Personal Effects

Clothing and property associated with dead bodies play a vital role not only in identification process but also for interpretation of injuries. Clothing can assist in deducing the direction of force, severity and pattern of injury, presence of trace evidences like gunpowder, and also gives an idea on the type of weapon used.

In many cases, especially hospital deaths, the bodies may arrive to the mortuary covered in hospital sheets, with no clothing. The doctor should request to examine the clothing worn by the victim at the time of the incident, where possible. Hospital personnel should also be instructed that clothing removed during treatment should not be destroyed and should be stored. All belongings should be sent along with the body to the mortuary.

All mortuary personnel should be informed of the importance of clothing and properties in investigation of death and a system established within the mortuary, to retain and store all clothing and properties of the deceased. During autopsy, the contents of the pockets, like ID cards, documents, keys, ornaments, etc. should be noted in a log and the police informed. These items may help in solving some part of the puzzle.

While examining injuries to bodies, the tears and stains on the clothes should also be analyzed. Samples like blood, saliva and seminal fluids can be of vital importance to forensic laboratory and their collection from clothing may be vital to the case. In other cases gunpowder residues may be found on clothing. Similarly, in traffic fatalities, tearing of the clothes, grease marks, road dirt, broken lamp or windscreen glass, and even metallic or paint fragments from the vehicle may all assist in reconstructing the event and even in identifying the vehicle. Other associated objects that may be helpful include medicines, which may assist in determining the nature of the disease the deceased suffered from. In some suicides, empty drug or poison containers may have been brought with the body. Other helpful artifacts include hearing aids, syringes, external pacemakers, inhalers etc.

The clothing must be removed carefully and, especially in criminal or suspicious cases, the doctor should supervise and assist the mortuary technician, especially as some technicians are not always aware of the importance of clothing in the reconstruction of events.

It is best to remove clothing by pulling over the head and limbs, unless this might interfere with any injuries or stains. If rigor is intense or if there is blood on the face or hands, it may be advisable to cut off some or all of the clothing. This should be done after consultation with the forensic scientists, if they are present, so that the cuts will be made to least interfere with laboratory examinations. In any event, cuts should avoid passing through pre-existing damage or staining of the garments. Each item of the clothing should be placed separately into a paper bag.