The Crime Writers' Association


Post Mortems! by RC Bridgestock

The basic purpose of a post-mortem in a police enquiry………


A mortuary was never a place on my ‘wish list’ to visit but as a police investigator it was a necessary part of my role. Some senior investigators choose to delegate this task – not me. It is my view as a SIO you need to see this procedure firsthand to know what you are dealing with.


We have all no doubt heard the word post-mortem or an autopsy as the procedure is sometimes known in the various media.But what is it?


The Coroner is bound by law to carry out a post-mortem when a death is deemed to be suspicious,sudden or unnatural.The Coroner will also decide if an inquest is necessary.(See next blog with regard to, ‘the purpose of an inquest.’)


Forensic Pathologists are the experts who perform the procedure to ascertain the cause of a death.Causation is a term readily used.They will have strong medical backgrounds.


Studying the dead obviously isn’t for everyone.


The post-mortem is of paramount importance to the investigator during homicide investigations and a great catalyst in bringing the perpetrator(s) before the Court.


As a young police officer attending a post-mortem for the first time was somewhat overwhelming due to what was taking place accompanied by the lingering smell.It was not an easy task to cope with.However during my thirty years experience as a police officer it was a place I would be required to visit on numerous occasions,even more so in my latter years as a Senior Investigating Officer taking charge of numerous murder investigations.


As a Detective Superintendent I have stood alongside some eminent pathologists as they have diligently carried out these procedures which can take hours and enquiries into multiple deaths

days.Body tapings,samples of hair cut and pulled,blood,urine samples,nail scrapings,swabs taken etc ,but each case is dealt with as an individual one and location discovered may dictate other samples. i.e. soil,pollen,water etc.


Equipped with the knowledge of how,when,where and what caused a persons death is a great catalyst for the investigators.Understanding what type and size of weapon caused an injury,coupled with the angle of the attack is of paramount importance.Also to know whether an injury was caused prior to,during or after the death of the victim.


On occasions Forensic pathologists are called to the ‘Murder scene’ to examine the body in situ,before it is transferred to the mortuary for a post-mortem. This is to assist to interpret, what is likely to have taken place before the corpse is moved to the mortuary and of course was this the ‘murder site’ or a ‘dump site”?


When the pathologist does not attend the scene then the first time he or she sees the body is at the mortuary.The senior investigating officer will narrate the identity if known of the victim,also when and where found and in what circumstances.


Even when a murderer(s) are believed to have been meticulous in their planning evidence will be

still be found.


Investigations are a transparent search for the truth,a post-mortem assists in proving someones innocence as well as guilt.When a person is charged a second post-mortem is carried out by the deference to ensure the facts are as previously discovered.




Related articles