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Int J Legal Med (2000) 113 : 320331

Springer-Verlag 2000

O R I G I N A L A RT I C L E

C. Henssge L. Althaus J. Bolt A. Freislederer


H.-T. Haffner C. A. Henssge B. Hoppe
V. Schneider

Experiences with a compound method


for estimating the time since death
II. Integration of non-temperature-based methods
Received: 18 November 1998 / Received in revised form: 25 June 1999

Abstract The period since death was estimated at the


scene in 72 consecutive cases using the temperature-based
nomogram method as the primary method and supplemented by examination of criteria such as lividity, rigor
mortis, mechanical and electrical excitability of skeletal
muscle and chemical excitability of the iris. A case-oriented, computer-assisted selection of the non-temperaturebased methods and integration of the results into a common result of the compound method was made following
a special logistic. The limits of the period since death as
estimated by the nomogram were improved in 49 cases by
including the non-temperature-based methods and also provided results in 4 cases where the temperature method
could not be used. In a further 6 cases the non-temperature-based methods confirmed the limits estimated by the
temperature method but in 14 cases a useful result could
not be obtained. In only one of the cases investigated was
the upper limit of the period since death, as estimated by
the criterion re-establishment of rigor (8 h post-mortem), in
contradiction with the period determined by the police investigations (9.4 h post-mortem).
Key words Time since death Compound method
Practical casework

Introduction
In order to improve or at least confirm the results of the
temperature-based nomogram method [1], commonly used
non-temperature-based methods suitable for use at a scene

C. Henssge () L. Althaus J. Bolt A. Freislederer


C. A. Henssge B. Hoppe V. Schneider
Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Essen,
Hufelandstrasse 55, 45122 Essen, Germany
H.-T. Haffner
Institute of Legal Medicine and Traffic Medicine,
University of Heidelberg, Vossstrasse 2,
69020 Heidelberg, Germany

were integrated into a compound method [2, 3]. The variation in conclusions drawn from the non-temperature-based
methods regarding the time since death was extremely
large. Nevertheless, the exclusive use of the time limits of
variation or 95% confidence levels (Table 1 and Fig. 1) can
provide reliable lower or upper limits for the period since
death. The limits of variation or 95% confidence levels
given in the literature are not dependent on special factors, in contrast to the method of estimation using body
cooling. Therefore, these methods can even be used when
the method of body cooling cannot be used because of unknown or uncertain cooling conditions.

Materials and methods


Materials
In addition to the temperature-based nomogram method the nontemperature-based methods were used, at least partially, in 69 out
of the 72 cases examined by Henssge et al. [1].
Procedure
Subsequent to estimating the time since death with the method of
body cooling, non-temperature-based methods were selectively used
depending on the preliminary result obtained with the primary
method using a simple logistic flow chart (Fig. 1). The lower limit
of the period since death obtained from the initial method of body
cooling can be confirmed or improved only if the lower limit estimated by non-temperature-based methods is equal to or higher
than this lower limit. By the same logic the upper limit of the period of death calculated from body cooling can be confirmed or improved only by an estimate which is equal to or lower than this upper limit. To confirm the upper and lower limits obtained by the
temperature method, the results of a further criterion were included
if the values obtained were 20% or at least 1 h higher, or 20% or at
least 1 h lower, respectively. The boundaries for the safety limit are
shown in Fig. 1. Using this logistic, no more criteria were used than
could be potentially helpful in the actual cases examined. By using
the special chart [2, 3] and much more efficiently by using a special note-book program, the stringent application of this logistic
approach was carried out at the scene. Nevertheless, to avoid conflict with investigative interests, none of the examinations could be
performed in three cases due to the particular situation at the scene
(cases 9, 10 and 42). In several cases the examination could only

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

321

Table 1 Time limits used of the non-temperature-based methods/criteria


Method/criterion

Result of
examination

Minimum limit
Result of
of the period
examination
since death (hpm)

Maximum limit Statistics


of the period
(limits)
since death (hpm)

Lividity
Beginning
Confluence
Thumb pressure
Complete shifting
Maximum
Incomplete shifting

