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Jon King
05-20-2012, 07:33 AM
If a body was tattooed after death, would it be possible to tell it when the body was examined? Especially if the corpse had other tattoos - would the posthumous one be distinguishable from the others, somehow?

angeluscado
05-20-2012, 07:36 AM
I'm guessing it would be the same as other postmortem wounds - no bleeding, no scabbing. That kind of thing.

Jon King
05-20-2012, 07:43 AM
See, that's what I thought too, but then again, the other tattoos wouldn't be bleeding or have scabs either, considering that they're older. So the tattoo could just be mistaken for an older one.

Nymtoc
05-20-2012, 07:44 AM
I'm also guessing, but it would look very fresh and dark and probably kind of weird. I doubt that it would match the body's other tattoos, unless they were all very recent--tattoos fade over the years--and though I don't know exactly how, there would almost certainly be something to indicate it was done post-mortem, especially to the trained eye of a medical examiner.

Jon King
05-20-2012, 07:50 AM
I'd say you're right, Nymtoc, I just can't figure out what it would be! Maybe the red skin irritation? Or would that be a no-go considering the whole "lack of blood flow" thing?

Nymtoc
05-20-2012, 08:05 AM
This is turning into an interesting topic, Faerytale. A couple of questions: When was this postmortem tattoo done? Immediately after death or hours or days later? These things can make a difference. If the tattoo is done immediately after death, I think it would have a better chance of looking "real," but you are right about the blood. There would be no blood flow, so no reddening. If the tattoo is done after a day or so, we're back to what I said originally. It might look okay to the casual eye, but I feel sure a trained observer would notice something odd about it.

Unless we're talking about a phenomenally skilled tattoo artist, the tattoo would look very fresh and dark. New tattoos always do.

Of course, I'm still guessing. :)


ETA Size could matter, too. I have no idea what your plot requires but if, for example, you want the victim to have someone's initials tattooed on him, it might be possible to get by with that. On the other hand, an enormous eagle or sailing ship would be a dead (if you'll pardon the expression) giveaway. :D

Jon King
05-20-2012, 08:12 AM
The tattoo would've been done almost immediately after the woman was killed. The artist is self-taught, probably in the lower tier of average quality. The plot has to do with a serial killer who tattoos his victims after he kills them, kind of as a trademark, but because his victims are sex workers who have other tattoos, nobody really pays all that much attention. He tattoos a gold coin somewhere on their body, just a little smaller than a penny.

And thank you - glad I could provide you with some good ol' fashioned brain food! :)

Nymtoc
05-20-2012, 08:58 AM
Interesting stuff, Faerytale. Now that you've explained a little more, it looks possible that your killer might be able to get away with a small tattoo. But if it's his trademark, won't your sleuth (or the cops or whoever) know it was done after death anyway? Isn't that what the killer does to all his victims, after death?

I'm just wondering whether it's supposed to look like it was done in life or not. Does the murderer care?

BTW, gold is an almost impossible tattoo color. Yellow would be possible. But a round splotch of yellow doesn't mean much. He would use another color--black, blue, green or red, probably--to draw something that makes it look like a coin. You really have engaged my interest. The killer would have to carry around some kind of tattoo kit, with several colors, to bring this off. The easiest kind of tattoo--often seen on prisoners--is a black or blue single-line thing, done with ordinary ink and a needle.

I'm looking forward to reading the book. :)

sunandshadow
05-20-2012, 10:22 AM
If you want yellow to look like gold you give it a white highlight, an orange layer of shadow, and a brown layer of deeper shadow.

FalconMage
05-20-2012, 02:24 PM
The human does not, for the most part, heal, once death has taken place. I would think that a post mortem tattoo might look different, and all the "injection" sites might even stay open.

