Copyright
A. (Alfred) Lucas.

Forensic chemistry [electronic resource] online

. (page 20 of 23)
Online LibraryA. (Alfred) LucasForensic chemistry [electronic resource] → online text (page 20 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Strychnine also suspected bvit
none found.

Victim {a). More than 2-55
grains as metalHc antimony :
also more than 3 grains of
mercury as metallic mercury.

Victim (6). More than 0-68
grain as metallic antimony.

Victim (a). 20 • 12 grains calcu-
lated as tartar emetic.

Victim (b). 29- 12 grains calcu-
lated as tartar emetic.

Victim (c). 3*83 grains calcu-
lated as tartar emetic.

More than 87 • 9 grains as arsenic
^trioxide.

From 0-01 to 0-05 grains as
arsenic trioxide in various
organs.

From 300 mgm. to ^ mgm. as
metallic arsenic in various
organs : total arsenic calcu-
lated as trioxide in whole
body, 2-01 grains.

f grain.

No poison in body : opium on
a sheet and bed gown.



Dr. Lamson



Dr. Palmer



Dr. Prit chard



G. Chapman



Date.



1882



1856



1865



Madeleine Smith



Mrs. Maybrick



The Seddons



H. H. Crippen
E. M. Chantrelle



1903



1857



1889



1912



1910

1878



Chapter XVI

PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY
AFTER DEATH

On first thought this subject might appear to be wholly
medical and therefore beyond the range of forensic chemis-
try, but as will be shown it has an important chemical aspect
and hence its consideration here is not out of place.

Mummification. — In Egypt the question of mummifica-
tion is forced upon one's attention, and this method of
preserving the dead was essentially a treatment by chemical
reagents such as natron ^ and salt. Other preservative
materials used included resins, gums, gum-resins, beeswax
and wood pitch.

Many ancient writers state that mineral pitch (bitumen
of Judea) was employed by the Egyptians for embalming
purposes and most modern writers on the subject of
mummies make the same statement. Apparently the black
material found in mummies has been called pitch or bitumen
chiefly on account of its colour and general superficial
resemblance to pitch, coupled in some few cases with its
behaviour on burning, but no record of any systematic
examination or chemical analysis can be traced. The
author, however, after extensive research and numerous
analyses, has not been able to find a single instance of the
use of mineral pitch in mummies, the greater proportion
of what is ordinarily called pitch being resin, gum-resin or
gum blackened, like so many organic materials, by the
changes brought about by age and exposure. In some
cases the material is wood pitch. It is not denied that

^ A compound of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate mixed
with sodium chloride and sodium sulphate in varying proportions,
and which occurs naturally in Egypt.



222 FORENSIC CHEMISTRY

mineral pitch may have been used for mummification, but
so far no instance of its use has been proved.

In order to demonstrate the value of natron and salt as
preservatives the author soaked two fowls (plucked and with
the internal organs removed) for seventy days (the period
mentioned by Herodotus) in solutions of different qualities
of natron, each 8 per cent, strength, and a third fowl in
an 8 per cent, solution of common salt, and afterwards
rapidly rinsed them with water and then allowed them to
dry. This was done in 1908, and after thirteen years all
three fowls still exist and are in much the same condition
as when taken out of the solutions.

The success of the old Egyptian method of treatment
is shown by the large number of mummies in an excellent
state of preservation which still exist, the oldest known
example being a mummy of the Fifth Dynasty (about
2700 B.C.) now in the museum of the College of Surgeons
in London.

Desiccation. — In addition to mummies, however, there
are numerous examples of well-preserved bodies, some
dating from Predynastic times, that is before 3300 B.C.,
but these are merely desiccated by natural means and are
not mummified in any way, and owe their preservation to
burial without cofiins in shallow graves in hot, dry and
porous sand, thus allowing heat to gain access and the
moisture from the body to escape, the almost complete
absence of rain and subsoil moisture aiding desiccation.