Positive
Positive
Negative
Negative
Positive
Negative

0.0
1.0
1.0
2.0
3.0
4.0

Negative
Negative
Positive
Positive
Negative
Positive

3.0
4.0
20.0
6.0
16.0
24.0

Variation
Variation
Variation
Variation
Variation

Rigor
Beginning
Re-establishment
Maximum

Positive
Negative
Positive

0.5
2.0
2.0

Negative
Positive
Negative

7.0
8.0
20.0

Variation
Variation
Variation

Mechanical excitability muscle


Tendon reaction
Idiomuscular contraction

Negative
Negative

0.0
1.5

Positive
Positive

2.5
13.0

Variation
Variation

Negative
Negative
Negative
Negative
Negative
Negative
Negative

1.0
2.0
3.0
3.5
5.0
5.0
3.0

Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive

6.0
7.0
8.0
13.0
26.0
22.0
11.0

95% confidence
95% confidence
95% confidence
95% confidence
95% confidence
95% confidence
Variation

Negative
Negative
Negative

3.0
5.0
14.0

Positive
Positive
Positive

10.0
30.0
46.0

Variation
Variation
Variation

Electrical excitability muscle


Electrodes in eyebrow
Grade VI
Grade V
Grade IV
Grade III
Grade II
Grade I
Electrodes in corner of
mouth
Chemical excitability iris
Atropin
Tropicamide
Acetylcholine

Reference

[8]

[8]

[9, 10]
[10, 11]
[4, 7]

[4]
[4]

be performed incompletely. It takes about 10 min to perform all the


required examinations.
Methods
All examinations (Table 1 and Fig. 1) were performed as previously
described [2, 3].
In the example given in Fig. 1, the initial use of the temperaturebased method resulted in a lower limit of the period since death of
9.4 hours post-mortem (hpm) and an upper limit of 15 hpm. The
following examinations of non-temperature-based methods led to
an improvement of the upper limit: striking the biceps brachii muscle (idiomuscular contraction), electrical stimulation of facial muscles by electrode insertion into the eyebrow (reaction grade III), by
electrode insertion into the corners of the mouth (reaction of the orbicularis oris muscle), and subconjunctival injection of atropine/
cyclopent (mydriasis). If no improvement of the upper limit can
be achieved, acetylcholine should be injected subconjunctivally,
whereby a positive reaction (miosis) would considerably improve
the lower limit. If the results of these examinations did not provide
an improvement of the limits, the upper limit resulting from the temperature might be confirmed if facial muscles reacted corresponding to grade II or lividity was not yet maximally developed.
The stages of lividity were estimated only after a second examination carried out later, usually at autopsy, especially in cases where
bleeding had occurred. Complete shifting of livores was observed
more frequently at the scene especially when the body or even parts
of it had been moved to a new position in the course of the inves-

tigative procedure. Incomplete shifting of livores was found to be


more likely at autopsy if the body had been transported in another
position than that examined at the scene.
To evaluate the degree of re-establishment of rigor it is necessary to ensure that rigor was broken completely by fully moving
the elbow joint several times. A negative result was given only if
the examined joint had not been manipulated (e.g. by transport or
removal of clothing) between breaking the rigor and examining for
re-establishment.
In corpses with a thick subcutaneous fat layer, the degree of idiomuscular contraction was examined by palpation. The muscular
bulge is maintained for some hours if the examination takes place
several hours post-mortem, as is usually the case, when ATP levels
are low. Nevertheless, in order to avoid a false negative result, it was
carefully checked whether a local contracture appeared after striking the muscle, but immediately disappeared again, as may happen
in the very early post-mortem period due to high levels of ATP.
To examine the electrical excitability of facial muscles a special
generator was used (J. Peschke, http://home.t-online.de/home/
j-peschke/rzg1.htm). Firstly, the eye region was examined for injuries and haemorrhages (e.g. black eye, petechiae in skin, sclera,
and conjunctiva of eyelids). The extent, but not the intensity of
contraction of the mimic muscles was used to estimate the grade of
reaction. A differentiation between reaction grades II or III was
sometimes difficult but repeated stimulation was an aid to clarification and special attention was paid to the differentiation between
a slight active contraction of the forehead muscle reacting up to its
upper part (grade V) and a slight passive co-movement of the lower
part of the forehead, caused by intensive contraction of the orbicu-