Might it still look "wet paint"? Because the ink doesn't absorb into the skin as it would on a live subject?

onesecondglance
05-20-2012, 02:33 PM
New tattoos are more defined: the lines are sharper, the colours deeper. You should be able to tell a new tattoo from one even just a few months old by sight alone. But those clues wouldn't tell you if it was done ante- or post-mortem.

ironmikezero
05-21-2012, 12:47 AM
This triggered a vague memory... It's been a while, but I remember a case where the ME determined that a tattoo was post mortem; the ink would not mix/blend with the blood in the sub-dermal capillaries because in the absence of blood pressure the blood had succumbed to gravity (lividity) and was completely absent from the area of the fresh tattoo. The ink was undiluted at the puncture sites. The tat was a gang sign that the perp wanted (we believe) to be found to misdirect the investigation - it didn't work.

jclarkdawe
05-21-2012, 03:25 AM
Repeat IronMike's answer here.

Question here is whether you're looking at something that passes a visual inspection quickly or passes a detailed post-mortem exam. First you can probably get, the second you won't.

Starting point is understanding that tattooing is done on living tissue. Living tissue constantly has blood flowing through it. Any time living tissue is punctured, it produces bruising. Any needle injection site will show some swelling and damage to the skin. A good medical examiner will look for any recent injections, including in tattoos. (Poisons have been injected into tattoo sites as a way to hide the injection site.)

Dead tissue does not have blood circulating in it, will not swell, and doesn't bruise. (Take a hammer and pound on a chicken breast with skin. You'll see how different it looks compared to a hammer hitting your skin.) In addition, skin looses it's elasticity quickly, resulting in the dead fish feel.

In addition, I'm thinking that if you flip the skin inside out, you'll see some differences. You can tell brands and tattoos that have been done over existing ones by looking at them from the back.

A decent medical examiner will be able to tell the difference.

However, there's a caveat in all of this. Dead is actually a somewhat complicated concept. Not breathing and no heartbeat is the classic definition of dead. Yet CPR works on people who are dead. You provide circulation through the chest compressions. And frequently during CPR the patient will have a rather funky heart beat that isn't useful for maintaining life, but does maintain some activity. This situation lasts for maybe thirty minutes or so. And you need to understand that this varies a lot from different causes of death.

But would a tattoo, done during this limited window of opportunity, fool a medical examiner is something I don't know the answer to.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

lastlittlebird
05-21-2012, 12:55 PM
Back when Europeans were first arriving in New Zealand they were fascinated with the Maori moko (face tattoos). So fascinated, in fact, that they would pay for shrunken, tattooed heads.

The Maori would traditionally keep the preserved heads of their enemies because they provided mana (spiritual strength) and the more tattooed a head was, the more mana it provided (because you earned your tattoos through battle and your value to the tribe).
They would also trade heads between tribes in order to get their own people back, and would keep the heads of their own ancestors as well as enemies.

So, on the one hand, they wanted to keep the more spectacular heads for their own tribal use and veneration, while on the other the Europeans were willing to give up quite a few guns for a head with a lot of tattoos.

The solution? It was common practice to tattoo the faces of their less distinguished enemies after they were killed in battle and give those heads to the Europeans (many of those heads are still far from home in museums and are currently being sought by groups in NZ who want to bring them back and put them to rest).

So, they must have been able to pass off the heads as being "properly" tattooed, particularly since the heads would have had some original tattoos as well, just not the full faces for which the Europeans paid top dollar.

Unfortunately, this won't completely help you, since moko were usually done with a chisel rather than a needle back then and of course the heads were dried before being sold, so it's a different situation.

Not sure if this is useful or not, but thought I'd mention it anyway :)

Saanen
05-22-2012, 12:19 AM
One of the mysteries in Karen E. Olson's Tattoo Shop series has a plot point about a body tattooed after death. I can't remember the details, but the books are very well written and full of interesting information about tattooing. I think it's the second book in the series.

