7.13.2011

Jobs You Won't See on CSI-Forensic Entomology

Russ Stover

Now they've used forensic entomology a bit on the CSIs but merits inclusion none the less. Forensic entomology is the use of insects and crime, especially deaths. Yep, bugs help solve crimes. Forensic entomologists work on crime scenes, conduct research, and teach.
Many of us remember the scene from The Silence of the Lambs where Agent Starling found the moth in the dead victim's mouth (an eewww moment if there ever was one). Forensic Entomology has three branches: medicocriminal entomology, stored product entomology, and urban entomology. Training for a forensic entomologist is lengthy requiring graduate school or beyond. Insects have many benefits for people and interact with us in ways both obvious and obscure. forensic entomology can determine the time, manner, and location of death; length of decay; and other important facets
of an investigation (Catts & Haskell).
Ten Rules of Collection

  1. The following conditions are used by the FBI and the German Bundeskriminalamt:
  2. Do not use flash photography as it makes maggots hard to see.
  3. Take close up photos of all locations where collected and all insects collected.
  4. Kill them in hot water and place them in ethanol.
  5. Place half in a refrigerated place.
  6. Label everything.
  7. Gather one spoon full of insects from three different parts of the crime scene and body.
  8. Do not use isopropl alcohol or formalin.
  9. Ask questions.
  10. Identification must be done by an experienced forensic entomologist.
Gather one spoon full of insects from three different parts of the crime scene and body. Do not use isopropl alcohol or formalin. The most important part of a forensic entomologist's work is the collection of the insects. The most common method is sweep netting and sticky traps layed close to the corpse. Larvae is also collected as flies prefer to lay their eggs in body orifices. The larvae of different species have diffent migration patterns and speeds. Some larvae will burrow out of the corpse and into the ground, so some digging may be required. Two collections are taken-one for observation and one for rearing and identification of the larvae or pupa. A forensic entomologist can also be present at the autopsy and work with the pathologist. Areas of the body with a concentration of insects, larvae, or pupa can be recorded as well as their effect on the body and organs.
If fresh, the face is the likeliest place to have activity as well as hairy parts of the body. One thing of important note is the finding of insects that do not live in the area the body was found.
This can be an indication of the person's travel, their being killed then moved, moved multiple times and locations.
Famous Cases
The first recorded use of entomology to solve a crime dates back to 13th century Chinese scientist Song Ci. He was a judge in the imperial court and wrote "Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified" which summarized his many and varied cases.
In one case a man was killed by an attack that left sickle shaped wounds on his body. With no evidence Song Ci conducted an autopsy and found victim had been arguing with another man over a loan. Song Ci found the man and confiscated all the sickles in the area which he laid out in the Summer sun. Flies were attracted to the one with the flesh and blood remnants on it and the manwas charged with murder.
In 2002 forensic entomology was used in the case of Danielle Van Dam who was kidnapped and murdered. She disappeared from her
bed in the middle of the night in Sabre Springs, California. Her body was found three weeks later. Suspected in the case was
David Westerfield. He was not at home when she was taken and had been spotted dropping off a jacket, pillow cases, and comforters
at a cleaners. Police found hair, fiber and fingerprints similar to Danielle's in Westerfield's vehicle as well as some of her blood. Prosecution and defense both hired their own forensic entomologists as experts in the case. The first held that maggots on the body indicated they had begun growing 10 to 12 days before the finding of the body. This conflicted with the fact that Westerfield was under police surveillance at the time. Another forensic entomologist for the defense stated colonization at February 12th to 21st. A third more or less agreed at February 12th to 23rd. A fourth was called in for the prosecution this time who estimated a time frame of February 9th to 14th. Coupled with other evidence Westerfield was convicted and sentenced to death.
Training and Education
Prospective entomologists can major in the subject at schools where the speciality is available. Others have to major in biology then concentrate in entomology later on in graduate school. Classes should include biology, chemistry, taxonomy, biochemistry, forensic law, parasitology, among others. Schools with majors in forensic entomology include Texas A&M and Michigan State. Luckily, the number of forensic entomologists in the US is low. However, there is a certification test and board for those interested in pursuing the topic.

Organizations include
The European Assoc. for Forensic Entomology http://www.eafe.org/
The North American Forensic Entomology Assoc. http://www.nafea.net/NAFEA/Home.html

Catts, E. Paul and Neal Haskell. “Entomology and Death – A Procedural Guide”. South Carolina: Joyce’s Print Shop, Inc, 2005.

Benecke, M. Forensic Entomology: Arthropods and Corpses
A ‘little girl lost’ is found dead, allegedly killed by neighbor. 3 June 2002. Court TV News. 28 Feb. 2008.
http://www.ehow.com/facts_5941948_job-description-forensic-entomologist_.html

Gennard, D. Forensic Entomology: An Introduction

Byrd, J. and Castner, J. Forensic Entomology: The Utility of Arthropods in Legal Investigations, Second Edition

Sachs, J. Corpse: Nature, Forensics, And The Struggle To Pinpoint Time Of Death

Goff, M. A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes

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