322

Fig. 1 Logistics of the compound method (see Table 1). I lividity,


II rigor, III mechanical excitability of skeletal muscles, IV electrical excitability of facial muscles, and V chemical excitability of the
iris

laris oculi muscle (grade IV). The orbicularis oculi muscle may react for a much longer time than the time limits given (Table 1) if a
(fresh) haematoma or emphysema of the eylids is present [4]. If a
haematoma or emphysema was present on one side of the eyelids,
the stimulation was performed on the other side. If haematoma or
emphysema was present on both sides, the results of stimulation
were not used for estimation of the time since death.
A change in the width of the iris after chemical excitation was
not used as a positive reaction if the observation was made much
later than 1 h after the injection as this could be due to the spontaneous course post-mortem.
The conclusions concerning the time since death drawn from
all the criteria used and characterized either as limits of variation
or 95% confidence limits are taken from the references given in
Table 1.
At the scene, a computer program (C.A. Henssge, http://home.
t-online.de/home/Christoph.Henssge/t-zeit.htm) was utilized by
means of a note-book computer which places all methods and criteria of the compound method at the disposal of the examiners.
The program uses the results of the method/criterion performed
first (usually, but not necessarily, the nomogram method) as primary information for estimation of the period since death and all
subsequent requirements for further examinations are automatically selected based on the initial information regarding improvement or confirmation (Fig. 1). The suggestions for subsequent examinations can, however, be ignored without interrupting the flow
of the program which leads to the following advantages:

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

1. No more methods are required by the interactive program than


are potentially useful in a particular case.
2. The use of the particular method suggested can be ignored if familiarity with the method is lacking, the equipment is not available, or the particular situation of the actual case makes it impossible.
3. Information (modus help) is given about particular circumstances in which a particular method/criterion must not be used
which helps the examiner to avoid mistakes. The program may
also serve as a self-instruction program.
4. All mathematical operations are performed automatically.
5. The computer program immediately announces contradictions
between the individual results obtained from the different methods.
6. The integrated file data system and the file manager of the program can be used to make a critical analysis of the data from all
cases enabling the examiner to profit from past experiences.

Results
Efficiency
According to the situation at the scene, the non-temperature-based methods could be used at least partially in addition to the method of body cooling in 69 out of the
72 cases examined. In 49 cases, the non-temperature-based
methods provided a reduction in the span of the period
since death as estimated by the temperature method. In a
further 6 cases at least one of the limits of the period since
death as estimated by the temperature method was con-

69 (2nd)

1.0
2.4
3.0

1.7
3.0

3.0
3.0
3.0
4.9
5.0

46

69 (1st)

1.0
2.0
3.0
5.0

45

0.5
1.0

1.0
1.4
3.0

31

38

3.0
3.5
3.5
5.0

0.8
1.0
1.0

Electr. excit. eye NO VI


Cooling
Lividity maximum

Cooling
Lividity maximum

No mydriasis of iris to atropine


Electr. excit. eye NO IV
No electr. excit. oribic, oris m.
Cooling
No mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum

Lividity confluence
Rigor maximum
No electr. excit. oribic, oris m.
Electr. excit. eye NO II

Rigor beginning
Electr. excit. eye NO VI

Lividity confluence
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye NO IV

No electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Electr. excit. eye NO I
Cooling
No mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum

Cooling
Lividity confluence+
Electr. excit. eye NO VI

11.0
10.0
8.0
7.0

11.0
10.0
7.3
6.0

13.0
13.0
10.5
8.0
6.0

10.0
8.0

11.0
10.0
7.0

10.0
8.0
7.0

16.0
10.0
9.1
8.0

7.0
7.0
6.4
6.0

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye V

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye VI

Idiomuscular contraction
Electr. excit. eye III
Cooling
Rigor re-establishment
Lividity complete shifting

Mydriasis of iris to atropine


Rigor re-establishment

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Electr. excit. eye V

Mydriasis of iris to atropine


Rigor re-establishment
Cooling+

Electr. excit. eye II


Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Cooling
Rigor re-establishment