Hair. — In this connection the following note on human
hair may be of interest, since the colour of the hair of an
exhumed body may possibly be an important factor in
the identification of the person buried. Hair itself is very
resistant to putrefaction, but it is generally stated that
the colour is not so resistant. This, however, requires
qualification, and it will be shown that under certain con-
ditions the colour of human hair may remain unchanged
for several thousands of years. It is also sometimes stated
that all hair eventually becomes red, and the author has
a letter from a well-known chemist in which this statement
is made in connection with an exhumed body in which
such a colour change is said to have taken place due to



PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY 223

the oxidation of the iron compound« in the hair. Wilkinson
would seem to support this view, for he writes ^ : " Many
of the mummies of women have been found with the hair
perfectly preserved, plaited in the manner I have men-
tioned ; the only alteration in its appearance being the
change of its black hue, which became reddened by exposure
to great heat during the process of embalming." ^

As there seemed to be some uncertainty about the matter,
it was thought that it might be useful to collect as many
definite facts as possible concerning the colour of the hair
of mummies and other preserved bodies, and the following
have been noted.

During the Archasological Survey of Nubia a very large
number of bodies were carefully examined and described by
Professor G. Elliot Smith and Dr. F. Wood Jones. ^ These
bodies belonged to all periods varying from Predynastic to
Early Christian. In the published report reference is made
to the hair in 128 different cases, and the following tabular
statement shows the results : —

Hair from Nubian Graves.

Colour not stated 43

Black 46

Brown 8

Dark 1

White 16

Black with white 3

Brown with white 3

Dark with white 2

Grey 6



Total 128



^ The Ancient Egyptians. Sir J. Qardner Wilkinson, F.R.S.
London, 1890. Vol. II, p. 335.

2 There is no proof that the body was subjected to great heat
during the process of embalming. Doubtless the resinous material
employed as a preservative, especially that introduced into the skull,
was applied in a molten or semi-molten condition, but this does not
require great heat.

^ The Archaeological Survey of Nubia. Report for 1907-8,
Vol. II. Report on the Human Remains by Prof. 0. Elliot
Smith, F.R.S., and Dr. F. Wood Jones. Cairo, 1910.



224 FORENSIC CHEMISTRY

In eight of the cases in which the colour is not given the
hair is described as being " typically negro," in two other
cases as " typically negroid," in one case " woolly negroid,"
and in one case " woolly." None of these twelve cases there-
fore are likely to have been red. In seven of the cases of
white hair the person is specifically called " old " : in one
instance, however, the person was apparently young, since
a suggestion is made that possibly the white colour of the
hair was due to post-mortem bleaching caused by the salt
used in embalming. In two of the cases of brown hair the
description given is " now brown," as though it was desired
to suggest that brown had not been the original colour.
In no single case is the hair described as red or even reddish.

In the catalogue of royal mummies in the Cairo Museum,
Professor Elliot Smith describes fifty mummies. ^ The
results so far as the hair is concerned are as follows : —

Hair of Royal Mummies.

Colour not stated 26

Black 1

Dark brown 4

Brown 2

Dark reddish -brown 1

Reddish-brown 2

Yellow 1

Black with grey 1

Dark brown with grey 1

Grey 2

Brown with white 1

White 7

Stained a brilliant reddish colour ... 1 ^

Total 50

In addition to the above there were three wigs, all of
which were brown.

Two specimens of hair from mummies were examined
by the author for the late Sir M. Armand Ruffer, one of

^ Catalogue G6n6ral des Antiquit^s Egyptiennes du Musee du
Caire, The Royal Mummies. O. Elliot Smith, F.E.S. Le Caire,
li)12.

2 Interplaited with strands of hair of a black colour.



PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY 225

which was of a very light brown colour, and the other black.
The former belonged to the Twentieth Dynasty and the
second could not be dated. The light brown hair was
matted together with a paste that proved on analysis to
be a mixture of natron and soap,* but whether the natron
had affected the colour of the hair in any way cannot be
stated, though this seems possible.

The hair of all the human and animal mummies, as well
as of all the wigs, found exposed in the Cairo Museum, ^ was
also examined. The results were as follows : —

Haib of Human Mummies.

Black, curly 1

Brown 2

Light brown 1

Dark 1

Flaxen 2

Impossible to determine whether any hair at
all without closer inepection : certainly no

red hair . . 6

Total 13

Hair of Ape Mummies.

Dark 2

Dark brown 1

Brown 3

Total 6

WlGS.»

Black 2

Very dark brown 4

Brown 4

Total 10



1 The soap was probably a product of the action of the natron
on fatty material with which it had been mixed.

2 In 1918.

3 Inside one of the wigs there was some fibre which resembled
coco-nut fibre in appearance, and the colour of this had a slight
suggestion of red.

