Skeletal remains are all that is left of a corpse after nature has taken its course and has disposed of skin, tissue, and any other organ that may cover the skeletal frame.
Discovering Skeletal Remains
For the most part skeletal remains are found long after a victim has died and this may be because the body has been disposed of in order to cover up the perpetration of a crime. In this way it is usually murder that is the crime and the body has been hidden to disguise the fact that a murder has been committed – intentionally or otherwise.
Skeletal remains are normally found buried in shallow graves; again the modus operandi of a killer who has not intended to murder their victim and has decided on a whim to dispose of the body. These shallow graves are usually to be found in out of the way places such as marshland, forests, wooded areas or any other area where the volume of human traffic passing through it is small.
A skeleton will take a long time to become just that, given that previously the human form has surrounded it; by the time a skeleton has been uncovered it may have been buried for weeks, months or even years depending on the climate, the surrounding environment and also the existence of so-called ‘Forensic Fauna’ (insects, feeding animals etc).
A body buried in a peat bog for example may be perfectly preserved upon exhumation as has been the case for many cadavers of pre-historic man.
Once the body has reached the skeletal stage all that remains are bones, teeth and hair and from these DNA samples can be gathered in order to try and make identification. Likewise the teeth that are left can be used to check against corresponding dental records.
A skeleton will also be able to provide clues to the identity of its former self by displaying cracks and fractures in arms and legs that can be traced back to childhood injuries. Also these cracks and fractures can also be used in order to build up a detailed picture of how the victim died.
Holes to the skull can sometimes show that the victim has been either beaten around the head area, sustained a single heavy blow associated with blunt force trauma or has been shot in the head.
Depending on the nature of the hole, its size, shape and diameter, the pathologist, with the aid of a forensic anthropologist, will endeavour to make a positive identification and also determine how and when the victim met their untimely demise.
Skeletal remains can often also give clues to sex, race and in some instances country of origin as advances in forensic science have allowed us to extract mineral samples from the bones and cross reference them against the various drinking waters to be found across the globe.
This can be useful if the individual is someone from another country who has perhaps not been reported as missing because they are in a country illegally or simply because there are no other means of identification.