Rigor beginning
Electr. excit. eye V
Cooling
Lividity complete shifting

Method/criterion

hpm

hpm

Method/criterion

Upper limit

Lower limit

Estimation

28

Case

4.3

3.1

5.8

4.5

3.0

4.8

6.6

2.5

Lower
hpm

4.6

3.4

6.1

7.5

5.3

6.9

3.5

Upper
hpm

Ascertainment
(limits)

Table 2 Details of cases in which the non-temperature-based methods provided both the best lower and upper limits

Second examination 1.2 h later after transportation of


the body to institute

First examination at the scene

Same scene as 47 (Table 4)

The temperature method was not used because of the


particular cooling conditions (see Table 10, part I [1])

The temperature-based method was not used because


of heat exposure by a room fire

+ Because of the particular circumstances (see Table 10,


part I [1]), the time from cooling was not used in
expertise

+ At the scene the intensity of lividity was estimated


hastily as maximal (wrong conclusion: lower limit
3 h). Later at autopsy the intensity was clearly more
pronounced. The error was corrected immediately

Comments

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II


323

26

23

22

21

20

19

12

11

Case

2.0
2.0
6.3

3.0
3.0
6.1

0.0
1.0

5.0
18.1+

3.5
5.6

3.0
6.0

3.0
4.1
5.0

16.7

2.0
3.0
4.0
5.0

Electr. excit. eye NO V


Rigor no re-establishment
Cooling

Lividity maximum
Electr. excit. eye NO IV
Cooling

Lividity confluence

No electr. excit. eye


Cooling

Electr. excit. eye NO III


Cooling

Electr. excit. eye NO IV


Cooling

No electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Cooling
Electr. excit. eye NO II

Cooling

Cooling
Lividity maximum
Lividity no incomplete shifting
No electr.excit.eye

11.9
8.0

13.0
11.7
10.0
8.0

7.0
4.9

30.0
29.9
24.0+

13.0
11.2
11.0
10.0
8.0

13.0
11.6
11.0
10.0

9.7
8.0+

30.0
25.7
22.0

7.6

Cooling
Electr. excit. eye IV

Electr. excit. eye III


Cooling
Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Rigor re-establishment+

7.4

9.3

2.7

Mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum


Cooling
Lividity incomplete shifting*

Rigor no beginning
Cooling

2.8*

3.4*

Idiomuscular contraction
Cooling
Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.
Mydriasis to atropine
Electr. excit. eye IV

Electr. excit. eye III


Cooling
Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.
Mydriasis to atropine

7.3

Mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum


Cooling
Electr. excit. eye I

Cooling
Rigor re-establishment+

5.8

Lower
hpm

7.4

9.4

2.9

9.8+

7.0+

7.8

6.3

Upper
hpm

Ascertainment
(limits)

Cooling

Method/criterion

hpm

hpm

Method/criterion

Upper limit

Lower limit

Estimation

Table 3 Details of cases in which the non-temperature-based methods provided either the best lower or the best upper limit

+Being inconsistent with the time of investigation

*Body found lying prone but was transported lying on


the back; the incomplete shifting of lividity was observed at autopsy
+ Survival of the fatal pressure on the neck for
at least 30 min up to 3 h: some extravascular
emigration of polymorphic leucocytes in the
subcutaneous fat of the ligature mark

+Missing for 9.8 h


*Finding the body 2.8 h before examination

+ Missing for 7 h
*Finding the body 3.4 h before examination

+ It was uncertain whether the broken rigor was reestablished slightly or not

Comments

324
C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

1.0
2.0
3.3

34

0.5
1.0
1.1
3.0

44

57

53

5.0
5.0
11.6
14.0

1.0
2.7

5.0
11.2

3.0
5.0
8.9

40

49

1.0
1.0
2.5

37

0.5
3.1

4.0
4.7+
5.0

33

35

2.8
3.0
5.0

No electr. excit. eye


No mydriasis of irsi to Mydriaticum
Cooling
No miosis of iris to acetylcholine

Lividity confluence
Cooling

No electr. excit. eye


Cooling

Rigor beginning
Lividity confluence
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye NO IV

No electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


No electr. excit. eye
Cooling

Lividity confluence
Electr. excit. eye NO VI
Cooling

Rigor beginning
Cooling

Lividity confluence
Electr. excit. eye NO V
Cooling

Lividity no incomplete shifting


Cooling+
No electr. excit. eye

Cooling
Lividity maximum
No electr. excit. eye

20.0
17.2

11.0
10.0
8.3
7.0
6.0

46.0
21.6
20.0

13.0
11.0
8.0
6.7

14.5
10.0

10.0
8.1
7.0

11.0
10.0
8.7
6.0
6.0

8.9
8.0
6.0

10.3+

8.4

3.6

7.5*

6.8

3.4+

4.8

0.5

1.5

Lower
hpm

Lividity positive thumb pressure


Cooling

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Cooling
Rigor no beginning
Electr. excit. eye VI

3.2

3.2

18.7

3.5

16.8

4.3

12.3+

7.8

3.4+

5.5

25.5

6.3

Upper
hpm

Ascertainment
(limits)

Miosis of iris to acetycholine


Cooling
Lividity positive thumb pressure 16.3

Electr. excit. eye III


Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.
Rigor re-establishment
Cooling

Cooling
Mydriasis of iris to atropine

Mydriasis of iris to atropine


Cooling
Electr. excit. eye V

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye VI
Lividity complete shifting

Cooling
Electr.excit. eye IV
Lividity complete shifting

Cooling+

Cooling

Method/criterion

hpm

hpm

Method/criterion

Upper limit

Lower limit

Estimation

27

Case

Table 3 (continued)

*Finding the body


+ Infliction of the stab wounds. Further comments
in text

Same scene as 36 (Table 5)

+ Functioning storage-ECG device found. By analysing the tape, the beginning of ventricular fibrillation could be defined exactly to the minute

+ Supposed malignant hyperthermia; not used in expertise (Table 10, part I[1])

Comments

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II


325

5.0
14.4

71

48

3.0
5.0
8.8
14.0+

2.0
3.9

2.0
3.0
6.9

68

72

3.0
3.0
3.5
4.9
5.0

67

3.0
5.6

0.6
2.0
3.0
3.0

61

63

2.2
3.0
3.0
5.0
5.0

5.0
13.7
1.8
1.5
2.0
3.0

60

59

58

13.0
11.2
8.0
7.0

13.0
6.2

7.8

8.0
8.0
7.4

24.0
20.1
20.0

Lividity maximum
No electr. excit. eye
Cooling
No miosis of iris to acetycholine

Electr. excit. eye NO V


Cooling

No electr. excit. eye


Cooling

Electr. excit. eye NO V


Lividity maximum
Cooling

14.4

9.5
8.0
8.0
6.0+

23.4
20.0

15.9
8.0

No mydriasis of iris to atropine


No electr. excit. oribic, oris m.
Electr. excit. eye NO III
Cooling
16.0
No mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum 10.5

Lividity maximum
Cooling

Cooling
Rigor maximum
Lividity maximum
Electr.excit.eye NO IV

Cooling
No electr. excit. oribic, oris m.
No mydriasis of iris to atropine
No mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum
No electr. excit. eye

Electr.excit.eye NO II
Cooling
Cooling
No idiomuscular contraction
Electr.excit.eye NO V
No mydriasis of iris to atropine

Cooling

Cooling
Electr. excit. eye IV
Rigor re-establishment
Lividity complete shifting+

Cooling
Lividity positive thumb pressure

Cooling
Electr. excit. eye IV

Electr. excit. eye II


Cooling

Idiomuscular contraction
Cooling
Rigor re-establishment
Electr. excit. eye V

Electr. excit. eye III


Cooling

Cooling

Electr. excit. eye IV


Rigor re-establishment
Cooling

11.0

5.1

17.2

5.7

9.3

6.7

3.1

2.5

2.4

Lividity incomplete shifting+


Cooling
Lividity positive thumb pressure 14.3

14.0

5.4

17.7

11.2

10.3

7.1

3.6

8.3

4.5

16.1

+ This finding would provide an extraordinarily small


range of the period since death. As a precaution, the
statement at the scene did not take this criterion into
account.
The upper limit of the time since death investigated
later on (14.0 hpm) was identical to the lower limit of
the estimated period since death based on this criterion

