Q&A Part 5

Questions continue to pour in, and we love having them to keep us busy! Thanks to all who submit, and a special thanks to our coroner who dutifully answers each and every one of them. If you have any questions of your own, feel free to submit them on the site, or send an email to askacoroner@gmail.com.

Now, on to the next round of questions and answers:

This is probably an odd question, but my niece passed away recently.Hher mother is a drug addict the baby was a drug baby. I am having a hard time believing she died from SIDS. When she was found, she was cold, blue and had a mark on her face. I’ve heard SIDS babies don’t turn blue. Is this true? Do you think my niece died from SIDS?

Was the baby bed sharing with her addict mother at the time of her passing?  This is most likely an accidental asphyxiation due to rollover by high/addicted mother. I doubt it was SIDS – but, that may be what mom tells people to avoid the issues associated. Without knowing more, I really can’t say for certain.


How often do you find a parasite in someone’s stomach?

I’ve never found a parasite in someone’s stomach.  However, I don’t live in the areas where it might be more common.


Can a primary cause of death be listed as “Influenza” only?

If the primary cause of death is Influenza, then it is most appropriate, yes.


At anytime would an Autopsy be performed from the back?

Yes. There is sometimes dissection done on the back and spine – especially in child abuse situations.


My brothers tox screen showed a level of tramadol of 5,660 ng and the “therapeutic range” is 200-700. The coroner ruled it ‘suspect’ and left the death manner as “undetermined”. Could they have determined it a suicide or accidental? Where do we go from here? We don’t know how to determine if he had a high tolerance or intent. The ng values are confusing.

That is a very high level – and I suspect that if he regularly used tramadol, that it was more of an accidental death. If he didn’t regularly use it and just took a lot of the pills  – I’d be more inclined to think suicide.  Obviously, the coroner didn’t know either and put “undetermined” for the manner because it could not be determined.


Do coroners routinely scan (human) bodies for the same kind of ID chip that some animals get? I read a news story a few years ago about people voluntarily getting RFID chips implanted – in one case it was to verify their identity and age at a bar.

No, we don’t check.  No Coroner that I have ever met checks, either.


So, my step daughter had a drug problem. She had been missing and her body was found in a secluded area, in her car, with the windows up and doors locked. This is in NC and the weather here was in the 80s. The detective said it looked like she had been there for a while. Her body was badly decomposed so we had to send dental records. The detective on scene said that one tattoo on her forearm was still noticble. My question is, will they ever be able to tell us how long she had expired? The detective said it looked like she has reclined the driver’s seat back to sleep and her cause of death was because she overdosed. We had heard she has been into a drug called “china white.” We had no idea she was doing that kind of drug. My daughter weighed 105lbs. Due to her small size and weather, did that speed up the decomp process? We were told toxicology can take up to 4 months? What will this tell us?  Will they be able to tell what drugs were in her system? They didnt allow us to see her body due to how bad it was decomposed and all items in the car she had with her were destroyed. 

I’m sorry for the death of your step daughter.  I will do my best to answer your questions:
1.  China White is a type of heroin – much stronger than heroin – it’s actually called Alpha Methylfentanyl and it is one of the Fentanyl derivatives.  It is extremely potent and a 105lb person could easily die from a small amount of this drug.
2.  I doubt they can tell you, based on the condition of her body, how long she was there.  That would most likely have to be determined by her last known purchases (receipts) or “last seen alive” times to give you some sort of window for determining post mortem interval.
3.  The warm weather inside a closed vehicle absolutely would have increased her rate of decomposition.
4.  I could see, in larger areas, where toxicology of this sort (many/unknown substances) could take up to 4 months.
5.  The toxicology report will tell you everything that is in her blood at the time of the death.  However, because of her decomposition, they may have had to test brain or liver tissue for toxicology (often there is no viable blood left to test in a decomposed body) which could also lead to the extended time for testing.
6.  Yes, they can tell…even with the advanced decomposition, what her toxicology levels were at the time of death.  There will be some slight changes due to post mortem distribution (levels changing after death), but it will be slight.
7.  I’m sorry they wouldn’t let you see her body.  I don’t agree with that and I always let families view bodies if they wish to – I simply take the time to prepare them for what they will see.
I hope some of these answers help you.


My friend hung them self, they kicked a chair out from under them. Did they suffer? No one ever let me see them afterwards. From what I have read it’s not always an easy way to go. Do the eyes really pop out of the head? Does the tongue really swell up and turn blue? They were found within five hours. I have all these questions but no answers. What is it like when someone strangle some salve? Or hangs themselves? I read that people can break their jaw. Was there anyway if he was found within 60 minutes that he could’ve been saved?
Hanging is a fairly quick death, actually.  Did they suffer?  I don’t know.  The eyes do not pop out.  The tongue is usually out, clenched between the teeth and swollen – very common due to hanging.  Jaws aren’t broken in a hanging.  During a hanging, the blood supply is cut off from the head – so, oxygenated blood can’t reach the brain, and the unoxygenated blood can’t leave the brain (all due to the pressure on the carotid artery and jugular veins respectively).  So, hanging is an asphyxiation death – but, because of blood flow.  The person usually passes out in a few seconds and death occurs within minutes after that.    He could not have been saved if he was found an hour later.  Not even 15 minutes later.  I’m very sorry about your friend.


