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Forensic Entomology


Franco Zecchin

The Entomology Department of the Criminal Institute of the "Gendarmerie" is a world premiere.
"Flies hummed upon the putrid belly, Whence larvae in black battalions spread And like a heavy liquid flowed Along the tatters deliquescing."
In The Flowers of Sickness, Charles Baudelaire, describes a madly buzzing ballet around a decomposing corpse. Entomological experts, however, detect a choreographed study in chronological timing that has unlocked many a murder mystery. Insects prove excellent "witnesses" in helping investigators determine the post-mortem interval - that is, the time elapsed between moment of death and discovery of the body.

Rosny-sous-Bois.
When a human body draws its last breath in the countryside, a virtual alarm clock sounds in the insect world. The flies, which are able to smell a body up to 3 kilometers away, are the first to arrive, predictably within minutes to lay their thousands of eggs. Later, other kinds of flies appear, then the beetles. And so it goes, with different families of insects showing up to punch the clock for their pre-assigned shifts. Insects can either eat, mate, breed their progeny, find protection or even hunt on a cadaver.
The average person simply sees a madly buzzing ballet around a decomposing corpse. Entomological experts, however, detect a choreographed study in timing that has unlocked many a murder mystery. Insects prove excellent "witnesses" in helping investigators determine the post-mortem interval - that is, the time elapsed between moment of death and discovery of the body.
Given the chronological precision in which the various insect species come to colonize the corpse, forensic investigators can ascertain the date of death with incredible accuracy. “For example, when a cadaver is found six months after death, we can pinpoint the date of death to the week. In other words, we can narrow it down to within a day per month of the corpse's age”, says Lt. Emmanuel Gaudry, the head of the Forensic entomology department, at the Criminal Research Institute of the French Gendarmerie (IRCGN), located in Paris suburbs. In other cases, such entomological techniques can also prove that a body has been moved after death.
Such conclusions require meticulous and lengthy analysis not only to identify the insect species sampled at the crime scene but also to know all the environmental factors since the death, such as temperatures and humidity, which greatly determine the state and the speed of decomposition as well as the speed of growth of each insect species.
This scientific technique is now irrefutable in courts and well accepted by most major police forces in western countries, although there is no school of forensic entomology in the world. The French gendarmerie (French police corp) of the IRCGN has the world's first entomology laboratory in a national institute of criminology established in 1992.
© Text: Frédéric Castel.
Link to Franco Zecchin web site


 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023833

Forensic entomologists do not have anymore the elegant outfit of Sherlock Holmes, smoking his pipe. A synthetic suit, gloves and a mask protect them from contamination of the crime scene with their own hair, sputter and finger prints, while they carefully take insect samples from the corpse’s site.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0076440

"For example, when a cadaver is found six months after death, we can pinpoint the date of death to the week. In other words, we can narrow it down to within a day per month of the corpse's age", says Lt. Emmanuel Gaudry, (first on the right) and his team. He is the head of the Forensic entomology department, at the Criminal Research Institute of the French Gendarmerie (IRCGN), located in Paris suburbs.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France, France - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023835

Given the chronological precision in which the various insect species come to colonize the corpse, like these kinds of Coleoptera, forensic investigators can ascertain the date of death with incredible accuracy.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023836

On a crime scene, entomologists have to wear a suit, a mask and glasses. This is not only to avoid contamination of the crime scene with their hair or their sputter but also to protect themselves from putride material and jumping larvae.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023837

It requires a meticulous analysis to identify the insects sampled at the crime scene since there can be thousands of species within the same insect family like in the case of this fly magnified on the TV monitor at the IRCGN lab near Paris.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023838

An entomologist is taking photos of sealed samples of insects which have been taken from a body and just delivered to the IRCGN lab.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023839

Species of the same insect family can vary greatly according to the regions of the world. Above: flies from French Guiana, (South America).

