View Full Version : How police react to multiple deaths by natural causes

09-05-2008, 12:12 AM
Incase you don't want to read the story behind the question (below), here it is: How would police/coroner react to the second death of a person with no apparent COD four days after the first death, that happens in the exact same place as the first one? I'm curious for opinions on both how police would react immediately upon arriving after the 911 call (I have it as being the same officers--they drive the night route in that area) and how both coroner and police would react when it ends up being another death with no signs of a COD.

Also, I did do a AW SR search, which helped me out with a couple of other slight questions, but since this was so specific I was just curious for other opinions. Thanks a ton!

Here's the setup: Setting- Small town near the mountains in Washington. Story- My MC (female, age 17) is having her best friend spend the night (female, age 17). They go to sleep and when my MC wakes up her friend is dead. As I have it now, the medical report only concludes that she died of natural causes; her heart just stopped. In reality it was supernatural causes, but nobody knows this yet. Well, 4 days later my MC's mom (age 44, perfect health) is comforting MC in bed, staying with her until she falls asleep, when the mom accidentally falls asleep with her. So when my MC wakes up later, her mom is now dead.

So here's where my question comes in. Since the first death is incredibly uncommon (being so young), but plausible (I researched and have found deaths of teens by natural causes--though they unfortunately don't go into detail on the NC), the police leave it alone. But now that the same thing has happened twice, both in the MC's bed and both death's the same way, I'm wondering how the police would act. Since there's absolutely no proof that the deaths were murders or suicides, would they leave this one alone too? Would they call in a HAZMAT team to check for some kind of new virus just to be sure? Would they wait for both toxicology reports to come back before acting? And how would the coroner react to two different people having no apparent COD? Can that happen, or would there have to be some kinds of signs, that their bodies couldn't have just shut down/died?

In my first draft I orginally had the police call in a team to check the house, ultimately finding nothing, but then (in my edits) I really started to doubt that's what they would do.

Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

09-05-2008, 01:10 AM
When a seventeen-year-old dies, with no outward signs of COD, a complete investigation would follow. Tox screens would take several days to complete, so the timing of the second death would be very suspicious.

There is always a COD. Say, in your case, it turns out to be heart attack. The ME would certainly be looking for a cause of the attack, especially for the young girl. The 44-year-old may have a history of heart disease which would provide the answers to the COD. Although not unheard of, the young girl would take a LOT of explaining.

To answer your question, Yes, they would complete a full investigation, including an examination of the house and interviewing all people connected to the victims.

09-05-2008, 01:33 AM
Are you aware of 'The Writers Medical and Forensics Lab'?
This guy answers loads of medical/forensics questions for writers - on the website, in his books and by email. You do need to be quite specific to get the info you want - and if you suggest the outcome you're after he'll usually come up with a realistic way to swing it!
Highly recommended!

Otherwise though I'd personally agree with RJK - the police would be all over it.

Hope you find what you're looking for :)

09-05-2008, 05:37 PM
Also, I would think the MC would become the prime suspect after her mother's death since she was there for both deaths. And the police would be very suspicious that both deaths happened in the same place at the same time in the presence of the same person. It could be just a new strain of virus (especially if they're not looking for a supernatural cause) but it would be very strange that two people died of "natural causes" but a third is immune. They'd be wondering why the MC didn't also die of the virus.

Some questions might be:

Why didn't the MC die as well if it's a virus?
Is she a carrier?
Is it really a virus or did she actually poison them?

09-05-2008, 06:19 PM
As a reader, my question would be--would a 17-year old really be willing to sleep in her bed so soon after her best friend died there? Hell, I'm 37 and I wouldn't sleep in my bed ever again if somebody died in it. Maybe not even in my bedroom. Might be time to sell the house.

09-05-2008, 08:53 PM
good point Red, but this particular 17-year-old sounds sort of creepy to start with.

09-05-2008, 08:55 PM
I ranthis past my dad, who's a policeman, and he agreed that there would be extensive autopsies performed, a lot of interviewing for your MC as well as lab tests on her too.

Tsu Dho Nimh
09-05-2008, 09:03 PM
With two deaths from "unknown causes" happening in the same place at nealry the same time, you would also have public health and environmental safety agencies looking into it.

Unknown causes make them nervous.

09-05-2008, 09:18 PM
Tox screens would take several days to complete

Some of them could take weeks. I imagine they'd be pretty exhaustive for a 17-year-old with no apparent cause of death. And they'd also have to look, via autopsy, for things like signs of suffocation (e.g. was she smothered with a pillow)--that causes some sort of teeny-tiny hematomas in certain tissues, if I recall correctly. And they might run substance and DNA tests on whatever they could scrape out from under her nails, to see if she'd scratched an attacker or touched certain substances etc.

09-06-2008, 02:18 AM
As a reader, my question would be--would a 17-year old really be willing to sleep in her bed so soon after her best friend died there? Hell, I'm 37 and I wouldn't sleep in my bed ever again if somebody died in it. Maybe not even in my bedroom. Might be time to sell the house.

I didn't mention this, since I didn't think it important to the question, but the family immediately gets rid of the old bed and buys a new one after MC's best friend dies. She has trouble initially, and sleeps on the couch, but the day her mother dies is the first time she tries sleeping in her new bed in her room again. And, funny you should mention it, the Dad does decide to sell the house and move after his wife's funeral.

And thanks to all of you for any bit of information. Every bit of help has been useful in making the scenes at this point much more believable. I greatly appreciate it!