Circumstances Surrounding Death

Occasionally, it may not be possible to make a positive or presumptive identification based on the characteristics of the remains. In some cases, however, the circumstances in which the remains are discovered may allow identification to be made. For example, a decomposed body is found sitting in a chair facing the television set, which is on. The house is locked and no evidence of foul play is evident. The body is that of an elderly man who is clothed in the same attire the owner of the house was seen in 5 days previous to the body being discovered. The owner of the house is a sickly elderly man with no known relatives and who did not believe in going to doctors. A diligent search to locate the owner of the house alive was unsuccessful. There was no reason to believe the remains were those of someone other than the owner. Under these circumstances, a presumptive identification of the body as the owner may be made. Similarly, circumstantial evidence may allow an extensively burned partially consumed body recovered from a house fire to be identified as the house's resident. Obviously, identification based on circumstances involves some risk of error and great care must be used when relying on this type of identification method.

A variant of circumstantial identification is identification by exclusion. As an example, a military jet with a crew of five crashed and burned during takeoff, resulting in extensive burning of the bodies of the crew. The crew was known to consist of four men and one woman. The remains were not visually identifiable; however, autopsies revealed one of the remains as those of an adult female and the others as males. By exclusion, identification of the woman was made since she was the only female member of the known flight crew.

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