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Georgina
09-02-2011, 02:39 PM
I'd like somebody to fall into a river in early September, drown, get caught under a small dock somehow, and be found the following March. This is in the northern hemisphere (Pennsylvania, USA), so the body would be there during winter when the river might freeze over.

My fear is that after six months, there wouldn't be much of a body to find. I imagine it varies through situational factors, but am I right in thinking that most of the flesh would be gone, and the bones would end up just drifting away?

If so, is there any way you can see that I could make this work? Maybe have the body caught in some sort of netting or something under the dock? Though why there would be netting under a dock, I don't know.

This is YA, so I won't be getting into the specifics of the body's condition in the story. I'd just like to make sure I'm writing something plausible.

Thank you, and cheers!

AmsterdamAssassin
09-02-2011, 02:52 PM
Follow this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adipocere and follow links from there. The fatty tissue will turn into 'soap' when submerged in water for long periods of time. Keep in mind though, that this only happens with humans older than, I think, 9 months, because the fatty tissue in babies doesn't 'saponificates'.

There's a lot of research available on body decompositions - keywords are 'putrefaction' and 'body farm' [where corpses are studied to measure the rate of decomposition].

Hope this helps.

areteus
09-02-2011, 02:52 PM
Decomposition is slower in cold water, especially if it is frozen, because the bacteria that do the breakdown of tissues do not function at low temperatures so efficiently (all due to enzyme optimal temperatures). Not sure it is so slow as to be fine for 6 months (especially if some of those months are warmer) but there have been corpses found in the artic almost completely preserved after years.

jclarkdawe
09-02-2011, 03:52 PM
Very plausible. One or two bodies go through this every year.

I'd like somebody to fall into a river in early September, drown, get caught under a small dock somehow, and be found the following March. More likely in late September than early. The reason is the water will be colder. And it won't come out until the very end of March. Bodies get snagged by various things all the time in rivers. What will happen is the snow melt and rain will raise the level of the river and increase its flow rate to the point where the current forces the body downstream.

This is in the northern hemisphere (Pennsylvania, USA), so the body would be there during winter when the river might freeze over. The river won't freeze solid, but will have icy patches, especially in slower moving parts. Under the dock is unlikely to freeze. It doesn't really matter, as the water temperature will be close to freezing, if not a bit below.

My fear is that after six months, there wouldn't be much of a body to find. I imagine it varies through situational factors, but am I right in thinking that most of the flesh would be gone, and the bones would end up just drifting away? Probably not. As I said, people disappear in rivers in the fall all the time and their bodies are found the next spring. Decomposition would be very retarded because of the low water temperature, and virtually no decomposition would happen in December, January, and February. There would also be a reduction in fish activity during the winter. Probably more destruction would come about because of fish nibbles. Body would probably be more or less recognizable as human, but would cause the finder to have nightmares for years to come.

If so, is there any way you can see that I could make this work? Maybe have the body caught in some sort of netting or something under the dock? Though why there would be netting under a dock, I don't know. Have it caught by a post for the dock. It really doesn't take much to snag a piece of clothing, or hang on a nude body. Docks will usually have a few branches that have gotten caught under them. Then when the current increases in spring, it forces stuff out.

This is YA, so I won't be getting into the specifics of the body's condition in the story. I'd just like to make sure I'm writing something plausible. I'm sure I know someone who recovered a body in this situation, but I haven't looked around to give you the gorier details. But I know a kid did this last fall in Vermont, and it just happens consistently. Finding a body in a river is a crap shoot no matter what. They tend to go under and get snagged. In the spring, all sorts of stuff come out of them.

Thank you, and cheers!

Big change I'd make is going to later in September and into April for the recovery. Other than that, very plausible. Wait to next March and April and start a google search for river and body and I won't be surprised if you start getting some results. But in the meantime, you might look at Body found in Des Plaines River was missing Rolling Meadows ... (http://articles.chicagobreakingnews.com/2011-05-06/news/29518448_1_des-plaines-river-rolling-meadows-woman-body) You might also contact Pennsylvania's Fish and Game Department. They can also give you much more information on the appropriate timing.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

areteus
09-02-2011, 04:43 PM
BTW, this just struck me in the way you state this...


I'd like somebody to fall into a river in early September, drown, get caught under a small dock somehow, and be found the following March.

You would like for this to happen? So, who are you planning on killing? :)

Georgina
09-02-2011, 07:14 PM
Jim, you are a treasure! Such a comprehensive answer, and wonderfully specific, too. I will write on with confidence. Thank you.

