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aguywhotypes
08-23-2018, 12:05 AM
My story focuses on a mother's son who goes missing.

unbeknownst to her, he washes up in a river or some other means in a big city on the east coast years later.

now is there a way authorities/morgue workers, etc COULD IDENTIFY him without any identity on him?

What I need in my story is for the son to get killed and then "processed" through the local morgue and gets embalmed without the parents knowing.
How could I realistically make this happen?
Or would a "John Doe" get cremated? I could make that work as well.

Thanks for any enlightenment.

jclarkdawe
08-23-2018, 12:20 AM
Unless his DNA is in the system, they can't identify him from his. However, a lot of missing people are having their relatives put DNA into the system on the off chance they find the person.

If he's been floating for a while, there's not much left you can do on identification other than dental and DNA. Fingerprints, tattoos, and other body marking remain for a while.

Unclaimed and unidentified bodies do not leave the morgue very quickly. Like months. The reason why is because let's say six months later they get a call it might be so and so and he's got a birthmark on his left thigh. You don't rely on the autopsy report, you go and look. Very, very carefully.

Unclaimed bodies are frequently cremated and would not be embalmed. Embalming is expensive.

Now bodies do get lost and the wrong body goes to the funeral home. Again, if he was a floater, he'd be a closed coffin (there's not a damn thing the embalmer can do with a floater to make them look good). A floater has to be seen to be believed and I'm not responsible for any nightmares you end up having.

Jim Clark-Dawe

cornflake
08-23-2018, 12:37 AM
My story focuses on a mother's son who goes missing.

unbeknownst to her, he washes up in a river or some other means in a big city on the east coast years later.

now is there a way authorities/morgue workers, etc COULD IDENTIFY him without any identity on him?

What I need in my story is for the son to get killed and then "processed" through the local morgue and gets embalmed without the parents knowing.
How could I realistically make this happen?
Or would a "John Doe" get cremated? I could make that work as well.

Thanks for any enlightenment.

There's a bunch happening here. Does she know he's missing? Did she look? Did she list him as missing anyplace?

First, identification, like crap in a wallet, is not a proper way to ID a body. It's a starting point to look into stuff, but it doesn't really mean anything concrete to the cops. I steal your wallet, then, overcome with grief, fling myself into a dormant volcano, would result in your death by that system see.

Actual ID is by biometrics -- superficially stuff like identifying scars, tattoos, then x-rays, prints, DNA, etc. Identifying a random body that way is possible if the records exist to match up to. The records exist if someone is looking for the person and has submitted info (and that info has been entered into a db that'll be hit by the searcher), or if info exists in a db for some reason or other (military, law enforcement, criminal, etc.).

Then -- John Does don't get disposed of in any manner until all avenues have been exhausted, generally, and ain't no one embalming a random corpse regardless, especially one pulled out of the drink.

aguywhotypes
08-23-2018, 04:13 AM
so the parents have a fairly good chance of finding out?

jclarkdawe
08-23-2018, 04:46 AM
so the parents have a fairly good chance of finding out?

Yes and no. It depends upon when this happens, and how long he's a floater.

First you need to understand how floaters happen, if no life jacket is involved. When a person dies in the water, he or she will initially have a slightly negative buoyancy. The body will sink until it reaches neutral buoyancy. In fresh water, the body will sink about 20 to 40 feet, subject to local conditions and body composition. Salt water will result in less sinking, and may even allow the body to float. As the body decomposes, gases will be released within the body. These gases will slowly cause the body to obtain positive buoyancy, and the body will gradually come to the surface. There the body will stay, until the gases escape and the body slowly sinks, eventually reaching the bottom.

But by the time a body comes to the surface, it will have some significant decomposition. This ignores the incredible food source a body is. It will also show anywhere up to significant animal damage.

Most floaters are easily identified because there aren't that many people in the possibility pool. Assuming the body is from an unlimited pool of possibilities, then the body becomes very difficult to identify. X-rays, dental records, and DNA are the only ways to identify. Dental records and X-rays become more and more problematic the longer the person has not been seen. DNA is unchanging, but like all of this, requires that the records are in the system.

