“Suspicious Death Scenes?

Bren at http://erratus.blogspot.com writes:

Going with the example of the husband, if you have a strong suspicion that the story told to you by the husband or the officers on the scene is somewhat different to the evidence lying prone on the ground and around her, what do you do? Do you challenge the husband straight away? (And where is he – the next room? the station? the front yard?) Or do you tell your suspicions to the other police staff at the scene? Or do you just wait until someone has been assigned to the case?
It is probably clear that I’ve learnt all of this (which is nothing off TV…
And I’m sorry for leading you off topic, again.


No problem. Being led off topic is great. I’d rather write about what people want to know rather than what I assume they want to know.

Typically, it is patrol officers who have responded to a home death that call me out to a scene. In most cases, the family member or other interested party is still at or near the scene. The police usually move them to another part of the house, the yard, or a neighbor’s house. This practice is great because I don’t speak with anyone but the police when I first arrive at a scene if I can help it.

As long as what I see based on the scene and the external examination of the body is consistent with the suspected cause of death (natural, overdose, accidental fall, etc.), the body is collected and taken to the morgue for further disposition. Before I leave, I visit with the family (or whoever is present) and let them know who I am, what I’m doing there, and what will happen next. I also use this opportunity to ask any questions I have that the officers may not have asked.

Usually, most suspicious deaths are pretty obvious from the start. In those cases, any involved parties have been taken to the local precinct to provide an official statement well before I arrive. That’s fine, because as far as I’m concerned, medical examiners and coroners should no have direct contact with criminal suspects. The way I see it, my role in an investigation is to provide a cause and manner of death. It is the role of the police to handle the suspects. As such, a death investigator has no business becoming involved in that aspect of an investigation. Hollywood would no doubt disagree with me on this point.

In the scenario you asked about, the husband was still at the house because there was only a slight suspicion of foul play. The husband stayed inside while the backyard was cordoned off as the scene. The house was loosely considered to be part of the scene, but only inasmuch as it was searched for the presence of a suicide note. Had I found something to implicate the husband I would have adhered to the above rule. I would have done my job and let the police do theirs.

Whenever I do find something that does not coincide with the suspected cause of death, I stop my part of the investigation immediately. Hopefully I have spotted some sort of red flag that causes me concern before I disturb the body and scene too much—but preferably before I have disturbed anything at all. Since only patrol officers have been at the scene thus far, I express my concerns to them. My concern tends to make the patrol officers concerned and they in turn notify their patrol supervisor.

Before long, I’m handed a phone with a homicide lieutenant on the other end. After providing some basic details, the decision is made whether or not the crime scene technicians and homicide detectives are to come out and conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death. The result is that a thirty-minute investigation quickly becomes an investigation that can last hours. It’s a lengthy consequence, but most definitely a necessary one.

I hope that answers all of your questions. Just let me know if it doesn’t.

A Douglas

2 Responses to “”

  1. June 16, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    Answered my question beautifully. Thanks. I’ll go away and think up another one!


  2. January 18, 2006 at 9:16 am

    can you please give ne a little feedback of how you started your career. i am currently a er tech and currently in nursing school and have been doing hospital duty for 10 years noe. i have always had a interest in being a coroner but never steered in the right direction. now a days its who you know not what you know. thanks for your time . erika sutch


    Check out my posts “Death Investigation Employment? and “Choosing Death? for the best response to your question.

    A Douglas

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