Range of firing estimation on badly decomposed bodies BJ Heard unpublished paper

Estimating the range of firing on a badly decomposed body can, unless a shotgun has been used, prove to be extremely difficult. The putrefying tissue either masks the presence of residues or they are removed as the outer layers of skin slough off.

A case where this problem was of considerable importance involved the shooting and subsequent dismembering of a young insurance sales woman.

After being shot and then dismembered, the body parts were placed into several black plastic bags and dumped on a hillside. The ambient temperature was in excess of 35 °C, and in the 2 days that it took for the body to be discovered, the body had become severely decomposed.

An examination of the head revealed the presence of two bullet entry holes of approximately 0.22" calibre (Figures 5.11 and 5.12). It was noted that the skin surrounding one of these bullet entry holes was a mushy khaki, whilst the other had the normal blackened appearance of decomposing skin.

Inside the skull were found two severely damaged home-made 0.22" calibre lead missiles. A microscopic examination of these missiles did not reveal the presence of any rifling and what stria were present showed them to have been fired from either a double-barrelled weapon or two different weapons.

A suspect was eventually arrested and in his flat was found a doublebarrelled, muzzle-loading blank pistol which had been converted to fire 0.22" ammunition (Figure 5.13). Both barrels of this pistol had been recently fired. A microscopic comparison of missiles fired from the pistol with those recovered from the victim's head showed them both to have been fired from the converted pistol.

The pistol had a single, non-selective trigger which was somewhat prone to firing both barrels together. It was thus necessary to determine the range of firing for both shots to eliminate any defence of accidental discharge during a struggle.

It was assumed that the difference in appearance of the two bullet entry holes could have something to do with one being closer than the other and that the

Badly Decomposed Bodies
Figure 5.11 Skull showing area of discolouration.
Decomposed Bodies
Figure 5.12 Skin pulled back revealing two missile entry holes.
Homemade Pistol
Figure 5.13 Converted, 0.22" calibre, muzzle-loading blank pistol.

residues from the closer shot were having some effect on the rate of decomposition of the surrounding skin.

A number of pieces of pig skin were shot at various ranges with exactly the same weapon and ammunition as that used in the crime. The skin was then sealed in black plastic bags of exactly the same type as the body parts were wrapped up in. The bags were then placed on the roof top of police headquarters and opened at half-day intervals. It was found that the pappy khaki colouration to the skin could be exactly duplicated in the pig skin. The effect was then duplicated in human skin.

These tests showed that the weapon was fired at a distance of about 2 in. from the head and then at a distance in excess of 12 in., thus disproving the defence of accidental discharge during a struggle for the weapon. It was not possible to determine the sequence in which the shots were fired.

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