skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 217972 Find in a Library
Title: Estimating the Time of Death
Journal: Law and Order  Volume:55  Issue:3  Dated:March 2007  Pages:58-60,62-63,65
Author(s): Vernon Geberth
Date Published: March 2007
Page Count: 6
Type: Instructional Material; Report (Technical)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article explains what occurs in the decomposition phases of a corpse from the time of death, along with the various physical characteristics of a corpse associated with these phases, so that crime-scene investigators can provide medical examiners with information that assists them in estimating the time of death.
Abstract: Estimation of time of death is important evidence in a homicide case, because it can corroborate or disprove a suspect's alibi regarding where he/she was at the time of the victim's death. Over the years, forensic scientists have attempted to develop a definitive method for determining time of death, but no single reliable method has been developed. Moreover, it is impossible to fix the exact time of death because of the many variables that influence the rate of a corpse's decomposition. The best estimate of time of death by an experienced analyst will be within a range of hours. In estimating time of death, it is important that the first trained investigator who observes the body record its condition and the characteristics of the environment that can influence the rate of the body's decomposition. After explaining the biological processes that sustain human life, this article describes what happens in the body from the moment these life-giving processes cease at death. Physical symptoms of the stages of decomposition are described, including skin color and body heat, rigor mortis and livor mortis, insect activity in and around the body, stomach contents of the body, and putrefaction (decomposition). Other crime-scene information pertinent to time of death is also discussed. Photo illustrations
Main Term(s): Police policies and procedures
Index Term(s): Death investigations; Evidence collection; Forensic pathology; Investigative techniques; Time of death determination
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.