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023840

A specialist is checking in an incubator the breeding of insects larvae which have been sampled on a body. Their cycle of reproduction will help to determine the date of the victim’s death.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023841

On a crime scene, entomologists have to wear a suit, a mask and glasses. This is not only to avoid contamination of the crime scene with their hair or their sputter but also to protect themselves from putride material and jumping larvae.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023842

Insects which are taken on a crime scene are later meticulously identified with a magnifying glass and the comparison of insects collected in phials.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023843

Insects which are taken on a crime scene are later meticulously identified with a magnifying glass and the comparison of insects collected in phials.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023844

Forensic entomologists use their spatula and their tweezers to pick up insect samples on the surface of the corpse and in the soil around it.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023845

A mere mistake of temperature readings is enough to lead to an erroneous datation and hence to a possible error in court. Above: an IRCGN officer registers daily temperature, humidity and rain levels from a weather station.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023846

At the IRCGN lab, two specialists are registering the arrival of new insect samples which have been sealed by police officers at the crime scene.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023847

It’s a daunting task to identify insects since there exists 1.5 million known species and at least 10 millions we do not yet know.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023848

It’s a daunting task to identify insects since there exists 1.5 million known species and at least 10 millions we do not yet know.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023849

It’s a daunting task to identify insects since there exists 1.5 million known species and at least 10 millions we do not yet know.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023850

“In the XIXth century, a French army veterinarian, P. Megnin discovered that eight waves of different insects come in chronological order on a corpse during the whole process of decay”, says Lt. Emmanuel Gaudry, the head of the Forensic entomology department, at the Criminal Research Institute of the French Gendarmerie (IRCGN). Based in a Paris suburb, the IRCGN has the world's first entomology laboratory in a national institute of criminology established in 1992.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023851

In the world, there is no school of forensic entomology. Only international seminars are very useful for specialists to learn from others’ publications.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023852

Neal Haskell, forensic entomologist in Indiana, was able to pinpoint the date of death of a ten-year old boy found under a bridge, by taking into account the difference of temperature at this specific location. In some death scenes, temperatures recorded at the closest weather station can vary a lot when the remains are located in a dark or windy area. This difference can impact greatly the datation of death since the development of flies is totally dependent on the temperature.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023853

« Forensic entomology has become so important in US courts that if this approach has not been used in some suspicious crimes, the case can be dismissed,” says Robert Hall, forensic entomologist from Missouri University.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023854

Professor Marcel Leclercq has been a pioneer in modern forensic entomology since 1947 for his works at the Forensic Medical Institute of Liege, in Belgium. His expertise has been used at the International Criminal Tribunal (TPI) in La Haye, in the investigations of mass graves in ex-Yugoslavia.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023855

For Christian Reiter, professor at the University of Vienna in Austria, forensic entomology is the most accurate technique to estimate the time of death when a corpse is discovered in the time frame of 2 or 3 days. All the signs – like muscular rigidity -- other than insects, are not reliable according to him.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023856

Visiting the IRCGN near Paris, Dr. Carlo-Pietro Campobasso, expert in forensic medicine at Bari University (Italy), is known for his works on entomotoxicology. Through analysis of the necrophagous (using cadaver for feeding) insects, found on the body, it is possible to measure the drug levels or overdose absorbed by the victim.

France - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023857

Professor Marcel Leclercq has been a pioneer in the forensic entomology by introducing, for the first time in the Western world in 1947, entomological arguments in a court. But he warns that any mistake in temperature readings at the scene can have some disastrous consequences in a criminal case.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023861

It requires a meticulous analysis to identify the insects sampled at the crime scene since there can be thousands of species within the same insect family like in the case of this fly magnified on the TV monitor at the IRCGN lab near Paris.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023858

At the IRCGN lab, two specialists are registering the arrival of new insect samples which have been sealed by police officers at the crime scene.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023859

An entomologist is taking photos of sealed samples of insects which have been taken from a body and just delivered to the IRCGN lab.

Rosny-sous-Bois, France - 00/00/2002

 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023860

Visiting the IRCGN near Paris, Dr. Carlo-Pietro Campobasso, expert in forensic medicine at Bari University (Italy), is known for his works on entomotoxicology. Through analysis of the necrophagous (using cadaver for feeding) insects, found on the body, it is possible to measure the drug levels or overdose absorbed by the victim.

France - 00/00/2002

autorisation orale



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