Sunday, December 03, 2000

Homicide evidence: The flies have it




The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — To many people, flies are annoying pests that serve little — if any — purpose. But a Columbus police officer relies on the beady-eyed insects to help him in his job — solving homicides.

        Ken Tischler, a detective with a master's degree in insect toxicology, tracks the life cycles of flies and the larvae they leave in corpses to help determine how long a person has been dead.

        When a body is found outdoors, he grabs his rubber gloves, shovels, pails and glass vials.

        “If you get killed outside, the first thing to find you is a fly,” Detective Tischler said.

        Within a minute or two of death, flies head for wounds or orifices, or cut the skin for a “blood meal,” and then lay eggs, he said.

        Detective Tischler uses a process known as species succession to determine the order in which each fly species inhabits a corpse.

        He used the process to determine how long a pregnant 15-year-old had been dead and how she was injured. The girl was killed about a month before her decomposed body was found.

        “He was able to pinpoint with in six hours when she was left in the ravine. He was right on the money,” said Greg Peterson, an assistant Franklin County prosecutor.

        A 16-year-old confessed that he had struck her in the head with a rock. But Detective Tischler's analysis of brain matter contradicted that.

        “It led us to believe that the rock he had picked up and he said dropped on her head, he actually dropped on her stomach,” Mr. Peterson told the Columbus Dispatch.

        With that evidence, prosecutors convicted the teen-ager of an additional murder charge in the death of the unborn child.

        Other bug experts have been known to use similar techniques.

        Neal Haskell of Indiana used his knowledge of insect life cycles three years ago to estimate the times of death for an 11-year-old girl and her 4-year-old half-brother whose bodies were found in a field near Urbana.

        Detectives who also are bug scientists can use the technique only from May through September when the weather is warmer and flies are plentiful.

       



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