If a parasite is found inside a body during autopsy, is this something the coroner researches (i.e goes about identifying it, understanding what the parasite does, etc.) or is this outsourced to someone who specializes in epidemiology? When it comes to parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc., how far does a coroner go on their own with research wise before having to get other personnel involved?
It varies.  We use outside specialists on a case-by-case basis as needed.  We go until we have answers.  So, we wouldn’t just say, “there was some sort of parasite found in the brain” and move on.  We would research who could give us the best answers for figuring out what it was – then determine whether or not it is a public crisis of any sort and take appropriate steps.  We once found a weird spot on a man’s lung, and after quite a process, we discovered it was active Tuberculosis! We had to have the health department go to his home and they treated the entire family.  So, we absolutely keep going until we have answers….there are many, many resources at our disposal.


In cases of really messy scenes (large amounts of blood, fluids, etc.) why don’t the Coroners and Police Officers clean it up? It’s not fair that the people left behind should have to clean up a horrific mess. 
First, I am very sorry if you were left to clean up a mess of that sort on your own. It isn’t the Police’s “job” to clean up biohazard from a scene – they aren’t trained for it and don’t have resources for proper disposal. The Coroner also isn’t expected to clean up. I, personally, clean up within reason, anything that I can clean. I certainly can’t clean things like stained upholstery on a scene. That being said, we DO have resources for companies that handle biohazard scenes. What should happen is that the police and/or coroner address that matter with you and help you with names and contacting proper companies to get the job done properly. It shouldn’t be left to you to figure out on your own. I’m sorry for you, or anyone who has had a situation like that handled so poorly.


I have an interest in becoming a coroner and I was wondering what your major was in highschool and the level of education required.
I addressed this to much greater depth in our book, Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die, but here’s the short answer: To be a coroner you simply have to get elected.  So, you want enough of a background that makes you ‘electable’.  My degree is in mortuary science.  I didn’t have a major in high school – just general studies.  Any combination of studies in human biology, mortuary science, criminal justice, political science, etc. would be best.


What was your first reaction to smelling a dead body?
My first reaction was nothing. I was trying to make the people around me know that I could handle it – so, I didn’t show any reaction.  However, it was rather off-putting.


 Can “acute alcohol poisoning” cause death? I know someone who recently died, but the coroner said that the cause of death was unknown. The coroner’s autopsy noted that the BAC found wasn’t fatal, but did amount to acute alcohol poisoning. There was also mention in his report of possible adverse effects of alcohol and nicotine on the heart. Can “acute alcohol poisoning” cause death? Is this a case of alcohol quite possibly being the cause even though the coroner couldn’t prove it?
Acute alcohol poisoning can cause death – definitely.  And, in the case of someone who doesn’t drink and doesn’t have much tolerance, a lower than average level of alcohol could prove to be fatal.


What does it mean on an autopsy report if it states “Thymus is not Identified”?
It means the person is over 20/25 years old.  Each person is born with a large thymus gland which aides in developing our immune systems.  This gland shrinks as we age and our immunities develop.  So, by the time a person is young adult – they don’t have a thymus gland anymore.  So, the doctor was simply stating that for this person’s age – they don’t have a thymus gland.


Ask a Coroner Q&A – Part 4 2

Hey everyone! We’re back for another round of questions from you all, answered by our favorite Coroner, Jacquie.


If cadaveric spasm occurs in a body, will the affected muscles/muscle groups be the first to relax when the body enters secondary relaxation phase?

I’m not sure to be honest.  This sounds logical though.


I read that some of the London Grenfell Tower fire victims’ cause of death was “inhalation of fire fumes” and other victims’ cause of death was “smoke inhalation.” What is the difference?

The amount of charring (thermal injury).  Breathing in fire with fumes causes much more damage than breathing in just smoke.


My best friend has recently received the autopsy report for her nephew that passed back in March. She has the entire log, but she’s having a problem identifying one of the markings the coroner wrote on the diagram of his body. His back, arms etc. all have markings that have “contusion, lacerations etc” beside them. But the medical examiner marked IOC beside a cut on his leg near the ankle and we are unsure as to what it means. On the phone before we got the paper work, the medical examiner told us that he had a cut on his ankle that needed medical attention prior to death. But we want to know what “IOC” means. Thanks.

Intraosseous Catheter is what that would mean to me.  It’s essentially an IV in the bone on the shin.


Sorry if this is personal, but do Coroner’s get paid a lot?

Not too personal at all.  Each county is different and each jurisdiction is different. I know of some coroners in very small, rural areas who make about $10K each year, and I know some other coroners in larger, more urban areas who make over $100K per year.  It varies so much that there is no good answer here.  I currently make about $60K and am hoping for an increase with the next election cycle.  Our salaries are set for 4 years before we ever take office.


I read a magazine ad that makes it sound like we need to buy a necessary product, because the vast majority of people die with their intestines full of sludge (which prevented proper digestion and caused every ailment known to man). Is it true? Is intestinal or colon sludge common or “normal”, and is it a problem?

Save your money.


Why won’t the Coroner’s office call me back?

Obviously I can’t answer that.  I’m sorry they won’t.  If there’s something I can do to help facilitate answers for you – please let me know.


My father died from end stage emphysema. When he died, he turned solid white and he looked so young. He was 75. Is this common for a person to turn white like that? I mean, when he had a crisis, he turned blue and almost purple. I thought that might be the case when he died, but it was not. Both of my parents were in the same hospital room when he died, and then she died a day later. There is so much more I could write and say about this, but I just don’t have the energy. However, I haven’t been able to find anything about a person turning solid white upon death, and was hoping maybe I could find an answer here. 

After a long death process, this makes sense.  The person is lying on their back…blood is flowing…albeit at a slower and slower and slower rate…until death happens and all-at-once, the blood simply settles.  It is no longer flowing.  He appeared white rapidly on the front of his body – but, I am confident his back would have been much more pink in color due to the quick settling of the blood from a long death process.  I’m sorry your parents both died so close to each other.  It sounds like they couldn’t live without each other.