16



226 FORENSIC CHEMISTRY

The Alexandria Museum was also visited, but there
were only four mummies of which the hair could be seen
and this was brown in all cases. ^

In view of the foregoing facts, therefore, there can be
no doubt whatever that under Egyptian conditions of burial
the hair certainly does not always become red even after
several thousands of years, and it seems very doubtful
whether it ever undergoes such a change ; in the one case
where the hair is red Professor Elliot Smith specially states
that it is stained, and suggests henna, which is still used
for this purpose in Egypt, as the dye probably employed.

Effect of Lime on the Body. — Not infrequently in
murder cases in which the body is buried lime is employed,
either in the hope of hastening decomposition or of pre-
venting the offensive products of putrefaction from mani-
festing themselves. Thus in the Crippen case lime was
found with the remains and two of the medical experts
were asked at the trial what the effects of this lime
would be.^

Before discussing this subject it should be stated that
the word " lime " as ordinarily used may mean either quick-
lime or slaked lime or even chlorinated lime (bleaching
powder), frequently called " chloride of lime." Quicklime
is calcium oxide produced by strongly heating limestone ;
as ordinarily made for building purposes it is in the form
of large irregular lumps and is very impure. Slaked lime
is calcium hydroxide, a dry white powder obtained from
quicklime either by exposing this latter to a moist atmo-
sphere or by the addition of water. In both cases heat is
produced, but in the former case the reaction proceeds so
slowly that the effect is small, the heat being dissipated
almost as quickly as it is formed, whereas when water is
added directly to quicklime a large amount of heat is evolved,
which may be sufficient to ignite combustible bodies in
contact with the lime. Thus even wood may be ignited
in this way. In 1894 seventeen fires in London were
reported to be due to the slaking of quicklime in contact
with combustible bodies, eight of these being caused by

1 In 1920.

2 Trial of H. H. Crippen, pi). 58, 59, 65.



PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY 227

rain.^ Slaked lime necessarily contains the impurities
present in the original quicklime from which it is made
and also a certain amount of additional carbonate due to
the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Chlorinated lime is a product of the action of chlorine gas
upon slaked lime and is extensively emploj'ed as a disin-
fectant. It soon loses its efficiency if exposed to the air.
The name " chloride of lime " for this substance, although
in common use, is not only ambiguous but incorrect, dry
chlorinated lime consisting chiefly of a substance inter-
mediate between calcium chloride and calcium hypochlorite.

No record can be found of any observations or experi-
ments showing the effect of lime upon the dead human
body. From purely theoretical considerations, however, it
may be stated that neither slaked lime nor chlorinated lime
has any corrosive action upon flesh, but that on the contrary
both these substances, especially chlorinated lime, would
tend to exert a preservative action, owing to their germicidal
properties, and if placed round a dead body would prevent,
or partly prevent, the attacks of micro-organisms and
insects from without. They would also act as deodorants,
the lime by absorbing some of the offensive gases of
putrefaction and the chlorinated lime by decomposing them.
Neither lime nor chlorinated lime outside a body, however,
could arrest the decomposition taking place from within,
and it is this which is one of the main factors in the putre-
faction of the body. Slaked lime, which is used in the
form of milk of lime in the de-hairing of hides, might cause
the hair to fall off.

When giving evidence in the Crippen case Dr. Pepper
stated 2 that " absolute quicklime " destroys the body by
abstracting moisture and that given a sufficient quantity
of quicklime the whole body would be destroyed. In this
I believe him to have been mistaken. If a dead body be
surrounded by a large amount of quicklime and if this be
suddenly slaked, as was done in the Mannings' case,^ a

^ Tho Handling of Dangerous Goods. H. J. Phillips. London,
1896, p. 202. 2 Trial of H. H. Crippen, p. 58.

3 Taylor's Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence,
1920, Vol. I, p. 294.



228 FORENSIC CHEMISTRY

small amount of superficial burning might result and a certain
amount of drying of the body, caused by the heat generated,
would take place, the extent of both of which would depend
largely upon the amount of quicklime present and upon
its quality, and also upon whether there were any clothes
or wrappings on the body. The body, however, would not
be destroyed, or even partially destroyed, since it contains
so large a proportion of water as to make destruction ex-
tremely difficult. The drying, in fact, by delaying putre-
faction would conduce to preservation. If on the other
hand only gradual slaking of the lime took place by the
abstraction of water from the body, air or the surrounding
soil, and this is the condition Dr. Pepper assumes, then
there would simply be a very partial desiccation of the
body with the consequent slightly delayed putrefaction.
The lime in both cases would tend to preserve the body
from destructive agencies from without.

