As some of you may recall I mentioned awhile ago that I was going on a course this past week. This is the primary cause that I've been quiet (no posts or comments) for the past week, between getting ready to go on the course, going on the course, and catching up from going on the course.
The Course was called Sudden Death Investigations, and turned out to be a very interesting course, albeit a somewhat morbid, hope you have a strong stomach type of course (lots of pictures).
The course was run by the Medical Examiner's office and the local police force (primarily their homicide unit). It was mostly aimed at police officers and medical personnel, but a few prosecutors were there as well. Me and one other prosecutor from my office went on the course.
The course was a week long, survey type course, dealing with a variety of topics on causes of death, identifying bodies, how bodies decompose, collecting and using forensic evidence, etc... Of course in this day and age it also had a session on dealing with the press.
Overall quite a fascinating course, and an interesting cross section of individuals and agencies present.
Of particular interest to me was that, as an attend type course (no tests or the like, no attendance recording etc), the organizers took some pains to try and keep attendance up. The primary way they did this was through door prizes and a hospitality suite. Drawing for prizes was after each break and at the end of the day. If the ticket and the person owning it weren't in the room they drew another ticket. I wouldn't have expected that they would have needed to do that to get people to show up for sessions, but they did anyway. I also talked to one of the organizers about the prizes. Apparently they have had the door prizes since the first time they ran the course, so they have no non-door prize courses to compare attendence against.
The hospitality suite was also a nice touch, as many of these course serve a secondary function as networking opportunities, and chatting over a beer is as good a way as any to get to meet new people in the field.
One last observation is that, almost uniformly, the presenters who work with bodies as part of their jobs have very morbid senses of humour, as do most people in policing professions (prosecutors too). The Chief medical examiner opened each session for the first couple days with a recital of a Darwin award, or a case that he had dealt with that might be a candidate.
All in all, a good week, and now I have a million things to do to get ready for a couple of big cases I have coming up in the next couple months. And I have to take a few minutes to go back over a couple of cases I'm in the middle of, the ones that I now have a little better grasp of some of the evidence involved, and want to take a fresh look at...
Dude, you can't take a course like that and then not tell us something interesting about the way bodies decompose, or how long it takes the average person to die after a gunshot, or some of the Darwin awards. I'm glad they gave out door prizes, but really, how many people drop dead from no apparent cause while walking down the street? Just how unrecognizable is a body that's been floating around a while? How much weight can a body that's been decomposing underwater lift from the gases that accumulate (in other words how heavy should those cement shoes be, if you really want to keep the corpse down)? Yucky but fascinating. What were some of the door prizes? WHat's a hospitality suite?
by chris at May 12, 2004 6:50 PM
Chris, maybe this is the line of work for you!
A friend of mine works for the L.A. Coroner's Office. He got my brother a shirt from the Coroner's Office gift shop... the back has a chalk body outline and says "Our day begins when yours ends."
by jean at May 13, 2004 1:37 AM
I smell dead people.
by anna at May 13, 2004 7:36 AM
Chris, the part of the course that was most morbidly interesting was the way that they have to fingerprint some of the bodies...
Apparently when the body starts to decompose it bloats up, and the skin, espcially from the extremities, hands etc, slips off. In that case they have to soak the skin (if dry, otherwise not) place it over the fingers of a rubber glove, with a police officer's hand (most commonly) inside, and then take the fingerprints.
If the skin hasn't sloughed, and the hands are too dry, they will cut off the fingers, soak them to bring the fingers to the appropriate size and then roll each finger individually across the ink and then the fingerprint surface. ick.
Perhaps I will make a seperate post just to satisfy your morbid curiousity Chris.
Anna, apparently if you've smelt dead people you would know, as its described as a smell that you will never forget, and that will likely wake you up at night.
by chuckwoolery at May 13, 2004 4:45 PM
I can't believe the coroner's office has a gift shop.
That reminds me of a new idea I had the other day. I haven't tried it out on anyone yet, so let me do it now and see what you all think. Ready? here goes:
Let's make money off dead people! I'm not sure how (ask Halliburton) or when (at least since 2000), or even why (re-election/personal gain) but if anyone is interested, shoot me (whitehouse.gov) an email!
by lajoie at May 17, 2004 4:19 PM
I am interested in taking a death investigation course & becoming a death investigator for a coroner's office. How did you get info on taking this course?
by Elizabeth Brooks at July 20, 2005 8:33 PM