Lots of efforts are made to identify John Does, but there are a lot of people who are still John Does.

Jim Clark-Dawe

cornflake
08-23-2018, 04:56 AM
so the parents have a fairly good chance of finding out?

It depends -- did they report him missing? How long ago? Did they keep up with it? Is he thought to be missing of his own accord or not? What kind of missing persons db is he in? What info is in the db? Are any of his biometrics in any general national db, like military? How long was he dead? How long was the body in the water? What type of department found him? You said east coast city, but that covers a lot of ground, to very, very competent and well-staffed, to Bob the sheriff and the town doc who doubles as the ME (I don't mean to suggest small towns have crap le, large great, or that a small-town sheriff or ME can't be super competent, they can, but the fewer people and the smaller the town, the odds you're getting people with a lot of experience go down). When was he found?

jclarkdawe
08-23-2018, 06:02 AM
If your stomach is very strong (repeat -- I'm not responsible for nightmares), here's a more detailed discussion of floaters -- https://www.ranker.com/list/underwater-decomposition-facts/natalie-hazen. The pictures will give you nightmares, but will show why ID becomes extremely difficult.

Jim Clark-Dawe

Siri Kirpal
08-23-2018, 07:07 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

A cousin of mine went to Thailand to help ID bodies after the mega-tsunami of 2004. He later reported that the easiest things to ID when someone's been in water a long time were their tattoos. In that case, there were so many there was a problem figuring out where to begin the DNA checks and that's one way they did it.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

ironmikezero
08-23-2018, 10:21 PM
Even if all currently available efforts to identify a body have been exhausted, quite a bit of information will have been gleaned (to possibly include a DNA profile) which will go into LE database. The case remains open indefinitely. Potential future inquiries (and/or tech advances) may provide links to a body that has not been previously identified. A lot of cold cases are closed in this manner.

Al X.
08-23-2018, 11:44 PM
You should follow the story of the East Bay Rapist. I'm glad he was caught, but just how he was caught is a little creepy. Basically, family ties through DNA samples submitted to genealogical testing services by others related to him.

aguywhotypes
08-24-2018, 12:01 AM
Well, maybe it's time I move on to another story idea.

My idea was something along the lines of this:
The mc who works in a morgue in a big city travels to a tiny town for a vacation to "get away from it all."
When there meets an old woman selling honey.
She buys some and takes it back to her motel.
The mc notices it has a face on the jar of honey and gets a sense of deja-vu about it.
Realizes it's a dead person she took care of in the morque.
She goes back the next day and talks to the old woman.
Finds out the old woman selling the honey is his son
and after they both talk about the old woman finally get a bit of closure on her son.

But as I can see this isn't as easy as that.

mewellsmfu
08-24-2018, 09:49 AM
Check out the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, UNT-CHI. It's a ground-breaking lab that has a number of programs where the goal is to identify unidentified bodies and, ultimately, reunite them with their families. Medical Examiners submit DNA samples, as do crime labs, which are then added to the UNT-CHI database. The lab also extracts DNA on some cases. They offer a (free to the families of missing persons) DNA collection process, usually administered through law enforcement agencies. It's simple—just a cheek swab—that they also put into their system. When DNA is submitted, they run it for a match. Their mission is to ID remains so they can be returned to the people who love them and aid LEOs in their investigations. They also have a program where they are trying to ID John and Jane Does buried in pauper's graves all across the country. It's slow-going, though, because it's not well-funded and cemeteries charge a lot of exhume those bodies for testing. They were instrumental in identifying the victims of Pinochet's massacres when the bodies were exhumed from mass graves Art Eisenberg, who pioneered the program, is one of the leading DNA experts in the world. He was instrumental in IDing the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. You can read a little about them here: https://www.unthsc.edu/newsroom/story/unt-center-for-human-identification-to-perform-dna-analysis-on-remains-from-florida-reform-school-2/

Also, NamUs, a national database that can be accessed by LEOs, ME's and the general public, is a method for entering information about the existence of physical evidence from unidentified bodies and missing persons that will inform other agencies that DNA is on file. ME's and LEO's have a different access platforms than the public. It was established when ME's realized they had no way of sharing information between jurisdictions.

