Is it natural? Does the scene look right, or staged? Many scene investigations start basically the same as far as qualifiers go… Is there blood, weapons, what is the story, etc. From there we separate what the facts are and what they reveal. I have had several cases start out as suspicious because the person “reportedly” died alone and there is a lot of blood – either around them, on them or through the house.
For example: In a locked residence, I had a case where the downstairs was very clean with a few empty alcohol containers here and there. The upstairs was same except for the master bedroom which had a large area of blood on the bed, some on the pillows, as well as on the floor and some pillows on the floor laid out as if someone was sleeping on the floor. There was some blood in the bathroom and some bloody clothes on the floor. There were alcohol containers upstairs as well as a bowl of ice-cream by the bed and the empty ice-cream container in the bathroom… both had spoons in them. As for the decedent, she had been located on a landing in the middle of the staircase, in a sitting position, leaning against the wall. She had some blood in her short hair, but barely any elsewhere, including on her tied/laced shoes – AND NO OBVIOUS INJURIES!!! So what happened?
Well, there were no splatters and few smears. An interesting finding was a strange pattern on the pillows on the bed which was sort of a feathered pattern, which I determine to be consistent with the decedent moving her head back and forth in a way that her hair, which had blood on it, had made the pattern. I also noticed mucous in the coagulated blood. I examined each area of blood separately, noted all of the alcohol containers and what I had been told about the decedent as well as the lack of injuries and her un-bloodied clothes and laced and tied shoes. My initial findings were that it appeared she had suffered several episodes of vomiting blood due to presumed ruptured esophageal varices, cleaned herself up, moved from the bed to the floor and vomited more blood. And again cleaned herself up. Then attempting to go downstairs, apparently collapsed on the staircase landing and expired. The autopsy supported my findings. She had lost too much blood for her heart to function and it stopped. All of that blood and it was a natural death because CHRONIC alcoholism and the damage it does to the body is considered natural.
In another case a man was found in a chair, slumped over with a head laceration that was dripping onto the floor, bloody pants, bloody hands, a large area of blood on the floor, bloody handprints on the nearby glass kitchen table, and again a locked residence with no one else having been with him. My first noted odd finding was that it was obvious he had laid on the floor, in the blood, long enough time for it to start to dry. I say this because on the back of his head, where the laceration was, there was a flattened area of dried blood, as if he had laid there long enough for it to dry and flatten his hair on the back of his head, at yet he was in the chair! My first step was to follow the blood. It wasn’t anywhere else in the house and there weren’t any signs of physical altercation or forced entry. I noted he had a walker nearby. I also noted his dark pants were down low enough that his feet were covered by them. I noted the bottoms were bloody. He also had an alcohol problem (which thins the blood and makes you bleed more).
I looked and his hands and the bloody hand prints on the glass table and their location. Through determining each step in what appeared to have happened, I determined he had fallen, probably because of his droopy pants and because he had left his walker on the other side of the room. He hit his head on the floor causing the big laceration on his head and probably knocking him out for a little bit. He came to, pulled himself up by gripping the table with his bloody hands and plopped into the nearest chair. He then fell into unconsciousness again and died – from a combination of the blood he lost, the bleeding inside his head under where the laceration occurred and the alcohol in his system. This case was mannered as an accident – mechanical fall. Again it looked a bit suspicious at first glance, but after careful investigation I was able to get an idea of what had really occurred. It’s very important to go into a scene with an open mind and not be too quick to draw conclusions!!
Another issue is medication, alcohol and /or illicit drug overdoses. I had a case of an elderly female, who lived with a relative, had a meticulously clean room (the residence itself was clean as well), was active and worked outside the home cleaning house for other folks. She was found in her bed, in pajamas, and it appeared to be a natural death. She was reported to not have a regular doctor or prescribed medications, but she was known to smoke. I must admit I was shocked when toxicology came back with methamphetamine overdose. I had not seen anything to indicate she was a user. I discussed it with the pathologist who was just as surprised, so much so that we requested another sample be tested – and sure enough it came back positive again!! I called family, not sure how they would take the news – only to have them confess they knew she “used” from time to time… OHHHHH NOW YOU TELL ME!! I would have never guessed that would be the cause of death in this case!!! And it is not unusual for family to not reveal such information because they think they are protecting the decedent – but in reality they are interfering with my investigation!! Unfortunately, in a case without suspicious circumstances, we do not go through every drawer, the closet and under the bed, etc. We look in the obvious places – the bathroom, the area near where they were found, and of course we didn’t go through the other family member’s room because we had no reason to… it’s a hard call sometimes!