Thank you to AmsterdamAssassin and aerates as well.

Cheers.

Snick
09-02-2011, 07:25 PM
While the body might be preserved by the cold, there is the problem of scavengers. And you didn't mention whether it would be on a lake or a river, but you did mention a dock, which suggests that the body of water is fairly large. If the water is near the Delaware River of Chesapeake Bay, then there might be crabs or other oceanic beasts that would rip the body apart pretty quickly, while in a completely fresh water situation there would be as much trouble with that; although fish would be happy to have a feast like that.

Archerbird
09-02-2011, 11:14 PM
whole bunch of stuff

Yup, pretty much what I was about to say. Now I have no choice but to write this; I'm only assuming, but since you said it's at a river, the current might be an important factor in where the body is found? I'm just thinking out loud, because someone in my city found a body in our river some years ago. It had drifted several miles.

Georgina
09-05-2011, 04:51 PM
Snick, that's a very good point, thank you. It's a made-up small town based very roughly on an existing small town, but I've been deliberately keeping the geography vague. If I ever get precise about where the town is, I'll make sure to be precise in a direction away from the ocean.

Archerbird, thanks for mentioning the current. I'm wanting the boy to be found close to where he falls in, so I'll have to make sure his body is firmly wedged in there somehow. I like Jim's tree branch idea.

Cheers.

Snick
09-05-2011, 10:07 PM
There are fresh water scavengers, but they aren't as plentiful as ocean crabs. If the body is in shallow water, then scavengers that are land animals might get it. Dogs have been known to pull thngs out of shallow water.

DeleyanLee
09-05-2011, 10:15 PM
And depending where in PA, there's also coyotes and bears in the mountains that wouldn't mind getting wet for a meal. Especially in the winter.

CatharsisChild
09-05-2011, 11:58 PM
This thread creeps me out.

Snick
09-06-2011, 01:33 AM
This thread creeps me out.

Please stay out of the water.

AmsterdamAssassin
09-06-2011, 01:08 PM
Just when you thought it was safe to go swimming again... dumdidumdidumdum...

Georgina
09-07-2011, 07:05 AM
Thank you all for the further thoughts. Who knew there were scarier things than falling into the water and drowning? (Like falling into the water, drowning and being eaten by a bear.)

I've been writing my body-finding scenes, and I have a couple of follow-up questions that I'm hoping somebody in this thread can answer.

Let's assume the body is caught under a small dock, snagged on a column or in some tree branches. Maybe 3m (9ft) down or so. Somebody jumped into the water nearby and thought they saw something, so the police have been called.

1 :: How would the police go about bringing the body to the surface? I understand when they're rescuing a body from deep inside an underwater cave system, they put the body in a bag before bringing it upwards, but since this is only a couple of meters, would they still do that? Or perhaps strap it to some kind of gurney? Or would they just free it and swim it upwards?

2 :: Given the body has been in the water for six months, would they be able to tell in the post-mortem examination that he was still alive when he fell into the water?

Thanks again, and cheers.

DeleyanLee
09-07-2011, 06:55 PM
Generally, police (divers if needed) will bring it to the surface and they'd put it in a body bag on shore. Once in the body bag, they'd put it on a gurney.

If lungs are still intact, the ME will be able to see that there's water there which would indicate drowning. If the lungs are gone, there might be other ways to show, but I'm not as familiar with them. As long as the body hasn't been scavenged, it shouldn't be a problem.

jclarkdawe
09-08-2011, 12:41 AM
Thank you all for the further thoughts. Who knew there were scarier things than falling into the water and drowning? (Like falling into the water, drowning and being eaten by a bear.)

I've been writing my body-finding scenes, and I have a couple of follow-up questions that I'm hoping somebody in this thread can answer.

Let's assume the body is caught under a small dock, snagged on a column or in some tree branches. Maybe 3m (9ft) down or so. Very rarely would a dock be in three meters of water. Docks cost money, measured by running feet. In other words, the further out you build a dock the more it costs. Therefore, docks are usually only built into water deep enough to moor a boat to and maybe dive from. Unless the banks are very steep, you're unlikely to see a dock in that deep water. Most docks will be in water only about two meters or six feet. Somebody jumped into the water nearby and thought they saw something, so the police have been called. Remember you have this scheduled for spring, shortly after ice out. Anybody likely to jump in the water is probably going to be under the influence and not likely to notice anything. Instead, I'd have the person pushed off the dock in some horseplay, fall into the water, start thrashing around, and dislodge the body. It's a tried and true formula, but it works. Also remember that visibility in river water can be very murky.

