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View Full Version : How would a body be unidentifiable?



Hilary1
03-29-2014, 02:39 AM
Disregard pls

Cath
03-29-2014, 03:23 AM
You'd need to remove any of the things needed to identify a body. Obviously a wallet or anything he's carrying that could identify him would need to go. Fingerprints, teeth, and possibly DNA might also be used if the police were motivated enough*. I wouldn't be convinced that a gun would do a sufficient job.


* everything I know I learned from TV or novels, so I may be corrected.

benbenberi
03-29-2014, 03:41 AM
What's the setting for the story? "Unidentifiable" is a lot harder to achieve today than it was in pre-DNA-testing times. Even fingerprints & dental records have been in use for identification for over a century, though there are weaknesses in the method. It makes a difference if you mean unidentifiable ever, or just unidentifiable for a limited (short) period of time.

Can you do it with a gunshot? Probably not by itself, though I suppose with the right weapon Killer could make a good mess of the body. If it decomposes before discovery, identification is a lot more problematic than with a fresh corpse, though still, DNA.

Assuming another person's identity is another thing that used to be a lot easier than it is now. But it is a thing that has been known to happen. So your guy could potentially pull it off, at least for a while, if he has a clever author in his corner.

King Neptune
03-29-2014, 03:43 AM
I don't remember much about the case, but a body was found somewhere from which the hands and head had been removed. The body couldn't be identified, because there was no DNA that matched, so no fingerprints and no face. That may have been one that Whitey Bulger had something to do with, but he mostly just hid the bodies.

here's one
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/02/14/nj-muslim-man-accused-of-cutting-off-victims-heads-and-hands-in-grisly-murder-case/

King Neptune
03-29-2014, 03:48 AM
Another
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/29/wyoming-decapitation/5044907/

jclarkdawe
03-29-2014, 03:57 AM
It depends.

Tattoos, scars, and broken bones are a big help in identification. DNA, if available, is useful. Long time dead really makes it difficult. Question is whether you want to delay identification or make it impossible.

Quick, dirty approach is a 12 gauge shotgun blast to the face with the right load will pretty much destroy the face and jaw. Gasoline and a match will take care of fingerprints.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Hilary1
03-29-2014, 04:08 AM
Can you do it with a gunshot? Probably not by itself, though I suppose with the right weapon Killer could make a good mess of the body.

What if, for instance, the victim suffered gunshot wounds to the head that disfigured the body?

Trebor1415
03-29-2014, 04:26 AM
For a gunshot wound to the head to make a body totally unidentifiable you'd want something like multiple shotgun blasts. Even if the facial features were damaged you'd want to make sure to destroy enough actual skull structure to make reconstructing the face difficult if not impossible. It could be done, especially if the shooter was specifically trying for that result.

Now, in general, just a pistol shot to the face wouldn't be enough to make the identity unrecoverable. I mean, he might not be identifiable due to the damage (or he might still be), even to someone who knows him, but unless enough of the skull and facial structure was destoyed they could reconstruct the features, if they made the effort.

The whole scenario works better if the person has never been fingerprinted. That means he can't have ever been arrested, or held a job that required fingerprints (which sometimes includes things like child care workers), was an attorney, had been in the military, etc. If he's been fingerprinted he would eventually be able to be ID'd. It's just a matter of eventually running him through the right databases. (Not all are online though and sometimes this involves physicial comparisions, which takes forever).

benbenberi
03-29-2014, 04:35 AM
Gunshot wounds to the head (disfiguring the head & face, not the rest of the body unless you're shooting straight down from the top!) would make identification more complicated but not impossible, esp. if there are any other identifying elements present. Tattoos, scars, birthmarks, recognizable body features, etc. could still be used, esp. if the people looking at the body have some idea whose body they might be looking at.

BaneStryfe
03-29-2014, 04:36 AM
What if, for instance, the victim suffered gunshot wounds to the head that disfigured the body?

A gunshot from a pistol alone would be unlikely to do this effectively, though one idea that came to me while I was reading this article was to use a hollow-point ammunition and shoot the victim in the back of the head so the exit wound helps to destroy the face. I have no idea if this would actually work as effectively as my imagination thinks it might, but short of using a shotgun or torching the body it is at least an idea.