In order to obtain positive evidence of the nature
of the action on the body of the different kinds of lime
the following-mentioned experiments were made. Young
pigeons were killed and plucked but not opened, nothing
being removed but the feathers, and were then treated
separately as follows : —

A. Buried in dry earth.

B. Buried in freshly slaked and sifted lime.

C. Buried in fresh chlorinated lime.

D. Buried in quicklime in the form of small lumps.

E. Buried in quicklime in small lumps which was sud-

denly slaked by the addition of water.

In all cases the burials took place in boxes which were
provided with loosely fitting covers and which were placed
on the laboratory roof in Cairo in July, After twenty-four
hours, specimen E was taken out and examined. The lime
was in the condition of a dry white powder and the pigeon
was somewhat discoloured, considerably drier and firmer than
it was originally, but no blistering or rupture of the skin
or other damage caused by the heat except the discoloration
mentioned could be found. The pigeon was re-buried in the
same slaked lime. After three days pigeon C was found



PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY 229

to be partly uncovered owing to the considerable swelling
caused by putrefaction which had taken place, tliorc was
a most objectionable smell and the chlorinated lime had
become wet and pasty. The pigeon was re-buried in the
same wet lime. After five days a number of large maggots
and several small beetles were visible in box A and the
smell was very strong. After fifteen days all the pigeons
were disinterred and examined, when the following results
were found : —

A. Active decomposition taking place : strong smell.

B. No visible decomposition : some smell : still soft.

C. Decomposition proceeding : smell very objectionable :

chlorinated lime pasty.

D. Lime all slaked : pigeon dry and intact (not quite so

dry as E) : no burning or rupture of the skin.

E. Dry and firm : slight discoloration but no rupture of

the skin.

»

The pigeons were re- buried and left for a further period

of five and a half months, making six months in all, when

they were re-examined, after which the experiments were

discontinued. The results were as follows : —

A. In very bad condition : considerable smell of putre-

faction : large part of flesh had disappeared.

B. In good condition : very slight smell : shrunken :

flesh still soft and skin pliable : skin unbroken.

C. In active state of decomposition : swollen : con-

siderable smell of putrefaction.

D. In good condition : dry and hard : skin unbroken :

shrunken.

E. In good condition except the feet, both of which had

come off : dry, hard and brittle : skin unbroken :
shrunken.

These results bear out the statements already made,
namely first, that lime is a preservative, and secondly that
the act of slaking lime in contact with a dead body, whether
the slaking is brought about gradually or done all at once,
does not destroy the body.



230 FORENSIC CHEMISTRY

Adipocere. — Adipocere is a waxy-looking substance
having a greasy feel, which is frequently formed when a
body is buried in damp soil or is submerged in water. A
few statements from well-known books on Medical Juris-
prudence with respect to the formation of adipocere may
be quoted.

Taylor writes^ : "The whole of the soft parts may
have become converted into this white substance " ; " The
white substance into which all the organs had been com-
pletely transformed . . . " ; " Any part of the human body
may undergo this change ..."

Professor Dixon Mann writes ^ : "It is probable, how-
ever, that the fatty acids concerned in the formation of
adipocere may be partly derived from protein as well as
from the fatty tissues actually present at the time of death ;
the appearances found in many advanced cases in which
the soft structures of the body have been almost entirely
converted into adipocere are inconsistent with the view
that the acids are solely derived from the pre-formed fat."

Professor Glaister writes ^ : "Dr. Guy has seen whole
bodies transformed completely . . ." ; "... we observed
whole limbs, chiefly the lower, the chest and shoulders and
in several cases the buttocks so changed and in more than
one case the whole body."

Dr. Aitchison Robertson writes*: "This is a change
which the fat as well as the other tissues of the body may
undergo when exposed to very damp conditions " ; " The
formation of adipocere may be noticed in the dissecting-
room. Bones . . . are often placed in a sink and covered
with water for several weeks : during this time the fragments
of tendon and ligament attached to the bones become
soft and greasy or in other words have become changed
into adipocere " ; " The subcutaneous fat undergoes this

1 Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence, 1920, Vol, I,
pp. 298, 307.

2 Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1908, p. 63.

3 A Text Book of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology, 1915,
pp. 155, 15G.

* Manual of Medical Jurisprudence, Toxicology and Public Health,
1913, p. 70.



PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY 231

change first of all, then the skin follows and last of all the
muscle."