Question my son recently died and I recieved the toxicology report. He had an ethanol level of 0.23g % and Benzoylecgonine level of 510ng/ml. Cocaine was not detected. Cocaethylene was less than 25ng/ml. I have a hard time believing that my son was able to hang himself. He died from hanging but it was an unattended death and his girlfriend said she found him and cut him down. No autopsy was performed and I want to make sure that there isn’t foul play due to the fact that his girlfriend wasn’t home until 4am and my son died at 4:50am within the hour of her coming home. Can it be proven that he did cocaine that night? With that level of Benzoylecgonine?

Benzoylecgonine is what the body turns cocaine into.  It shows chronic use – not current use.  Cocaethylene is what the body metabolizes from cocaine and alcohol together.  Again – it doesn’t show acute use unless the cocaine is actually in the blood – which it appears it wasn’t.  I don’t believe he had recent cocaine use (meaning within hours of death).  Also, the time of death is most likely after paramedics/police arrive on scene…and not the actual time of his death which would have been minutes after actually hanging himself.  I’m so sorry you lost your son to suicide. I do not believe the girlfriend could have staged his death to appear to be a suicide by hanging.


How should you address a coroner in an official letter?

The Honorable (First Name) (Last name)


(First Name) (Last Name), County Coroner


Coroner (First Name, Last Name)
Coroner (Last Name)
“Hey, you….”
We aren’t picky.

I just received a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate. The cause of death was listed as: “Intestinal toxemia causing heart failure.” If she were to die today, what would a coroner list as the cause of death?

Probably:  Heart Failure due to Ischemic Bowel.


Imagine a person is killed by overdose. As they die, can they spell out the letters of the killer in sign language, and somehow hold that position after death?
What?  No.


Does an overdose of heroin and fentanyl cause bleeding from the mouth?
It causes fluid to back up in the lungs which will ultimately come out the mouth and nose.  It is usually blood mixed with a watery fluid and it is usually frothy looking due to the air in the lungs.  This is referred to as a “foam cone”.  Short answer, yes, it is quite common to see what appears to be bleeding from the mouth in an opiate overdose.


If a person was in a freezer dead for about 24hrs, how long would it take examiners to determine if the person was raped?
However much time it takes for the sexual assault kit to be analyzed, frozen body or not.  If there is trauma from the rape, that would be noted at autopsy.


While doing an autopsy is there tell tale signs death was due to smothering/strangulation?
Smothering – sometimes, mostly yes.
Strangulation – yes.
Without knowing your intent with this question, I am hesitant to give away too much detail.


How long does it take to die in a freezer?
Minutes.  It depends on the size of the person and the size of the freezer.


My brother died on August 3rd, 2017 and the coroner stated they couldn’t find the reason for his death because he was dead/decade for 24 hours. Why is this?
Without knowing more, my guess is that your brother had an electrical issue with his heart.  The heart can stop suddenly due to an electrical issue.  Not saying he was electrocuted, but that the current that made his heart beat may have been working improperly.  We can’t see electrical issues at death.  His heart would have to be sent to a cardiopathologist for the best answers.  Sudden death is almost always due to a heart issue.  If they didn’t see anything at autopsy or looking under a microscope at heart tissue, it was most likely a conductivity issue.


Can a parent request no pubic information of her grown son’s death be unsearchable so that no police reports ,medical forms, 911 calls, corners report’s be found? 
In my state, no.  I am not sure if it varies state-by-state. Generally, deaths, including the circumstances surrounding the death is considered a public health matter and is available to the public for public interest.


My husband and I have a 15 yr old daughter who is aspiring to be a coroner. She asked for a dissection kit and we talked to her teacher about what to buy and so forth. Do you have any advice? Is it creepy or abnormal for a young girl to be interested and know so much about the human body and anatomy from a young age? 
Encourage her to be a forensic pathologist – not a coroner.  The demand will be great and she will be financially secure!  Coroners are elected and the job market is limited to regions.  However, a forensic pathologist – the doctor who performs the autopsies – can go anywhere and consistently be in demand.  Definitely encourage her.  And no it’s not weird – it’s awesome to know what you love and have a plan.


Ask a Coroner Q&A – Part 3

Let’s dive in to all of your questions for our lovely coroner! Thank you to everyone who has submitted a question – for your interest, patience, and willingness to be involved.


My brother took a overdose and died last week. The doctor knew he was depressed, and his wife, but there was still 150 sleeping tablets in the house and 100 depression tablets. He took all of these plus some others. It seems strange so many where at easy reach…what should I do?

You should mourn for the loss of your brother.  There is nothing you can do.  If there were a thousand pills it wouldn’t change anything, he is the one who had the personal responsibility to take the medication as directed. I’m sorry your family had to suffer such a loss, but I am sure your brother had demons he just didn’t have to strength to battle anymore.  It’s not an excuse – it’s a sudden and irrational ‘answer’ to a problem without the ability at the moment to really know and understand the long term consequences on himself and the family.


Will dry ice put in my C-PAP machine kill me?

I don’t know, so I’m going to err on the safe side and say, ‘yes’.  Please don’t attempt this.


What is the best lab in the country to test for arsenic poisoning? Are fingernail and toenail scrapings and hair as good as analysis of liver and spinal and eye fluid to determine if poisoning has occurred  If someone has been poisoned, can they be given an antidote to remove the residue in the internal organs? I think my father was poisoned. Carlson lab showed a level of 6134 in their analysis of hair, but the autopsy performed in Mississippi and with NMS labs says body is clean. Behavior of wife is heinous so consistent with first positive result. Not sure how to proceed after autopsy. If we should get a third test done?