L.C. Blackwell
05-22-2012, 03:32 AM
Yet CPR works on people who are dead. You provide circulation through the chest compressions. And frequently during CPR the patient will have a rather funky heart beat that isn't useful for maintaining life, but does maintain some activity. This situation lasts for maybe thirty minutes or so. And you need to understand that this varies a lot from different causes of death.

But would a tattoo, done during this limited window of opportunity, fool a medical examiner is something I don't know the answer to.



I don't have the answer to that one either, but I suspect that the ME could find signs that CPR had been performed--depending on both the force applied and the condition of the patient, it's entirely possible to break ribs and inflict other types of damage--and that's when it's done correctly.

Lillie
05-22-2012, 03:49 AM
If a body was tattooed after death, would it be possible to tell it when the body was examined? Especially if the corpse had other tattoos - would the posthumous one be distinguishable from the others, somehow?

Yes, it would be totally different. Anyone would be able to spot it.

jclarkdawe
05-22-2012, 07:13 AM
Originally Posted by jclarkdawe http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=7291079#post7291079)
Yet CPR works on people who are dead. You provide circulation through the chest compressions. And frequently during CPR the patient will have a rather funky heart beat that isn't useful for maintaining life, but does maintain some activity. This situation lasts for maybe thirty minutes or so. And you need to understand that this varies a lot from different causes of death.

But would a tattoo, done during this limited window of opportunity, fool a medical examiner is something I don't know the answer to. I don't have the answer to that one either, but I suspect that the ME could find signs that CPR had been performed--depending on both the force applied and the condition of the patient, it's entirely possible to break ribs and inflict other types of damage--and that's when it's done correctly.
I should have been clearer on that point. Beyond the breaking of ribs, you'll get bruising on the chest from the compressions. So the CPR would definitely be detected by an ME. But could you use the CPR to hide the fact that you were applying a tattoo during the process? I just don't know, but that's the only way I think you could possibly do this.

Of course, you can always find an incompetent ME or avoid the autopsy and be fine with a post-mortem tattoo.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

MisterFrancis
05-24-2012, 02:35 AM
Tattooists usually practice on dead pig skin, so your local tattoo shop would be able to tell you what its like to ink dead flesh.

Jon King
05-24-2012, 10:55 PM
Thank you to everyone! You've helped a ton, I've gotten in touch with a local tattoo parlor and they've agreed to talk to me tomorrow. Again, thanks a ton!

WildScribe
05-24-2012, 11:01 PM
Yes, it would be totally different. Anyone would be able to spot it.

A fresh tattoo on a live person is very dark and rich in color, and as it heals you get a yellowish (for me, anyway, since I'm white) tint over the tattoo, so my black ink looks a little faded and yellowish/gray because of the skin over the ink, especially as compared to when it was fresh.

The ME would be able to tell, likely, that the ink was extremely fresh, and would also not see any reddening or evidence of healing, so I would assume they could tell that it was done post-mortem.

Jon King
05-25-2012, 01:52 AM
Would there be a chance that they might mistake it for a tattoo done that morning, or the previous day, or something along those lines, or would they be able to definitively determine that the tattoo was done post-mortem?

jclarkdawe
05-25-2012, 02:26 AM
I can't give you a definitive answer on tattoos, but a good M.E. can tell the difference between a beating done leading to death, a beating done an hour before death, and a beating done an hour or so after death. I don't think it would fool a good M.E.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

WeaselFire
05-26-2012, 01:13 AM
Would there be a chance that they might mistake it for a tattoo done that morning, or the previous day, or something along those lines, or would they be able to definitively determine that the tattoo was done post-mortem?
A recent tattoo will be bandaged and covered, for a few hours at least, usually looking raw for a week or two. Dead flesh won't show the same effect. Which could, I guess, mean it would be mistaken for an older tattoo.

As for physical ability, yes you can tattoo a fresh body. It may not take ink the same, but a crude tattoo looks crude anyway.

As for a ME, maybe they would simply miss it because it wasn't something they would normally look for. Most MEs are over worked and, if they find an obvious cause of death, will only look for the evidence to support it.