+ Observed at the scene after turning the body from


LL to LB

Same scene as 70

See text

+ Body found lying prone, transported lying on the


back; the incomplete shifting of lividity was observed
at autopsy

326
C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

2.1
3.0
3.0
3.5

2.0
3.0
3.5
5.0

47

3.0
3.2

2.0
2.4
4.0
5.0

0.3
1.0
1.0
2.0
3.0

2.0
3.0
3.0

2.0
2.0
3.0

0.0
0.5
1.0

0.5
0.6
1.0

Rigor maximum
Lividity maximum
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye NO II

Cooling
Lividity maximum+
No electr. excit. oribic, oris m.
Electr. excit. eye NO III

Lividity maximum
Cooling

Lividity no complete shifting


Cooling
Lividity no incomplete shifting
No electr. excit. eye

Cooling
Electr. excit. eye NO VI
Lividity confluence
Rigor maximum+
Lividity maximum+

Electr.excit.eye NO V
Lividity maximum
Cooling

Electr. excit. eye NO V


Cooling
Lividity maximum

Cooling
Rigor beginning
Lividity confluence

Rigor beginning
Cooling
Electr. excit.eye NO VI

10.0
9.1

8.0
7.7
6.0+

8.8
7.0
6.0

8.0
8.0

11.0
10.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
5.9

11.0
8.6
8.0

11.0
8.0
8.0
7.6

8.0
6.0
6.0
5.4

7.0
6.2

Mydriasis of iris to atropine


Cooling

Rigor re-establishment
Cooling
Lividity complete shifting

Cooling
Rigor no beginning
Lividity no beginning

Rigor re-establishment
Cooling

Electr. excit.orbic. oris m.


Mydriasis to atropine
Rigor re-establishment
Electr. excit. eye V
Lividity complete shifting+
Cooling

Electr. excit. orbic. oris. m.


Cooling
Electr.excit. eye IV

Electr. excit. orbic.oris m.


Electr. excit. eye IV
Rigor re-establishment
Cooling

Rigor re-establishment
Electr. excit. eye VI
Lividity complete shifting
Cooling

Electr. excit.eye V
Cooling

Method/criterion

hpm

hpm

Method/criterion

Upper limit

Lower limit

Estimation

43

41

39

15

Case

7.3

4.5

4.4

4.3

1.8

1.8

2.5

2.5

Lower
hpm

7.6

5.0

7.9+

4.5

15.0

15.0

3.5

2.9

Upper
hpm

Ascertainment
(limits)

Same scene as 46 (Table 2); examination 1.5 h


later than 46
The man shot the woman first and then himself in the
presence of witnesses: Contemporaneity proved

+ Slight uncertainty of the examiner at the scene because of bloodstained body

+ Unsure

+ After repeated examination at autopsy 2 h later

Same scene as 6

Same scene as 7
The husband (case 7) strangled his wife with his hands
(case 6) and committed suicide by hanging. The overlapping time of examinations does not allow a statement as to the sequence of deaths

Comments

Table 4 Details of cases in which the non-temperature-based methods improved one and confirmed the other limit of the period since death estimated by the temperature method

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II


327

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

2.8
2.3

5.2
3.8

Idiomuscular contraction
Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.
Rigor no beginning
Electr. excit. eye VI
Lividity complete shifting+
Cooling
0.0
1.0
65

55

1.0
2.2

Cooling
Lividity confluence

Electr. excit. eye NO VI


Cooling

13.0
11.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
5.6

3.6

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Rigor re-establishment
Cooling
Electr. excit. eye V
11.0
8.0
7.8
7.0

3.6

Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Electr. excit. eye IV
Rigor re-establishment
Cooling
11.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Cooling
Rigor maximum
Electr. excit. eye NO V
Lividity maximum
1.4
2.0
2.0
3.0
52

51

1.0
1.0
1.6

Lividity confluence
Electr. excit. eye NO VI
Cooling

13.0
11.0
7.2
7.0
7.0

Idiomuscular contraction
Electr. excit. orbic. oris m.
Cooling
Rigor no beginning
Electr. excit. eye V

