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Forensic Entomology A New Type Of Detective

Forensic Entomology: A New Type Of Detective Essay, Research Paper

Forensic Entomology: A New Type of Detective

The use of Forensic Entomology is quickly becoming recognized and accepted as a valid form of forensic identification. Although some problems have been found with the method, many police departments want to add its use to their crime-solving arsenal. Some people cannot understand how a simple bug can be used to solve a crime. Nevertheless, forensic entomology has been documented and proven very effective in crime solving. This is why I believe that forensic entomology should be employed by more police cases/investigations. In its widest sense, forensic entomology refers to any insect evidence used in a court of law. Yet more narrowly, forensic entomologists work on death investigations using invertebrates such as beetles, moths, and especially bowflies to help determine the time and place of death. The forensic entomologists collect the adult insects, larvae, and eggs found on corpses, to determine when a death occurred and whether the body was moved. With the leaps and bounds that scientific progress is making, I believe that soon every police station will have a forensic entomologist.

It is widely believed that forensic entomology has only been used in the past decade, however this is not the case. The history of using observations of insect s behavior to solve crimes can be traced back more than 700 years ago to China.

In 1235 AD, Sung Tz u, a Chinese Death Investigator , wrote a book entitled The Washing Away of Wrongs in which forensic science as known at that time was detailed. A murder by slashing occurred in a Chinese village, and the local death investigator was deputized to solve the crime. After some fruitless questioning, the investigator had all the villagers bring their sickles to one spot and lay them before the crowd. Flies were attracted to one of the sickles, probably because of invisible remnants of tissue still adhering to it, and the owner subsequently broke down and confessed to the crime (Why Files 2)

More recently, Francesco L. Redi contributed not only to the demonstration of scientific method but also to entomology. In 1668 Redi studied rotting meat that was either exposed to or protected from flies. His research further refuted the hypothesis of spontaneous generation of life. Until Redi s experiment, it was generally believed maggots came from rotten meat. In 1855 Bergeret was the first westerner to use insects as forensic indicators. The body of a small baby was found behind a plaster wall. Bergeret studied the assemblage of insects and determined the state of decay dated back several years. Thus, the question of quilt was thrown upon the earlier tenants, not the current ones.

In 1894, J.P. Megnin published LA FAUNE DES CADVRES: APPLICATIONDE L ENTOMOLOGIE A LA MEDECINE LEGALE, in which he wrote the basic principals of forensic entomology. He postulated, A corpse exposed to air undergoes a series of eight changes, and that insects characteristic of each stage appear in regular succession. By identifying the insects on the corpse, Megnin said he could estimate the time of death. However, with the improvement of computers, and crime labs forensic entomology has taken on a significant role in modern crime solving.

On June 4, 1984, the body of a half-naked young woman was found beside a country road in the North Western United States. Autopsy reports revealed she had died of multiple wounds to the head and neck inflicted by a sharp heavy object. The young woman was identified as a 14-year-old prostitute who had been reported missing four days before the body was found. She had been seen last on the morning of May 31 accompanied by a 30-year-old army sergeant. During the investigation, fly larvae, adult flies, and other insects were collected from in and around the victim s wounds. Some larvae were raised to adult stages and others were preserved. After careful study it was determined that, the first insects to colonize the body had arrived on May 31 four days before the remains were found. From the entomologists discoveries the army sergeant was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Subsequently, he admitted to having killed the victim around noon on May 31. This case is a prime example of how when insect evidence, when properly collected, processed, and observed, can provide an accurate estimate of the time of death. When it comes to assigning a time of death by a scientific methodology, the insects are it, says Neil H. Haskell, a graduate researcher in forensic entomology and a lieutenant in the Indiana State Police Force with more than 140 cases to his credit. The Metropolitan Toronto Police would like to have this new weapon in their crime-solving arsenal. A so-called Maggot Unit. (McKeown 12).

Forensic entomology has been very slow to catch on in the United States. It seems that most Forensic entomology research and use takes place in Europe and Canada. In places like Toronto, Ontario, and Quebec, forensic entomology is a regularly used tool. Neil Haskell believes the reason entomology is slow to catch on in the United States is because The technique requires a tremendous amount of knowledge of so many insects species and because it is quite a revolting act To sit there and pull maggots off somebody s face is probably as a disgusting a thing anybody could do. While the work may be disgusting, Gail Anderson of Simon Fraser University believes the aim should be to have a data base available for forensic entomologists use in any province.

However, like most scientific methods, forensic entomology has its problems. The problem is flies: they don t come with labels. They don t come with bar codes. Fact is, flies aren t too bright; they don t even know their common names, not to mention their Latin Binomilas. (Why Files 12) Though it is hard to distinguish one kind of fly from another, forensic entomologists have little choice. Since if they don t know the species, they don t know the hatching schedule, and without that they don t know how long ago a victim died. There are other problems with forensic entomology. Since fly development depends on the temperature, the biggest problem is often to determine the average temperature of the corpse. Usually, however, a mathematical approximation is used that enable scientist to compare ambient temperature to the temperature used by scientists who study fly development in the laboratory. There s a lot of margin for error, (Simon Fraser University 13) says Stephen Bullington, who has a Ph.D. in entomology.

Forensic entomology is slow to catch on in many areas, but its use is growing rapidly. Neil Haskell Believes, Each geographical area needs its own insect detectives. However, he also believes entomology will play an increasingly important role in crime solving, he does not think that forensic entomologists will always provide evidence to resolve a case. Dael Morris, working for the Royal Ontario Museum with a M.Sc. in entomology, wants Forensic entomology to become a routine part of procedures at the scene of a crime. More police and conservation officers are becoming interested in this work and want to use it, says Gail Anderson.

Forensic entomology is quickly becoming commonplace even though its start is slow. While the true future of forensic entomology is uncertain, it is most likely its use will become more widely used as time goes by. In addition, although some problems have been found, with further research and more diligent study I believe that forensic entomology will take its place along side criminal fingerprinting.