Monday, March 25, 2002

Tricks of the Trade
By Private Investigator Michael T. O’Rouke

Question: . I am a Paralegal for an Attorney associated with the State of Delaware’s Public Defender system. Could you provide me a brief overview of a Death Investigation?

Answer: Certainly. All Death Investigations begin with the Positive Identification of the deceased. There are two types of identification. The first, legal identification, is determined by official sources such as driver’s licenses, similar picture identification, and relative, or known associate confirmation. The second source of identification is Medical Identification. This type includes visual inspection, dental records, fingerprints, medical histories that could include x-rays, MRI’s, or Cat Scans. The visual inspection identifies tattoos, scars, and physical abnormalities or peculiarities. The Medical Examiner will provide a great deal of information. Positive identification is the beginning of a background investigation. The background investigation will reveal sources to assist in the conclusion of the investigation.

The Time of Death. A timeline is invaluable in your investigation. Working from a known fact to the unknown fact organizes the investigation, and provides momentum. Several methods are utilized to estimate the time of death. Rate of rigor mortis, livor mortis, desiccation, decomposition (putrefication), body temperature, insect presence and observation thereof, and available eyewitness interview. The time of discovery is compared to the time the deceased was last observed to narrow down the variations. The date, and time, of loss are relative to the Manner of Death.

The Cause of Death. Identify the trauma causing death. Review all reports and analysis provided by the Medical Examiner/ Coroner. The cause of death includes loss of blood, blunt force trauma, disease, toxin absorption, respiratory failure, and other specific causes. This is a specific medical diagnosis denoting a disease or injury (myocardial infarction, strangulation, gunshot wound). In particular, the Proximate Cause of Death (the initial injury that led to a sequence of events that led to the death of a victim). And the Immediate Cause of Death (the injury or disease that finally killed the individual). This information will lead to the Mechanism of Death. This term describes the altered physiology by which a disease or injury produces death (arrytrhmia, hypoventilatory hypoxia, exsanguination).

The Manner of Death. There are four determinations: Suicide, Homicide, Accidental, and Natural Caused. If the cause of death cannot be ruled accidental, or natural, the investigation should include crime scene analysis. Forensic evidence collection will support, or exclude, hypothesis and/or factual evidence. The Manner of Death will identify negligence, liability, and/or criminal involvement. Forensic investigation involves photography, measurement, fiber collection, fluid (DNA, blood, saliva) collection, chemical analysis, trace evidence, serology, toxicology, forensic anthropology, forensic ondontology, and physical object inspection and analysis.

Death investigation can support both criminal and civil litigation. Fact collection can be interpreted defensively or offensively. An investigator assists in trial and testimony preparation, interprets police reports, and assists in obtaining and analyzing forensic evidence, and documentary evidence through independent, and governmental sources.

Det. Michael T. O'Rourke is a Member of the National Association of Investigative Specialists, The National Association of Professional Process Servers, and Sustaining member of the Delaware Paralegal Association. A Court Certified Special Process Server, and a Licensed Private Investigator in DE and PA, Michael specializes in Insurance and Criminal Defense.

He invites your questions to:

Loss Solutions, Inc.
824 N. Market Street, Suite 425,
P.O. Box 368, Wilmington DE 19899-0368.
(302) 427-3600.

Or you may e-mail him at

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