4.1

4.8

+ Observed at the scene after turning the body from


LP to LB

328

firmed, but in 14 cases the inclusion of non-temperaturebased methods did not provide additional information.
In 7 cases the non-temperature-based methods provided
both the best lower and upper limits of the final estimated
period since death (Table 2) among which there were
3 cases in which the temperature-based method could not
be used. The lower or upper limit was improved by the nontemperature-based methods in 28 cases (Table 3) and one
of the limits obtained from body cooling was improved
and the other limit was confirmed in 13 cases (Table 4).
The non-temperature-based methods could not improve
but at least confirme one of the limits obtained from the
method of body cooling in 6 cases (Table 5).
The period since death estimated from body cooling
alone was reduced by more than 2 h in 23 cases by inclusion of the additional methods which led to total spans of
the period since death of up to 1.5 h in 5 cases and up to
3.5 h in a further 15 cases. The results of the temperature
method and the various non-temperature-based methods
showed no contradictions in all cases. The close interrelationship of all the findings can be clearly seen in most cases
listed in Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5. The final result in fact develops with each consecutive result obtained by the further
examinations. All criteria of the non-temperature-based
methods contributed to some degree to the final evaluation. Table 6 lists the total number of improvements or
confirmation of a limit of the period since death obtained
from the non-temperature-based methods in relation to the
limits obtained by the method of body cooling and in several cases one of the limits obtained by body cooling was
improved or confirmed by more than one criterion.
Reliability
The interval since death could be determined by the police
enquiries with certainty within a different range of time
(accuracy) in 44 out of the 49 cases in which the non-temperature-based methods provided a reduction of the period
since death as estimated by the temperature method. The
reliability of the reduced period since death could be verified only in these cases.
The period since death which was known within an
accuracy of 4 h (35 cases, Fig. 2) fell totally within the
reduced period estimated by the compound method in
28 cases, partially in 6 cases and death could have occurred within the overlapping part of both the estimated
and the known period. In 1 case (number 23, Table 3) there
was a contradiction between the conclusion of the maximum time since death provided by re-establishment of
rigor (8 hpm) and the known time of death (9.4 hpm). However, the upper limits of the time since death concluded
from the nomogram method (11.7 hpm) and from the criterion mydriasis of the iris after atropine application (10 hpm)
were not in contradiction. In 9 cases where the time of death
could only be ascertained from the enquiries within a time
range sometimes much greater than 4 h, the period since
death obtained by the compound method was not contradictory.

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

329

Table 5 Details of cases in which the non-temperature-based methods could not improve but at least confirm one limit of the period
since death estimated from the temperature method
Case

Estimation

Ascertainment
(limits)

Lower limit

Upper limit

hpm

Method/criterion

hpm

Method/criterion

Rigor maximum
Lividity maximum

11.0

2.0
3.0

Cooling

11.0

Electr. excit. orbic.


oris m.
Cooling

17

5.0
5.0
14.0
15.1

No electr. excit. eye


No mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum
No miosis of iris to acetylcholine
Cooling

29.1

18

5.0
5.0
14.0
15.1

No electr. excit. eye


No mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum
No miosis of iris to acetylcholine
Cooling

24

2.0
3.0
3.5
3.7

Lividity no complete shifting


No electr. excit. orbic. oris m.
Electr. excit. eye NO III
Cooling

3.0
3.0
3.0

No electr. excit. orbic. oris m.


Electr. excit. eye NO IV
Cooling

2.0
2.0
3.0

Rigor maximum
Lividity no complete shifting+
Lividity maximum

3.9

Cooling

5.4

36

64

Table 6 Number of instances


where a criterion of a non-temperature-based method led to
improvement or confirmation
of the period since death estimated from body cooling

Lower
hpm

Upper
hpm

Cooling

26.8

27.8

24.1

Cooling

4.4

26.0

16.0
10.0
9.3

Electr. excit. eye II


Mydriasis to atropine
Cooling

5.8

8.8

13.0
8.6

Electr. excit. eye III


Cooling

7.1

8.1

20.0
9.5

Lividity positive thumb


pressure
Cooling

Comments

+ Observed at the
scene after turning the
body from LP to LB
6.3

6.6

Method/criterion

Improvement

Confirmation

Electrical excitability eye


Electrical excitability orbicularis oris muscle
Mydriasis of iris to atropine
Mydriasis of iris to Mydriaticum Roche
Miosis of iris to acetylcholine
Rigor beginning
Rigor maximum
Rigor re-establishment
Idiomuscular contraction
Lividity beginning
Lividity confluence
Lividity maximum
Lividity completely displaced by thumb pressure
Lividity completely shifted after turning over
Lividity incompletely shifted after turning over

33
6
9
4
1
5
3
6
1
0
6
9
3
5
3

18
5
3
1
2
4
0
7
1
0
3
3
0
5
1

Discussion
Our field study demonstrates both the possibilities and
limitations of estimating the period since death in the early
post-mortem period by the compound method described.