Personally, if your Man A wants to pretend to be Man B, then it might be best to have Man B disappear and not be found, and Man A to assume B's identity. If you really must have Man A appear to have died, there are ways such as driving cars off of bridges or torching Man A's car with B's body inside, making sure the fire is hot enough to make identification difficult. Mess with the teeth to make dental records ineffective, and make sure fingerprints are burned off or fingers removed or something. Though if you don't want cops looking too closely, then you can't make it too obvious you wanted to obfuscate the identity.

Of course, I could be thinking waaaaay to much into this. My bad.

valerielynn
03-29-2014, 05:39 AM
I don't think a gunshot wound could do this unless he was shot in the face. But even then it might be hard to believe. Your best bet for a body to be unidentifiable would be a if your character were trapped in a fire or an explosion.

cornflake
03-29-2014, 05:45 AM
What if, for instance, the victim suffered gunshot wounds to the head that disfigured the body?

Gunshot wounds to the head won't do anything to the body, and many people are identifiable by physical characteristics, not to mention finger and footprints.

If the authorities believe they know who it is, they'll likely seek to confirm that through DNA if there's no other means (in the fire-type scenario, not likely the gunshot), in which case, you're kind of sunk. You have to go very, very far to be able to really do this.

A woodchipper victim was identified by a fragment found in the soil. Very, very far.

BaneStryfe
03-29-2014, 06:00 AM
The problem with DNA - and to a lesser extent fingerprints - is that the TV shows make them out to be 100% accurate and foolproof most of the time when they aren't quite as effective as that.

For one thing, unless a person is in a DNA database such as for armed forces, criminal record, etc. then DNA won't give a match of any sort. Same with fingerprints. If a person hadn't been fingerprinted then they will not be in any database that law enforcement would search. Fingerprinting is most commonly done for, obviously, criminals as well as certain jobs and other situations.

Secondly more often than not most police stations don't have forensic labs, and even morgues won't have the ability to actually run any sort of DNA test therefore they would have to send it out to a third-party lab which could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks depending on what sort of backlog that lab has. This is actually played well in the first episode of a TV show called Castle when the cops actually tell him that it could be a week or so before they get a DNA match and he calls the mayor to get is rushed through. Though it's never mentioned again afterwards.

Fingerprints are a lot faster, usually that can be done at the station/morgue or whatever. But again, no guarantees that fingerprints will be effective.

...and of course it depends where you are. Rural northern Canada would take a lot longer to get a DNA test or whatever as opposed much larger places like New York or Los Angeles or something

cornflake
03-29-2014, 06:04 AM
The problem with DNA - and to a lesser extent fingerprints - is that the TV shows make them out to be 100% accurate and foolproof most of the time when they aren't quite as effective as that.

For one thing, unless a person is in a DNA database such as for armed forces, criminal record, etc. then DNA won't give a match of any sort. Same with fingerprints. If a person hadn't been fingerprinted then they will not be in any database that law enforcement would search. Fingerprinting is most commonly done for, obviously, criminals as well as certain jobs and other situations.

Secondly more often than not most police stations don't have forensic labs, and even morgues won't have the ability to actually run any sort of DNA test therefore they would have to send it out to a third-party lab which could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks depending on what sort of backlog that lab has. This is actually played well in the first episode of a TV show called Castle when the cops actually tell him that it could be a week or so before they get a DNA match and he calls the mayor to get is rushed through. Though it's never mentioned again afterwards.

Fingerprints are a lot faster, usually that can be done at the station/morgue or whatever. But again, no guarantees that fingerprints will be effective.

I didn't take the OP's question as relating to an unsub, but to a theoretically known person whose identity the authorities were seeking to confirm.

If that's the case, presumably, there's no issue finding biometric identifiers for comparison.

If the OP meant the authorities were attempting to identify a body by attaching to something in a db, then yeah.

