How do authorities determine time and cause of death?

cause of death


For some few days, the news has been dotted with revelations about some of the very high profile deaths of Joan Rivers and Misty Upham, and time and cause of death are most crucial aspects of these cases. Now the question comes, How can the authorities determine these crucial factors?

Greg McDonald, director of forensic medicine, says several factors come into play during an investigation such as this. There are a lot of things at the scene that can give us clues; levels of rigor mortis (stiffness), and also algor mortis (cooling of the body) and livor mortis (pooling of the blood).

Also, stomach contents, and the presence of insects at the scene can all give us a picture of when and how a person died.


McDonald is basically a board certified in Anatomic and Forensic Pathology; he currently serves as a chief consultant for the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office in Pennsylvania, an formerly served in the Philadelphia Coroner’s Office.

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