The degree of accuracy is moderate but balanced by the


short time period needed for the examination of the body
at the scene. This may promote the acceptance of this
method by police investigators at a scene when reliable
results can be given in the early stages of an investigation.
In spite of its limited accuracy, the estimated period since

330

Fig. 2 Cases where the period of death was known to within 4 h


(open bars) compared to the period since death estimated by the
compound method (dotted bars) and by the temperature-based
method (solid bars)

death could be used to direct the investigative efforts in a


number of cases (see results of part I [1]).
There are no reports of field studies for the non-temperature-based methods used and which are of practical use
at a scene. The lower and upper limits of the time since
death estimated from non-temperature-based criteria given
in the literature (Table 1) were not re-examined here with
the exception of the electrical excitability of the facial muscles [5, 6].
The data obtained from this field study clearly demonstrate that the use of the non-temperature-based methods
can lead to a considerable improvement of the results of
the temperature-based nomogram method without loss of
reliability. This usefulness is evident in cases where the
temperature method could not be used (as in cases 31, 33,
38 and 45), because the estimation of time limits was
largely independent of the ambient conditions.
The efficiency of the method of electrical excitability
of facial muscles stimulated by standardized impulses via
electrodes inserted into the eyebrow, is much greater than
that of the other non-temperature-based methods (Table 3).
This method is the only non-temperature-based method

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

which provides both a lower and an upper limit of the period since death with the exception of reaction grades 0
and VI. This may contribute to the greater effect of this
method compared with the criteria of the other non-temperature-based methods which merely provide either a
lower or an upper limit of the period since death. The 95%
limits of confidence [7] used for the data on 447 bodies
[4] were re-examined on 30 bodies [5, 6] and combined
with the temperature-based nomogram method on 32 bodies in casework [3]. Our study confirms these results. It is
recommended that conservative estimates are given if there
is an occasional uncertainty to differentiate between reaction grades II/III or IV/V and in these cases the grade which
results in the wider range for the time since death should
be used.
To examine the reactability of the iris to subconjuctival
injection of chemicals is not a common procedure but
proved to be valuable in some cases. The extraordinarily
small range of the period since death provided by the lack
of a reaction of the iris to acetycholine in case 48 (Table 3)
was not used as a precautionary measure to avoid an unreliable estimation. Nevertheless, this result did not contradict the value obtained from the police investigation.
The limits of the time since death used are based on the limits of variation resulting from the examination of 5765 eyes
from 3979 corpses [4].
A slight re-establishment of rigor should not be considered for the estimation if there is an uncertainty as to

C. Henssge et al.: Estimation of time since death II

whether the rigor was broken completely or not, and


whether there was a very slight re-establishment or not
(case 12). Apart from this exception, the only case of a
contradiction between the estimated and known period
since death (case 23; Table 3) demonstrates that the upper
limit of 8 h [8] is not the maximum of the time since death
in which the completely broken rigor can be slightly reestablished. In this case the broken rigor was slightly reestablished 9.4 h post-mortem.
The usefulness and reliability of the criteria of lividity
and rigor are generally neglected because there is a very
wide variation. Nevertheless, our study demonstrates that
these criteria can sometimes be useful and reliable if the
limits of variation [8] only are used.
Finally, it should be emphasized that the period since
death estimated by the compound method is not necessarily identical with the time when a fatal injury was inflicted
(see Table 3 for case 21, and Table 1 in part I [1] of this paper for cases 8, 20, 38, 40, 45, 57, 66). In this respect, the
estimation of the period since death by the compound
method at the scene is closely related to the findings at autopsy, i.e. histological and toxicological examinations by
forensic pathologists.

331

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