I’m not sure I understand your question.  I think you are saying that Carlson Lab showed a positive level in their hair analysis, whereas NMS Labs did not show any findings.  If this is truly a concern, and you have evidence to back up a possibility – you could go through the FBI.  My favorite toxicologist is Dr. John Trestail.  He specializes in toxicology related murders and will work with your police agency – if you have a police agency willing to work with you.


Hi Jacquie, I am outlining a mystery fiction novel, and am wondering about the following: If someone were to get an autopsy for a death by carbon monoxide poisoning, and this person was a few weeks pregnant, would the pregnancy show up in the autopsy report? Thanks in advance for your help!

If someone was pregnant – and autopsied, then, yes – we would absolutely find the pregnancy at autopsy.


My cousin’s son was killed by a train. To date, she has not been able to identify the body. She won’t see him until the day before the funeral. She has many questions…one of them is why wouldn’t the coroner allow her to identify and confirm that is her son?

I can’t speak for other coroners.  I actually know of many locations that do not allow viewings at the coroner’s morgue and reserve that for the funeral home.  Some chalk it up to case load (which in some jurisdictions I could understand), some say that they aren’t preparing a body for a viewing prior to the work done at a funeral home, some just aren’t comfortable with it.  I do allow bodies to be viewed by loved ones prior to autopsy at our facility.  However, I know that we are the exception – not the rule.


Facts: My father was a farmer, worked 12-14 hours every day. The day before he died he unloaded more than half of a pickup of seed beans,50lb.bags, faster than a 27 year old neighbor and wife. He used a breath machine, nebulizer every morning after working 3 to 4 hours. My nephew found him dead, breathing machine in right hand, cell phone in left. There was a pink reddish fluid coming out of his lungs. EMS made the statement they had never seen this before!!! Dad had not sprayed pesticides for 2 weeks and pesticides for the orchard were kept the garage. My stepmother had Soaks come get the machine at 9:30 next morning, house keeper was surprised ask why stepmother said that machine cost a lot of money, I went and got the recipients it was 100 percent pay for by BlueCross and Medicare. She said she didn’t think an autopsy was necessary, we agreed. She was on phone shortly after that laughing and smiling, said it was her ex husband asking her out!!! Now, I find there was adultery while he was alive and she never funded the trust my father thought she had (and proudly told everyone). She had been placing so much pressure on him to change his will, enough to have him crying over it. I want an autopsy on my father. I kept investigating I find facts that lead me to think my dad was murdered over love and money. I have talked to Michigan State Police, they wouldn’t listen to all that I know and they dismissed the whole thing !! What should I do? I was told by a different EMS he had the symptoms of Pesticides Poisoning?!

First, I wouldn’t listen to the EMS giving a reliable cause of death.  Also, it sounds like maybe an asthma attack, possibly a pleural effusion (pink fluid).  However, I could guess all day – I don’t have enough of the case information to make a good guess as to cause of death.  However, if you believe that there are situations of possible homicide, possible financial exploitation, etc. – then, you simply follow the chain of command so-to-say.  You would start with the city where the death occurred, if there is no city – and it’s more rural –  you would contact the county sheriff, next would be state police (and you keep working up the ranks until you find answers or you find someone willing to work with you) and next would be FBI.


Why would a coroner ask for the will of the deceased? 

I don’t know why a coroner would ‘ask’ for the Will.  The only time I’ve ever used a Will is when it was the only information at a scene that helped to determine the next-of-kin for someone without a contact person.  I can’t say why a Coroner would ask for a Will.  That’s a bit outside the scope of what the Coroner does – unless, like I said – it’s used for identification/notification of next-of-kin.


My dads coroners report says he died from lung parenthyma caused by acid in stomach, what does this mean.. i looked it up, but dont understand it?

Essentially, it means he may have vomited or brought up some acid from the stomach and then inhaled it into his lungs which caused him to die from a type of aspiration pneumonia.


A family member of mine died recently in a car wreck. When he was autopsied they cut both of his arms open. Why would they do that?

There are many different answers which I can give you – but, I don’t know which one would apply to your particular situation.

1.The arms could be opened to document the extent of injuries (broken bones, etc.).

2.The arms could be opened looking for blood clots or other types of trauma.

3. If there was donation – they cut along the arms to remove long bones for donation.

These are the top reasons that come to mind.


Why would 6-Acetylmorphine be found in the vitreous blood but not in femoral blood?

It’s actually 6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM for short) and it is found in the blood or the vitreous (which is a clear fluid in the eye – not blood).  The vitreous holds levels more stable than the blood – so, it may have not metabolized between the two at the time death occurred.


Do you sugarcoat the condition of bodies for family members and friends when an accident happens? I lost several very close and dear friends in the Oakland warehouse fire, and in all three cases, the coroner reported that the bodies were not burned. However nobody got to see the bodies, they were cremated. I’m struggling with not trusting the reports.

I don’t sugar coat anything.  I tell families exactly how things are – and I’ve never denied anyone the opportunity to see/view a loved one. However, the fact that you are friends and not family may exclude you from the circle of people who are given all of the details.  I can’t speak for the other coroner – but, if they say the bodies weren’t burned, I’d be inclined to believe they were not burned.  Direct cremation is a very popular disposition – especially if there is any type of trauma to the body.


We are trying to view my little brother’s body. He died late Friday night. The coroner’s office told us that nobody was working this weekend and not on Monday either because it was a holiday. Now, it’s Tuesday and they are telling us that the only way we can view the body is at a funeral home. Do they legally have the right to deny us a viewing until such a time as we are able to find a funeral home that we can afford to do a funeral through?

The answer is, yes, the coroner’s office can deny you an opportunity for a viewing – that is what the funeral home is for.  You can ask that the funeral home prepare the body on a table, draped with a sheet and presentable for a private viewing – without incurring the cost of embalming and a full funeral service – however, this is at the availability and discretion of the funeral home you are working with.


Can you tell by doing an autopsy if someone has been strangled? Hit over the head?

Yes and yes.


I have a family member who died a few years ago. There was an autopsy performed and the cause of death was alcohol, hydrocodone and dihydrocodiene. Nothing else was in his system. Wouldn’t there be other substances that accompany these drugs?

Not necessarily – these are actually a common combination of drugs seen in overdose situations.


Is an 80 minute difference in time of death considered close when two time measurements (approximately 40 minutes apart) give 6 hours ago and 8 hours ago?

I’m not sure I exactly understand your question – but, no, a 2 hour discrepancy in time estimation is actually quite small.  We sometimes give 12 hour windows.


If a person were underwater for two months in a river, would they still show a bruise on their knee?



Thanks for reading! We have already received enough questions for a Part 4. Once they are sorted and replied to, we will get it uploaded. Thanks for reading! If you have a question of your own, send it our way.


Also, the updated version of our book is up! We added new questions and changed the layout. It’s cleaner, prettier, and perfect for quick reading. Go ahead and check it out, HERE.


Ask a Coroner Q&A (Part 2)

We’re back with Part Two! If you missed Part One, go ahead and check that out here. As always, if you have any questions for our Coroner, go ahead and ask them here!

Now on to the good stuff:

Q: “Doing some research for a television program — do body bags come with a name tag on the exterior? If so, when did that become common practice? Is the toe tag still the dominant method for identifying the deceased?”

A: No, no and no.

We have never done a toe tag… In my 20+ years I’ve never even seen a toe tag (that I recall).  I write with a sharpie marker on the outside of the body bag, the person’s name, date and my initials.  Some places have medical wrist bands that they use.  Some places have a sticker that is filled out and goes on the body bag.  I’m more than certain people still use toe tags somewhere – just not here.  Also, a lot of the bigger jurisdictions have moved to a bar coding system – so, the wrist band and/or body bag has a bar code which is scanned for identification purposes.


Q: “A deputy coroner chose not to order an autopsy on a 63 year old deceased male because his head and neck were cyanotic. He described the blue color of the head and neck as the cardiac collar, indicating the man died from a heart attack. No tox screen was performed and the man was embalmed and buried. The man’s will is now being contested and his family is making death threats against the attorney trying to investigate the death. Any thoughts on possible causes of death and the “cardiac collar” theory?”

A: When blood flow is restricted because of a blockage in one of the coronary arteries there is often a bluish/purplish distinct tint that begins at approximately the nipple line and goes up – especially if the person is lying on a bed or on the floor, and the head is resting somewhat below the level of the chest – which causes the blood to pool in that area.  It is a distinct sign of sudden cardiac death.  The family should not make death threats – that’s bad form.  The attorney will not be able to change the cause of death.  Simply get a copy of the coroner’s report in addition to the death certificate.  I can’t even begin to guess at a cause of death.  However, I would suggest a more ‘blanket’ type cause of death such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or hypertensive cardiovascular disease in a case such as this.  Using acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) is specific and really should only be used if it is a known blood clot or complete blockage in one of the coronary arteries.  Given the information you provided, however, it’s probably a fair assumption.


Q: “Will the coroner’s office try to figure out whether the deceased had life insurance before they hand over the body to the state? This would be in order to see whom the beneficiary is (either family they had not been able to locate who can then make arrangements; or the funeral home so they can have a proper burial?). Will the funeral home be notified so they can file a claim for burial/cremation?”

A: Several things to say here: We don’t look for life insurance before releasing the body for disposition at the cost of the state.  What happens, is we hold the body for a long time and exhaust all efforts to find the next of kin.  If no one is ultimately found, the body is released for disposition at the cost of the state and ALL assets are seized by the state.  If someone is found and wants nothing to do with the body – they sign away all rights to all assets and the body is buried/cremated by the state.  Generally, if there is a life insurance beneficiary that person is in a position to be able to cover the nominal costs of a direct cremation if nothing else.


Q: “This question is a personal and honestly depicted scenario about suicide. Please be extremely honest and I will explain further should you require it. Please tell me if a male who is over 6ft commits suicide by hanging .. outside in the woods and is there undiscovered for approx 14-16 days what would he look like … based on normal animal, weather and decomposition, I really need to know because something is bugging me about this.”

A: I will be as blunt as possible to answer your question as directly as I can.  My answer is: I don’t know.  I would need to know many more things. Are we talking outside in the woods in Florida for 16 days or outside in the woods in Northern Maine for 16 days?  Are we talking July or November?  Are we talking hanging with suspension or hanging with feet on the ground? With some more information, I might be able to answer this question more thoroughly. Feel free to email askacoroner@gmail.com and I will try to help you some more.


Q: “Is it true that the legs will cross if a person dies while standing?”

A: No.


Q: “My son drowned 10 years ago and was in a river for 3-4 days before he was found. He was not embalmed, and buried in a coffin. What would the condition of his body/ bones be now?”

A: First off, my sincerest condolences for the loss of your son. Decomposition is usually slowed while the body is still in the water and then accelerated considerably when out of the water.  After 10 years, and not embalmed, my thought is that he is mostly skeletonized at this point. Again, I’m so sorry.


Q: “I am doing research for a book I am writing….just a quick question, that you may or may not be able to answer: If a person who has emphysema, is on breathing treatments to open his lungs to be able to breath, along with oxygen and was suffocated, is this something that would show up in an autopsy, or would the other conditions probably make this undetectable?”

A: My first thought is, “why is someone with emphysema and oxygen dependent being autopsied  in the first place?”  There has to be more to the story to even consider an autopsy of someone with that kind of medical history.


Q: “Can forensic autopsy prove that a newborn infant has been purposely smothered/suffocated? If so how does the coroner reach the conclusion that the infant did not die of “natural causes.”‘

A: “Sometimes” is my best answer. Sometimes there is blanching where the nose and mouth were covered.  Sometimes there are frenulum tears.  Sometimes it is just scene interpretation and personal interviews that leads to a diagnosis of suffocation.


Thanks for reading! Stick around (subscribe to our site to receive email notifications) for Part 3 which will be published soon. Keep the questions coming!

Finally, the Q&A you have been waiting for! (Part 1)

We have received SO many questions – very interesting ones at that! For those new to this site, Jacquie is a Coroner in Kendall County, Illinois. She has dedicated most of her life working in the death industry. Here, she spends time talking about various aspects of death. Many questions asked by users on an anonymous internet forum, along with her stories, information and advice have been published in the book, “Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die“. Since the book release, she has continued answering them here on the blog. We have received hundreds of questions from all over the world. If you have one of your own, we invite you to go ahead and ask here.

Now, let’s get right in to the good stuff!

Q: “Hey Jacquie! I first read about you on BHB, so of course had to buy your book. I read it in one day and loved it. It’s awesome, and so are you! Thank you for starting this conversation and bringing awareness to this very important and unavoidable topic. It really got me thinking about my own death.

Which brings me to my question. Naturally, after reading your book, I tried talking to my husband about making plans and at least having a general idea of being prepared for “when the time comes” for us. It’s something we’ve never discussed. We don’t have a will or anything either. So when I brought it up, I just said that this book was eye-opening, made me think, etc. and that I think it’s important to think about and discuss. He just closed off completely and got stubborn and defensive. He then refused to talk about it. I can kind of understand where he’s coming from, because his mother died young about 14 years ago from complications after a liver transplant when he was 20. They were extremely close, and it was (and still is) very difficult for him to deal with. I’ve fortunately not yet experienced the death of a parent or anyone else very close to me. I want to have this conversation with him, but I know it’s painful for him to talk or even think about death. I mean, it’s not something I like thinking about, either, but it’s kind of important. He says he doesn’t want to feel pressured/shamed/guilted into talking about something he’s not comfortable thinking about. (I did none of those things when I brought up the topic – all I said was, hey this is something we should talk about.) The last thing I want to do is bring up bad or painful memories for him, but I do want to have some sort of plan to help alleviate that worry down the road (for both of us). I have no idea what his thoughts are about his own death. Does he want to be buried, and if so, where? Or does he want to be cremated, and if so, what does he want done with the cremains? It just makes me nervous/anxious thinking about it obviously, because even though I don’t want to think about him dying in the first place, it makes it so much more difficult not even having a general idea of what he would want because he refuses to talk about it.

I can’t force him to talk about this, but where do I go from here? Do you have any suggestions for ways I can gently talk about this without making him feel pressured? I feel like there’s no easy way to talk about this stuff. But I want to establish a “plan” for myself at the very least, and I do plan on writing some of this stuff down. I’m just at a loss as to what to do when it comes to my husband.

Anyway, thanks so much for everything you do! I can only hope that the coroner in charge of handling my death is as wonderful, compassionate, and caring as you are.”

A: Honestly, one of the best suggestions I can think of is to make your own plans for him. Write them all down, then show them to him. If he doesn’t have any opinions, seeing your ideas might make him start thinking and compel him form some of his own. If you really want to get him to participate, make sure the plans you create are absolutely terrible. I am sure he’ll object if you tell him you want to have his body stuffed to be on display in the living room, or that you want his remains turned in to a toilet paper holder. When he does, tell him it’s happening unless he comes up with something better. Thank you for your kind words! I’m sorry to hear of his loss. Death is a painful topic for many people, but when it comes to the details, there really isn’t any easy way to sugarcoat it.


Q: “During an autopsy are AIDS and Hepatitis automatically checked for? Are toxicology and blood tests (for disease) run even if they find something catastrophic early on?”

A: AIDS is never routinely checked for.  Even with clinical history – we don’t check for it. We’ll make note that the person has a clinical diagnosis of AIDS.  Hepatitis is a very broad term for inflammation/diseases of the liver, and hepatitis is often seen. We don’t necessarily test for which type of hepatitis unless microscopic studies are needed for some reason.


Q: “How many deaths do you see with pineal lesion or cyst, also with hemiplegic migraine?”

A: Personally, I’ve never seen a Pineal Lesion or cyst (Pineal Gland Lesions are rare and cause symptoms like headaches, seizures, emesis and paralysis of upward gaze.) The doctors and techs I work with, in other counties, have seen them. Again, very rare.  Hemiplegic Migraine, (which causes weakness on one side of the body during a migraine), I haven’t ever come across.


Q: “What are the rules regarding what information a coroner can disclose, and who they can disclose it to? What about cases of suicide?”

A: It depends on the state you are in.  In IL, each case is considered public record and can be disclosed to anyone who asks.  Generally, people don’t ask… but, if they do, we have to let them see it or provide copies.  Certain copies (autopsy reports, toxicology reports, coroner reports, etc.) have a fee set by state statute – so, people have to pay the fees to get copies of those reports.  The only thing we don’t give out is a copy of the death certificate which is considered to be a vital record and not public record.


Q: “I’m writing a novel and it the detective wants to know if a murder victim had sexual intercourse before his demise. Is there a way the medical examiner can determine that and how? Thank you.”

A: For a male, I believe the only way would be to swab the inside of the urethra for sperm and to swab the outside for DNA for another person (female or male).


Q: “If you were choosing a career field now, would you choose this career? Why or why not?”

A: No, if I could choose any career, I would want to be my husband’s smartphone so he’d interact with me more.

Honestly, though, I would probably choose something similar, but not this actual career.  I’d likely go into forensic genetics.  Reasons?  1) Hours. 2) Pay.


Q: “Can a coroner’s report detail the exact benzo or opiate that was in your system, or will the class of the drug just be listed? If they don’t know, will they just list the class instead of the exact name of drug? I’ve seen reports with both.”

A: All forensic labs have testing limits.  So, for easy math, let’s pretend the testing limit for the blood is 1.0 and the actual level found in the body is 0.75 – then, no – it won’t be listed in the blood because it doesn’t meet the reporting limit. However, if there is a urine sample provided with the blood sample – then, the urine sample will show positive/negative results and it will show positive for the actual drug classification.  That’s probably why you have seen reports with both.  However, if we pretend the drug met the testing limit, let’s say in this case it was heroin, then the blood results will show morphine with an actual level, plus another agent that is usually used to cut the heroin, (let’s say codeine), plus we will see 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) which always indicates heroin.  The urine will simply show positive for opiates and positive for 6-MAM.  But, we will also see a positive for opiates in the blood.  I hope that makes some sense.


Q: “Would a person who Over dosed on a speedball know what is happening to them?”

A: No. They would eventually just go to sleep/pass out and their body systems would shut down slowly.


Q: “How is the corpse’s hair prepared for a showing?”

A: For a woman, usually a funeral home contracts with a hairdresser who comes in and does the hair.  The hair is washed during the embalming process.  It is combed straight through.  The hair dresser will use curling irons, flat irons, etc. to style the hair according to the family’s wishes.  Men’s hair is simply combed.


Q: “If a person colors/dyes their hair, does the dye seep through the scalp onto the skull cap and then color the skull cap (multicolor)?”

A: No. Not at all.


Q: “I’m an absolute mess….have been for over 6 months….I not only have extreme torso bloating…I am all bones from the chest up. Severe pain that only aspirin and milk seem to help…any ideas…thanks..!!”

A: WAT? Umm, I’d recommend you see an internist…


Q: “For what reason would you open a person’s back and legs during an autopsy?”

A: We would open the legs looking for deep vein thrombosis.  We would open the back looking for deep tissue injury in the event of an in-custody beating or something like that.  Mostly we can see the back wall from the inside when we have the chest open and the organs removed – so, anything pertinent will be seen.  There’s very little reason to open the back.  In child abuse cases, we will make thin slices (called fileting) from the top of the shoulders, long ways, to the bottom of the thighs, looking for deep tissue bruising from severe abuse.  Depending on the size of the child you could have anywhere from 10 to 20 or so ‘slices’ down the back. It is very sad.


More questions will be posted soon. If reading these triggered a few questions of your own, go ahead and ask them! Thanks for reading & sharing.

(If you sent a question requiring a personal reply, check your email, as some were sent out today. If you still haven’t received a response, send an email to askacoroner@gmail.com)


Still Alive

Hey everyone,

I know, I know, it has been a while! We are so sorry to have been missing these last few months. Things have been a whirlwind, but we’re still breathing and have a lot of exciting news!

As many of you know, Jacquie has been campaigning to be her county’s next coroner. With the retirement of her boss, she decided to throw her hat in the ring this election,AND WON! In typical writer fashion, I asked her for an “official comment” on the election. She always has something good to say, I swear. “My treasurer told me to trust my voters and I did. That gave me a lot of comfort on election night. I was prepared for the ebb /flow of the results, but that didn’t happen…I started with a lead and as the night went on that lead got bigger and stronger. I was SO happy and thankful to everyone who supported and believed in me. I will assume the office of Coroner on December 1 and have huge plans for making this office the biggest and best ever. It’s odd…I’m probably the only elected coroner who doesn’t think we should have coroners (I still think regional medical examiners makes the most sense), but as long as we have a coroner system I am going to do my very best to make sure that our office and county are represented as top notch and go from there.”

Campaigning, working full time, parenting and so much more has pulled us away from this blog and our book. We are finally getting back in to the swing of things. Some of you have noticed the print version is no longer available on Amazon and other vendor sites. We are currently working on a new layout, so the print has been pulled. The feedback we received on the book has been absolutely amazing! But, it was brought to our attention that the inside was lacking the look and interest that both the cover and the writing possessed. Honestly, it fell flat, and we 100% agreed. So, we have decided to re-format the entire book to make it match the heart and tone we have set everything else at. While this process is underway we have been making some changes and additions to the text – so it will look and feel like a whole new book! If you have read the book and would like to offer any feedback, shoot us an email at askacoroner@gmail.com (or leave an amazon review – we don’t obsessively check those or anything…). We take your words seriously, and they are so appreciated.

So many questions have come in over these last couple months. Jacquie is working tirelessly on answering each and every one. I will be putting out a few blog posts with the questions and her answers very soon, so keep your eyes peeled. I want to apologize for taking so long to get back to everyone. If you don’t see your question answered over the next few weeks, please feel free to send us a direct email and we will work to get the answer. askacoroner@gmail.com

Thanks again everyone! You’ll be seeing more of us around here!


