Discovery Guides Areas


The Medicolegal Death Investigator
An Evolution in Crime Scene Investigations Relating to Unexpected Deaths

(Released October 2008)

  by Emil Moldovan  


Key Citations

Visual Resources

News Articles

News News Articles
Historical Newspapers

News Article Excerpts

  1. Students learn to dig up facts: Radford course teaches budding death investigators
    Rex Bowman Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.
    McClatchy - Tribune Business News 03-30-2008

    Mar. 30--DUBLIN The dozen or so Radford University students who had dispersed across a field here yesterday to find the unmarked graves of dead animals knew a decomposing carcass had been discovered when Stephanie Nunez screamed.

    "Oh, God, that smells bad," said Nunez's classmate, Aimee Scott, 22, of Fredericksburg, as she peered into the hole she had helped dig to stare at the rotting remains of a cat. And so it went yesterday in Radford adjunct professor Emil Moldovan's "body dig," an unusual extra-credit field trip he designed by burying dead animals in the 5-acre field behind his house and challenging students in his "medicolegal death investigation" class to find the burial sites and dig up the creatures.

    "My goal is to expose them to the techniques that an investigator uses," Moldovan said.

    The students were somewhat prepared for the grotesque nature of the assignment: They have spent the semester listening to Moldovan spin tales of the sundry mangled bodies he saw and handled when he worked as a death investigator in the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office. For instance, there's the story about the man who hanged himself in a hotel room, in front of him a book on knot- tying, the book open to the page on how to tie a hangman's knot.

    The office where Moldovan, 65, worked for seven years is one of the nation's busiest. . . .

  2. Forensic Medicine; New research on forensic medicine from J.K. Pinckard and co-authors summarized
    Life Science Weekly 11-13-2007

    2007 NOV 13 - ( -- "The medical examiner community plays a key role in the organ and tissue procurement process for transplantation. Since many, if not most, potential organ or tissue donors fall under medicolegal jurisdiction, the medical examiner bears responsibility to authorize or deny the procurement of organs or tissues on a case-by-case basis," investigators in the United States report.

    "This responsibility engenders a basic dichotomy for the medical examiner's decision-making process. In cases failing under his/her jurisdiction, the medical examiner must balance the medicolegal responsibility centered on the decedent with the societal responsibility to respect the wishes of the decedent and/or next of kin to help living patients. Much has been written on this complex issue in both the forensic pathology and the transplantation literature. Several studies and surveys of medical examiner practices, as well as suggested protocols for handling certain types of cases, are available for reference when concerns arise that procurement may potentially hinder medicolegal death investigation. . . .

  3. Unauthorized Border Crossings and Migrant Deaths: Arizona, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, 2002-2003
    Sapkota, Sanjeeb; Kohl, Harold W III; Gilchrist, Julie; McAuliffe, Jay; Et al
    American Journal of Public Health 07-01-2006

    Objectives. We examined the major causes of and risk factors for death among migrants who died while making unauthorized border crossings into the United States from Mexico.

    Methods. Decedents were included in the study if (1) their remains were found between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2003, in any US county along the 650-mi (1040-km) section of the US-Mexican border from Yuma, Ariz, to El Paso, Tex; (2) their immigration status was unauthorized; and (3) they were believed to have died during transit from Mexico to the United States. Characteristics of the decedents and causes of and risk factors for their deaths were examined.

    Results. Among the 409 decedents meeting our inclusion criteria, environmental heat exposure (n=250; 61.1%) was the leading cause of death, followed by vehicle crashes (n=33; 8.1%) and drownings (n=24; 5.9%). Male decedents (n=298; 72.8%) outnumbered female decedents (n=105; 25.6%) nearly 3 to 1. More than half of the decedents were known to be Mexican nationals (n=235; 57.5%) and were aged 20 to 39 years (n=213; 52.0%); the nationality of 148 (36.2%) decedents was undetermined.

    Conclusions. Deaths among migrants making unauthorized crossings of the US-Mexican border are due to causes that are largely preventable. . . .

  4. Forensic pathology: Separating fact from fiction
    Johnson, Deborah G
    Medical Laboratory Observer; MLO 08-01-2003

    Not since Quincy, M.E. has there been such interest in forensic science and the medico-legal system. A proliferation of television programs and movies, both documentary and fiction, claim to show viewers the behind-the-scenes activities of forensic pathologists and scientists. These "miracle workers" supposedly can find that crucial bit of evidence that ties the perpetrator to the crime, allowing for the perp's discovery, arrest and conviction - all in 60 minutes (50, not counting commercials). Those of us who work in this field, therefore, find that when we are called to court to testify, we must overcome many misconceptions about what can and cannot be attested to. We often disappoint jurors - not to mention the attorneys who subpoena us - who wonder if doctors or criminalists are behind the times; otherwise, we would speak with more decisiveness about the time of death, the time of injury, or even the cause and manner of death, as do those famous fictional pathologists and scientists.

    Television depictions of forensic disciplines - whether it is one of the criminalists in CSI or Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh in Crossing Jordan - give the impression that the main character alone does the work that 10 or 20 other people together do in the real world. In reality, many experts are summoned to help on each case. Most forensic pathologists and criminalists do not go around chasing after and interviewing suspects. . . .

News Articles taken from ProQuest's eLibrary.

Historical Newspapers

  1. The Shanty Death Investigation.
    New York Times, New York, N.Y.: Aug 30, 1871 pg. 1

    Abstract (Article Summary)
    Further testimony was taken, yesterday, in the Coroner's investigation of the circumstances attending the death of MARGARET GERRY, who died from the effects of a gangrenous wound said to have been inflicted by ANN FOLEY, with whom she quarreled some time ago.

    Original Article (PDF)

    Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Ill.: Oct 31, 1901 pg. 2

    Abstract (Article Summary)
    Jane Toppan, a professional nurse, 45 years old, was lodged in jail here tonight on the charge of murdering by poison Mrs. Mary Davis Gibbs, sister of the wife of Harry Gordon of Chicago. Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Gordon and their father and mother all four died. . . .

    Original Article (PDF)

    Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Ill.: May 17, 1923 pg. 2

    Abstract (Article Summary)
    The Leighton Mount death investigation yesterday turned up a series of "important leads," but by the time the day was over most of the "hot tips" had developed into will o' the wisps.

    Original Article (PDF)

Taken from ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.