These statements are very definite and leave no room
for doubt that the writers believe that the whole of the
soft parts of the body, under favourable conditions, may
be converted into adij^ocere. This view, however, has
been challenged by other medical men : thus, commenting
on some descriptions by Dr. Coull Mackenzie of the for-
mation of adipocere in India, Dr. G. H. F. Nuttall states ^
that " internal organs are not converted into adipocere,"
and suggests that Dr. Mackenzie was mistaken and quotes
a previous writer to the effect " that muscular tissue
which has macerated and putrefied in water presents an
appearance sufficiently similar to deceive the unpractised
eye."

Lieutenant-Colonel Waddell states ^ that " Well authen-
ticated cases supported by an authoritative chemical analysis
are still required to settle this question for India."

Professor Abderhalden writes^ : " By carefully following
this process, and especially by direct experiments, it has
been proved that there is no such conversion of albumin
into fat, but that the fat already present in the body is
responsible for the production of adipocere. This is mainly
due to the fat present already in a given locaUty and to
such infiltrated fatty masses as may be deposited there
by the water."

Dr. Leonard Hill writes* : "It was suj^posed to result
from the actual change of muscle proteid into fat. What
happens, in truth, is the putrefactive colliquation of the
proteids, and the fat set free from its depots floats in the
water and percolates through the tissues."

Since differences of opinion on a subject frequently
arise from an absence of exact definition of the terms used,

^ Taylor's Principle and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence, 1910,
Vol. I, pp. 311, 312.

2 Lyon's Medical Jurisprudence for India, 1914, p. 87.

3 Text Book of Physiological Chemistry. Trans. New York.
1908, p. 326.

* Recent Advances in Physiology and Bio-Chemistr3\ London,
1908, p. 293.



232



FORENSIC CHEMISTRY



it would be well to have a more precise definition of
adipocere than the usual one of " a waxy-looking unctuous
substance." It is manifest at the outset that no exact
definition of adipocere and no certain identification of a
substance as adipocere can be given without chemical
analysis. The only analyses of adipocere that can be traced
are as follows : —



with colouring



83 to 84

16-7
1 • 6 to 1 • 8



(a) An early analysis by Chevreul.^
Result : An ammoniacal soap

matter.

(b) Analysis of three specimens by Schmelck in 1902.^
Result :

Insoluble fatty acids

Unsaponifiable matter

Ash (containing 83 to 84 per cent, lime)

(c) An analysis by L. van Itallie and A. J. Steenhauer

in 1917^ of a museum specimen of material from

the same source as the sample examined by

Chevreul.

Result : Essentially a mixture of fatty acids

(probably palmitic and stearic) wdth calcium

soaps.

A recent analysis by R. F.

Marshall of pig adipocere.^
Result



id)



Ruttan and M. J.



Palmitic acid


%
.. 67-5


Stearic acid


.. 3-3


Oleic acid


.. 5-2


Hydroxy -stearic acids . .


.. 15-8


Calcium soap


4-4


Fat and unsaponifiable matter


.. 2-2


Total


.. 98-4



^ Taylor's Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence, 1920,
Vol. I, p. 306.

2 Chemical Technology and Analysis of Oils, Fats and Waxes.
J. LewJcowitsch. London, 1914, pp. 686-7.

3 Pharm. Weekblad, 54, 121-5 (1917), through Chem. AbsL, 1917,
p. 1437.

« J. Biol. Chem., 1917, 29, 319-327, through J. C. S., 1917, i., 364.



PRESERVATION OF THE HUMAN BODY 233

(e) Recent analysis by R. F. Ruttan of specimens of
human adipocere.^
Result : Essentially composed of saturated fatty
acids.

From these analyses it is evident that adipocere is com-
posed almost entirely of fatty acids, but that it contains
a certain amount of calcium soap, and probably in the
early stages of its formation some ammonia soap, and there-
fore from its chemical composition there can be little doubt
that adipocere is the residue of the fat pre-existing in the
body, the greater part of which has undergone slow hydro-
lysis by water, but some small part of which has been
saponified by ammonia (derived from decomposing nitro-
genous tissue), this ammonia being ultimately replaced by
lime. If this be so, what then is the explanation of the
numerous observations by competent medical men who
have declared that large parts of the body, or sometimes
even the whole body, became converted into adipocere ?
It is suggested that the observations were generally correct


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23

Online LibraryA. (Alfred) LucasForensic chemistry [electronic resource] → online text (page 20 of 23)