaper for three days is pretty strong evidence of gross negligence and may even surpass statutory elements for more serious crimes, especially if the victim dies. Most of these scenes are located in badly run nursing homes, hospice centers, or in-home treatment programs. However, some cases may occur with the mentally disabled who fail to take medications or with drug addicts. In such cases there may be no “suspect” but the evidence will still indicate how long the unsanitary conditions have persisted.
In addition to maggots, the presence of other insects may also indicate unsanitary conditions and warrant further actions by authorities. Usually, these infestations need to be pervasive and persistent to justify direct action by the authorities. These insects include:
- Head lice
- Bed bugs
As a fiction writer it helps to know that forensics can be applied to a variety of cases. It’s easy to think that the forensic “big guns” only come out in homicides but various fields can be used in everything from a simple theft to mass murder. The main goals of forensics are to identify objects, understand actions, and link evidence between a suspect, victim, and crime scene. Even cozy mysteries can inject forensics into their story lines. All is takes is a little imagination and understanding of how evidence can be utilized in any inquiry or criminal investigation.
Posted on August 20, 2012, in General, The Crime Scene and tagged Crime Scene, csi, detective, entomology, fiction, forensics, medical examiner, murder, mystery, PMI, police, postmortem interval, thriller, tom adair. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.