Stages of Deterioration in the Human Body
The Moment Of Death:
1. The heart stops.
2. The skin gets tight and ashen in color.
3. All the muscles relax.
4. The bladder and bowels empty.
5. The body temperature begins to drop 1 1/2 degrees Fahrenheit per hour.
After 30 minutes:
6. The skin gets purple and waxy.
7. The lips, fingernails, and toenails fade to a pale color.
8. Blood pools at the bottom of the body.
9. The hands and feet turn blue.
10. The eyes sink into the skull.
After 4 hours:
11. Rigor mortis has set in.
12. The purpling of the skin and the pooling of the blood continue.
13. Rigor continues to tighten muscles for another 24 hours or so.
After 12 hours:
14. The body is in full rigor mortis.
After 24 hours:
15. The body is now the temperature of the surrounding environment.
16. In males, the semen dies.
17. The head and neck are now a greenish-blue color.
18. The greenish-blue color spreads to the rest of the body.
19. There is a pervasive smell of rotting meat.
After 3 days:
20. The gas in the body tissues forms large blisters on the skin.
21. The whole body begins to bloat and swell grotesquely.
22. Fluids leak from the mouth, nose, vagina, and rectum.
After 3 weeks:
23. The skin, hair, and nails are so loose they can easily be pulled off the corpse.
24. The skin bursts open on many places on the body.
25. Decomposition will continue until the body is nothing but skelital remains, a process that can take a month or so in hot climates, and two months or more in cold climates.
Remember that EVERYTHING here is variable.
-Decomposition happens twice as fast in water.
-The absence of bugs is as important as their presence in a forensic case. Also important are the life cycles: are the maggots first, second or third instar? Are there pupa casings present?
-Flies are tenacious little fuckers. They can get into a building’s ventilation system. They can get into locked cars. There have even been reports of them found in closed caskets, though that’s not terribly common. The only thing that really stops them is cold.
-Water graves, or graves in soils of a certain acidity, will sometimes cause fatty tissues to form a substance called adipocere, or grave wax, which is soapy in texture and is very stubborn.
-BE AWARE OF YOUR CLIMATES. If you are telling me that there are a multitude of well-preserved Mayan mummies in the Central American tropics, we’re gonna have a problem. (The Incas, on the other hand, are fair game because they often put their dead in the very very dry Andes mountains.)
-Also be aware of burial customs. Some cultures will bury their dead only for a short period of time and then dig them up and put the bones in ossuaries (hence the reason adipocere can sometimes be a problem). Some favor cremation. Tibetan Buddhists have a process called “sky burial” where the body is cut into pieces and left on a mountainside for vultures and other carrion eaters to feast on.
-Fire does NOT destroy everything. Human bodies are made up of a lot of water, so they take a very long time to burn, and at very hot temperatures. Even professional crematoriums, which reach temperatures well over a thousand degrees, will NOT actually reduce a person completely to ash (there are almost always bone fragments/teeth left over). A couple cans of gasoline in a dumpster ain’t gonna cut it.
-ON THE OTHER HAND, firefighters with their big, high-pressure hoses and axes and things CAN destroy lots of evidence.
-AND, LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST: a hanged body, if undiscovered for long periods of time, will NOT stay attached to the noose. The human body is susceptible to gravity, especially when everything is rotting away. Because skin is elastic, the neck of a hanged corpse often stretches, sometimes as much as several feet, before the whole thing falls to the ground.