BaneStryfe
03-29-2014, 06:06 AM
I didn't take the OP's question as relating to an unsub, but to a theoretically known person whose identity the authorities were seeking to confirm.

If that's the case, presumably, there's no issue finding biometric identifiers for comparison.

If the OP meant the authorities were attempting to identify a body by attaching to something in a db, then yeah.

Fair enough. My apologies, didn't mean to step on your toes.

And you are very correct, if they are in the system in any way, it's hard not to identify them.

RhodaD'Ettore
03-29-2014, 06:15 AM
As another poster said, it depends on your setting / time period.

Today, even if a person's DNA is not in the system, they could have familial DNA in the system. Meaning that if the brother of a dead man happened to have been convicted of a crime, then the DNA would register. So many more jobs today need fingerprinting, so even if the person had never been arrested, if they were a postal worker or other civil servant, had certain certificates, had firearms licenses, etc.. their fingerprints would be on file.

Also, things such as pace makers, steel rods, hip/knee replacements all have serial numbers. So that means that you would have to tackle that issue in the writing and specifically have the coroner state: This man has no broken bones, diseases, replacements, no tattoos, scars, nothing.

I would believe it much more in the past... say 1870 or so (even Scotland Yard had fingerprints with Jack the ripper in 1888)

wendymarlowe
03-29-2014, 06:18 AM
"UNidentified" is very different than "MISidentified." Unidentifiable is hard - there are all sorts of ways to ID a body, ranging from easy and cheap to time-consuming and expensive. The trick to having a body MISidentified is to make the easy/cheap ways point to the wrong conclusion, and providing enough easy/cheap ways that the long/expensive ways won't ever be used.

- pick a jurisdiction which is underfunded as a dumping ground for the body, so the authorities don't have the time/budget/equipment to do a thorough job

- set up the scene to look like a really common case - gang violence, drug overdose, etc. Bonus if it's something we typically blame the victim for ("If he didn't want to get shot by his dealer, he shouldn't have been a druggie!") so the police don't particularly feel pulled to investigate further.

- make the body itself hard to identify, but make the surrounding scene easy. Drowned corpse with no fingerprints, but in a waterlogged car registered to Man A and carrying Man A's wallet, driven off a bridge near Man A's house during a heavy storm - that kind of thing. The authorities won't bother doing fancy DNA testing if the answer seems obvious.

- make it low stakes. If Man A and Man B are rich and/or famous, there is going to be more pressure to be *sure.* If they're poor, homeless, socioeconomically disadvantaged, foreigners, etc, nobody's going to be breathing down the authorities' necks and there's not going to be much (if any) press coverage.

cornflake
03-29-2014, 06:33 AM
Fair enough. My apologies, didn't mean to step on your toes.

And you are very correct, if they are in the system in any way, it's hard not to identify them.

You didn't, I was just trying to clarify. I didn't mean in the system - I read it as it's thought to be Bob, but it's not like they can ask for a family member to make a physical ID, so...

I dunno, hopefully OP will clarify so ppl can answer better.

Hilary1
03-29-2014, 07:27 AM
You didn't, I was just trying to clarify. I didn't mean in the system - I read it as it's thought to be Bob, but it's not like they can ask for a family member to make a physical ID, so...

I dunno, hopefully OP will clarify so ppl can answer better.


To clarify, they will not be in the system for crime or their job (so no fingerprints or DNA stored).

What if, for instance, later someone discovers they suffered a fracture to their foot in their childhood? Then upon examination of the autopsy, they discover the body discovered did not have any sign of a past fracture, thus leading them to realise it is not the man they thought it was.

Would that work?

cornflake
03-29-2014, 07:34 AM
To clarify, they will not be in the system for crime or their job (so no fingerprints or DNA stored).

What if, for instance, later someone discovers they suffered a fracture to their foot in their childhood? Then upon examination of the autopsy, they discover the body discovered did not have any sign of a past fracture, thus leading them to realise it is not the man they thought it was.

Would that work?

That's kind of related to the question at hand - are the authorities trying to confirm identification or trying to identify an unknown body?