Both have been very successful in identifying remains.

cornflake
08-24-2018, 10:15 AM
Well, maybe it's time I move on to another story idea.

My idea was something along the lines of this:
The mc who works in a morgue in a big city travels to a tiny town for a vacation to "get away from it all."
When there meets an old woman selling honey.
She buys some and takes it back to her motel.
The mc notices it has a face on the jar of honey and gets a sense of deja-vu about it.
Realizes it's a dead person she took care of in the morque.
She goes back the next day and talks to the old woman.
Finds out the old woman selling the honey is his son
and after they both talk about the old woman finally get a bit of closure on her son.

But as I can see this isn't as easy as that.

Not for nothing, but that's not deja vu.

That scenario doesn't make sense to me, no, I don't think. That she'd connect a photo on a honey jar to a body pulled out of the water is.... unlikely at best.

Then to just presume her feeling that she recognizes the face from the thousands upon thousands of bodies as a random one, go to ask the woman, who says it's a pic of her son who's missing -- what is she going to say happened to the body? She won't know. The answer is either it's there or call the cops. The woman would call the cops.

The answer would never, ever be 'I saw that face on a random body, I swear that was it. No one knew who it was, so we cremated it. Oh well.' 'Thanks, always wondered.' Completely never, on so many levels.

jclarkdawe
08-24-2018, 04:13 PM
I'm wondering if the OP has ever seen a dead body, either in situ or at a morgue. The bodies that you see at a funeral service are heavily made up and don't really resemble a natural body. It's like an actress made up for a photo shoot and what she looks like when she wakes up. This assumes a body that is showing no decomposition.

However, a variation on the OP's second proposal could work out very nicely. But it can't be based upon facial recognition. I've seen dead family and friends and have even done confirmation that the body in the coffin is the correct body. Yes, they're the same, but they're not. The less work that has been done on the body the more noticeable this is. The classic eyes closed and jaw shut is not necessarily natural. My grandmother, in death, had an angry expression that I'd never seen from her. Considering she died while being snowed with morphine, I doubt she was angry when she died. (I doubt she was even aware of her death.)

Bodies in a morgue are always in their natural state, which may include significant animal, weather, and decomposition deterioration.

However, as Siri Karpal points out, tattoos can be a wonderful identification method. But you need to understand how a tattoo is used for identification. Tattoos have identification points, such as "a picture of an eagle, approximately three inches tall, with wings extended, and facing to the right" located on "the left bicep, approximately two inches above the elbow." This works well with most tattoos, as they are a recognizable image, and even abstract images are so frequently used repeatedly that they have identification.

This information is recorded during the autopsy and pictures are taken. If you file a missing person report, the authorities can check against the registry of dead bodies. In other words, your missing person has an eagle tattoo. If you don't have a picture showing the tattoo, then the authorities can show you pictures of tattoos found on bodies that are consistent in their biometrics to your missing person. This process has a fairly high success right.

However, every so often, a tattoo defies description. I remember one that was described as a splotch, consisting of several colors, with size and location recorded. These are next to impossible to figure out how to describe in a way that other people can see and recognize. Damage to the tattoo can increase the problem.

So I could see a morgue worker remember a unique tattoo and recognizing it on a bottle of honey. Understand that a body with a large number of tattoos would not meet the criteria here. It would have to be one tattoo, impossible to describe in any sort of meaningful way. You'd have to understand tattoos for this to make sense. I'd find that believable.

Jim Clark-Dawe

Masel
08-24-2018, 10:34 PM
What about forensic facial reconstruction.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forensic_facial_reconstruction

This wouldn't be any old local coroner however. Doing the 2D or 3D reconstruction is fairly specialized work.

jclarkdawe
08-24-2018, 11:53 PM
Facial reconstruction has its uses, but basically takes the pool of possibilities from millions to thousands. It's not recognized by the courts, and there's a strong potential that biases have been introduced that will distort the image. But it does narrow down the pool of possibilities and when you're getting nowhere, that's always a good thing.

Jim Clark-Dawe