A hooker with her throat slashed isn't going to automatically make the ME look for a 1/2" tattoo just above her left knee. It would likely get photographed, which might make for an interesting plot twist -- the tattoo looking different in a photograph making the MC/Protagonist/Whomever figure it out.

Jeff

Lillie
05-26-2012, 01:44 AM
Would there be a chance that they might mistake it for a tattoo done that morning, or the previous day, or something along those lines, or would they be able to definitively determine that the tattoo was done post-mortem?

They should be able to.

A tattoo is essentially a wound, or a million tiny wounds.

They can tell if a wound was made pre or post mortem, I don't see how the presence of ink in the wound would make a difference.

Tattoo a live body and things happen, swelling, redness, even while the tattoo is being done it swells along the lines. It bleeds.
Then very quickly it does what wounds do and starts to heal. It scabs over.
So a pre death tat should either show evidence of blood, swelling, redness or scabbing/healing, depending on how long before death the tat was done.

A post death tat would show none of these.

It could not be mistaken for an old, healed tat. There is an enormous visual difference between a new and a healed tat. Anyone could see that difference.

Also, I don't know if you have ever done tattoos (I have), you need a hell of a lot of stuff, even if you don't care about the hygiene aspect.

For a start, how are you running the gun?
You have two options, either you use a power pack that you plug into a socket, or you connect it to a car battery.
Is your killer carrying either of these around?

Then he needs a prepped gun, possibly two, or at least two prepped needle set ups.
One for outlining/detail work, and another for colour.
If he has two guns, one can be set up for each. If not he will have to change the needle set up in the single gun.

Then he needs his inks, for a realistic coin you'll need about four colours. So you need the stand for the caps, the caps themselves, and the bottles of colour.

He will have to fill the caps from the bottles in situ.
He cannot really load the gun from the bottle, and he cannot carry filled caps.

He also needs wipes of some sort to clear the excess ink from the skin so that he can see what he's doing.
He will also need some container of cleaning fluid to rinse the gun when he changes colours.

Then he has to set up, plug in, and set to work with his different colours. This will take a while, probably 20 minutes total.

Then he has to clear it all up, pack it away and get the hell out of there, with his kit.

jclarkdawe
05-26-2012, 02:35 AM
As for a ME, maybe they would simply miss it because it wasn't something they would normally look for. Most MEs are over worked and, if they find an obvious cause of death, will only look for the evidence to support it.

A hooker with her throat slashed isn't going to automatically make the ME look for a 1/2" tattoo just above her left knee. It would likely get photographed, which might make for an interesting plot twist -- the tattoo looking different in a photograph making the MC/Protagonist/Whomever figure it out.

Depends upon how much the ME wants to look like an idiot in court.

As part of preparing the defense for a murder case, the prosecutor will deliver the autopsy report. The defense attorney will go through the report, looking at the details, looking for what isn't covered. To use your example of a hooker with a slashed throat. And my client is caught with a knife in his hand, dripping blood, running from the scene. And because my client is an idiot, he confessed.

Reality is I don't have a lot to work with in front of a jury. If I can attack the case by raising the possibility the victim was poisoned, which is not excluded because the doctor didn't a crappie job, I'm going to do it. Because all I need to do is raise a smidgen of reasonable doubt in the jury's mind.

How likely do you think the doctor is going to want to look like an idiot? Because everything he didn't do in his autopsy is going to make him look like the biggest hack job that ever wielded a knife.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

thothguard51
05-26-2012, 05:45 AM
Even to a casual observer, a new tat is much brighter in color than older tats. For that reason I suggest diluted inks that are NOT bright in color.

I will also assume the perp has plenty of time to perform this procedure.

dirtsider
05-28-2012, 03:14 PM
Or the perp could do the tat just before he kills the victim. This way, he leaves his calling card and mess with the victim's head at the same time.