1 :: How would the police go about bringing the body to the surface? I understand when they're rescuing a body from deep inside an underwater cave system, they put the body in a bag before bringing it upwards, but since this is only a couple of meters, would they still do that? Or perhaps strap it to some kind of gurney? Or would they just free it and swim it upwards? The reason cave rescues put the body in a bag is so the limbs don't flop around. Police only recover bodies in major cities. Small town police departments don't have dive teams. Most likely the body would be recovered by Pennsylvania's Fish & Game Department. Most likely the body would be shallow enough so that people would wade in, in exposure suits (wet suits). Body would be dragged to shore, then placed in a body bag. Then the body would be placed in a Stokes basket. Go to Litter (rescue basket) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litter_%28rescue_basket%29). By the way, it is just referred to as a "Stokes." Stokes are a lot easier to move over rough terrain than a gurney. Bystanders would be probably evicted from the scene.

2 :: Given the body has been in the water for six months, would they be able to tell in the post-mortem examination that he was still alive when he fell into the water? Main question is whether the chest cavity is contaiminated by scavengers. If the chest cavity is whole, the ME will easily be able to tell. Beyond that, once scavengers get into the body, it can become more and more difficult.

For scavengers you're going to have to decide on the flow rate of the river. Catfish are more likely to attack a body than trout, but prefer a lot slower moving water. Snapping turtles can do a number on carcasses, but don't like moving water.

Thanks again, and cheers.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

SmuggySmith
09-08-2011, 06:57 AM
I've found that a series of books called Howdunit has been very useful. This is a link to the one that might be most useful in getting specific about drowned victims. http://www.amazon.com/Cause-Death-Forensic-Medicine-Howdunit/dp/0898795249/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315450486&sr=1-2

Georgina
09-09-2011, 02:59 PM
Thank you all for the continued answers. I really appreciate you helping me get this right.

I understand now that what I came up with isn't really going to work, and I've spent the day trying to work out some solutions. Unfortunately, I changed the way the boy's body is found after I'd written most of the story, which is making this a lot harder than it should be.

(Outlining. I hear it's good.)

Jim, did you mean the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (http://fishandboat.com/mpag1.htm)? I found some stuff on their website that suggested, but did not outright say, that this would be their kind of job. Otherwise, there is the Pennsylvania Game Commission (http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pgc/9106), but they seem to mostly do wildlife. It would be better for me if the local police could just handle it, though. Say one of them just happened (cough) to have scuba experience, and say we make it shallower like you suggest. Might they bring him to the surface then, or would they definitely wait for the pros?

I'll also see if I can find a copy of that book that SmuggySmith mentions.

Cheers.

jclarkdawe
09-09-2011, 05:01 PM
Thank you all for the continued answers. I really appreciate you helping me get this right.

I understand now that what I came up with isn't really going to work, and I've spent the day trying to work out some solutions. Unfortunately, I changed the way the boy's body is found after I'd written most of the story, which is making this a lot harder than it should be.

(Outlining. I hear it's good.)

Jim, did you mean the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (http://fishandboat.com/mpag1.htm)? I found some stuff on their website that suggested, but did not outright say, that this would be their kind of job. Otherwise, there is the Pennsylvania Game Commission (http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pgc/9106), but they seem to mostly do wildlife. I don't live in Pennsylvania, so I don't know for sure, but my guess from their websites would be the first. I was just pretty sure it would not be the State Police. It would be better for me if the local police could just handle it, though. More likely the fire department would have the expertise than the police. Fire departments deal with rescuing people. Say one of them just happened (cough) to have scuba experience, and say we make it shallower like you suggest. It's possible a local fire department might have a dive team. But if the body is under a dock, you've reduced the visibility argument. Further, many rivers are murky enough that visibility is down to inches. Two feet is actually pretty good for a river. Nearly all fire departments have exposure suits. If the water is shallow enough, you use an exposure suit, which have heavy shoes built in, and wade out if you can. That, reaching around, including with a pole, and a flashlight can recover a lot of things. For an ice rescue drill with an exposure suit, you can look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wA7i_4TH3EA&feature=related Might they bring him to the surface then, or would they definitely wait for the pros? This is going to depend a lot upon how suspicious the drowning was. If there is any possibility this is a homicide or suicide, you call in everybody. They'll want whatever pictures they can get of the body as it is found.

I'll also see if I can find a copy of that book that SmuggySmith mentions.

Cheers.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe