• Vol. 35 No. 8, 547–551
  • 15 August 2006

Bodies Recovered from Wells, Sewerage Systems and Pits: What is the Cause of Death?



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Introduction: The aim of this study was to determine the problems encountered during investigations into causes of death in corpses found in wells, sewer systems and pits, and to seek solutions to the problems. In fact, wells, sewer systems and pits have some common characteristics which may cause the problems. They contain water, have a hypoxic/anoxic environment and prevent corpses from being recognised. Materials and Methods: Based on the data obtained from the 1st Specialization Board of the Council of Forensic Medicine, affiliated with the Ministry of Justice, we retrospectively reviewed 69 corpses found in wells, sewer systems and pits between 1 January 1992 and 31 December 2002. Data on age, sex, crime scene and causes of death were obtained and evaluated using the SPSS 11.0 package programme. Results: Of 69 cases, 69.1% were male and 33.4% were aged 0 to 10 years. Fifty-eight per cent and 13.1% of the cases were found in wells and sewer systems respectively. Forty-three (62.3%) cases were found in a place with water. However, 34.9% of them had not drowned. The most frequent cause of death was drowning (40.6%). The cause of death was unknown in 18.8% of the cases. 15.9% of the corpses were exhumed to determine the cause of death. Twenty-six cases (37.7%) had signs of putrefaction and the cause of death was not determined in 9 cases. Diatom was investigated in 42.0% of the cases (29 cases), but 17 cases did not have diatom. Conclusion: It is a complicated process to determine the causes of death in bodies recovered from wells, pits, water supplies and sewer systems, etc. Thorough forensic investigations are required because death may result from a wide variety of factors, and lesions on the corpses may undergo some changes quickly or can be covered in wells, pits and water supplies. A complete crime scene investigation, a thorough autopsy and histopathological, toxicological and biochemical examinations would prevent potential problems in determining the causes of death in bodies recovered from wells, sewer systems and pits. Almost one-third of the bodies recovered from wells, sewer systems and pits were aged 10 years or younger, which indicates a public health problem. Extra safety precautions will help to solve this problem.

It may be difficult to determine the identities, and cause and time of death in corpses found in wells, sewer systems and pits because they may contain water, and there may not be sufficient oxygen, which leads to anoxia/hypoxia. Corpses found in wells, sewer systems and pits are difficult to recognise and therefore, they may remain there for a long time, resulting in disintegration and putrefaction.

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