Like, they think it's Person A and are trying to confirm it's him, or do they just have a body and have no idea who it might be and are trying to figure that out without any info?

If it's the former, the foot thing should be a primary identifier if there's not the ability to do a visual identification. Same as tattoos, marks, etc.

If it's the latter, yeah but that'd have to come up somehow.

Hilary1
03-29-2014, 07:39 AM
That's kind of related to the question at hand - are the authorities trying to confirm identification or trying to identify an unknown body?

Like, they think it's Person A and are trying to confirm it's him, or do they just have a body and have no idea who it might be and are trying to figure that out without any info?



Oh, I get what you're asking.

So they discover a body, and are trying to figure out who it is, based on the knowledge that he is an employee at a certain company (as this is where the murder occurs, and he is suspected to be an employee).

jclarkdawe
03-29-2014, 07:48 AM
Very narrow pool of possibilities. Next to impossible for the authorities not to come up with a positive ID within two months.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

cornflake
03-29-2014, 07:54 AM
Oh, I get what you're asking.

So they discover a body, and are trying to figure out who it is, based on the knowledge that he is an employee at a certain company (as this is where the murder occurs, and he is suspected to be an employee).

How do they know the murder occurred there? Where was the body? How many employees are there? What kind of company?

I'm asking because I'm trying to figure out what'd work and it's different.

If it's a super-secure, small, tech-based company, with like 15 employees, cameras everyplace, no one in or out without a biometric scan or something, it'd be fairly simple to determine if it's an employee. First, there are only 15, so find them all or not. If not, then try that. If you do, then there's a problem and you go to the security to figure it out first.

If they find someone in an out-of-the-way area of a big department store, during open hours, and the body could have been there over two different shifts, it's much harder to figure if it's an employee or a member of the public. Takes way longer to track down workers, much more complex if it isn't one, etc.

There are going to be different means of investigation, if you see what I mean, depending. Though I might be misunderstanding your scenario entirely.

Hendo
03-30-2014, 02:21 AM
You would really be better off just having him get rid of the body to the point where it can't be found. Although some crime labs are highly inept...

benbenberi
03-30-2014, 02:39 AM
Yep. The most unidentifiable body is the one that nobody's trying to identify.

King Neptune
03-30-2014, 02:52 AM
The question just posed may be important. Is it important that the body ever be identified? I don't know the setting, but there are places where crabs and other sea life consume anything that gets left in the water. There would still be large bones, but there wouldn't be much left to identify.

MDSchafer
03-30-2014, 03:02 AM
Unidentified bodies happen more often than you might think. One resource you might want to try is the Doe Network. They have extensive case files online about bodies that haven't been identified. I used to dig through the website during slow news weeks looking for feature crime stories. The most common thing I remember is that most of the unidentified bodies were skeletal/mummified remains that weren't discovered for a period of time outside. It's not uncommon for dental, DNA and finger prints to be available.

http://www.doenetwork.org/

King Neptune
03-30-2014, 03:35 AM
Unidentified bodies happen more often than you might think. One resource you might want to try is the Doe Network. They have extensive case files online about bodies that haven't been identified. I used to dig through the website during slow news weeks looking for feature crime stories. The most common thing I remember is that most of the unidentified bodies were skeletal/mummified remains that weren't discovered for a period of time outside. It's not uncommon for dental, DNA and finger prints to be available.

http://www.doenetwork.org/

Thanks for the link. I think this answers all of the OP's questions. I hadn't realized there was something like this.

Hilary1
03-30-2014, 06:46 AM
How do they know the murder occurred there? Where was the body? How many employees are there? What kind of company?

If it's a super-secure, small, tech-based company, with like 15 employees, cameras everyplace, no one in or out without a biometric scan or something, it'd be fairly simple to determine if it's an employee. First, there are only 15, so find them all or not. If not, then try that. If you do, then there's a problem and you go to the security to figure it out first.

If they find someone in an out-of-the-way area of a big department store, during open hours, and the body could have been there over two different shifts, it's much harder to figure if it's an employee or a member of the public. Takes way longer to track down workers, much more complex if it isn't one, etc.


It'd be more like the latter.