How One Person’s Views on Life, Death & Snickers Bars were Forever Changed

So, there’s this coroner who invited thousands of strangers to ask her questions about death. Sounds like a pretty weird invitation, right? My first thought upon discovering this, was, “What kind of weirdo’s actually want to talk about death?” I, myself, had done a pretty good job at completely avoiding any and every aspect of death, and thoroughly intended to keep it that way. However, my curiosity was piqued and I had a bit of time on my hands, so I began reading. Plus, I kind of wanted to see what types of questions these death crazed maniacs were asking.
One of the first question was from someone wondering the strangest thing the coroner had ever found in a body. Jacquie, the coroner, replied, “A fun-sized Snickers bar and a remote control. It was pretty awkward returning that remote to the family…” Another person chimed in and said, “Wait, you returned the remote, but what did you do with the Snickers?” Jacquie quickly replied, “I ate the Snickers bar.”  *Insert face of shock and horror*

It was at that moment that I became hooked (and found myself thinking, “No friggin’ way! Is this real life?!” Over and over again). This coroner was clearly hilarious, and the questions were both interesting and informative. I figured, “hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and spent the next few days delving in to this collection of questions and answers. There were plenty of interesting questions about if Jacquie had ever encountered ghosts, the unsolvable or scary cases she has worked, how she would like to die, and how in the world did she ever decide to become a coroner? Mixed in were heartfelt stories of people who had experienced loss. There were things they had always wondered about and needed the answers to help with their healing journey. Others were genuinely curious about the options we all have for our body when we die and the pure logistics of how the process actually works. One person even asked how a decomposing body really smells? (I can guarantee the coroner’s explanation is not what you think, and entirely doable for you folks who want experience it at home. Any DIYers in the room?)

I found a few things to be interesting about all of this dialogue: It was entirely death focused. The stories, the information, the questions and even the humor. Here was a group of random strangers (whom, to my surprise, weren’t death freaks at all, but every day, normal people, just like me,) conversing about a subject that most everyone avoids. And everyone was having a good time! I learned that there are so many different aspects to death, and while many are sad, heartfelt and meaningful, there is also an entirely different side that includes laughter and jokes and curiosity. A side I had never experienced before. This lighthearted approach tempered the typical depressing (and easily avoidable) aspects, allowing us all to become comfortable with talking about it and encouraging us to really start viewing death in an entirely new way. And that, was my ah-ha” moment. I suddenly realized that everyone needs to be talking about death – and this book, Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die, was my golden ticket to this new reality.

The fact of the matter is, as the title states, we are all going to die. And there is actually a ton of stuff we should be doing to prepare for the inevitable. But, because many of us love to avoid the issue, most people never prepare at all. And even more of us don’t even know how  to prepare. By the end of the book, I walked away with an entirely new perspective on life and death, as well as a complete understanding of what is actually expected of me before I pass. All while having a few laughs! The book also offers a guide to planning the details of what you want to have happen when you die, as recommended by a coroner. It’s an entirely new take on death, and one that truly changed me after I experienced all it had to offer. Bonus – I am now able to talk about this stuff with all my friends, and at these newly discovered death café’s (which you should all totally be checking out, by the way,) because I have an arsenal of crazy interesting stories and the book itself to talk about. As it turns out, we’re all just a bunch of crazy death freaks who can’t resist juicy stories about Snickers bars in bodies, death poops, and that one guy who died naturally while committing suicide.

In case you’re wondering, the book is called, Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Itunes, etc. Jacquie still answers questions, and you can submit yours/learn more on her site, www.askacoroner.com


(This post was submitted to the site by a reader. Thank you!)


Let’s all learn a little about choking

This is SO important. Please take a minute to read the graphic and send it to those who may find this information valuable. (Which, really, should be everyone.)

If you’ve ever been around a young kid eating, you have most likely seen them gag on a piece of food. Children have extremely heightened gag reflex. This function is skillfully designed to keep them safe when it comes to eating. Usually, when a child gags, they make a big show of it (and rightfully so. Gagging is terrifying to a little kid!). Everyone in the room will know they are struggling, and many people see that red face and hear the retching sounds, and automatically assume they are choking. They immediately run to the child’s aid and begin doing things like lifting arms and slapping backs. This, above all else, is actually the most dangerous way a person can react in this situation. Though the child may appear panicked, their body is reacting in the perfect way to clear the passage and prevent choking. Their tongues will likely be thrusting forward, they should be making a gasping or retching sound, and they will likely appear frightened. These gagging instincts help to protect the child and need to occur until the piece of food is completely expelled. However, when an adult or caregiver begins interfering with the process (screaming, back patting, arm raising, picking up, etc.), the child is MUCH more likely to actually begin choking.

Take it from someone who knows… Choking deaths are absolutely terrible.

Please take the time to look over the symptoms of each. I know we are always eager to help a distressed child, but there are times that this can actually do much more harm than good. I have seen it, and am so passionate about educating others, because ultimately it will save lives.


Gagging vs. Choking

Learn the riddle and spread the message by either sharing this post, or save the image and share that way. We can all help educate those around us and save lives! Choking deaths can be preventable. We just need to knowledge and discernment to help. Thanks everyone!

Do coroners cover-up suicides? 7

We received this question: How accurately do coroners report suicide? On the one hand, you don’t want to scotch any life insurance payouts, or stigmatize a family. On the other hand, accurate statistics are important for understanding trends. And on the proverbial third hand, it may be difficult to tell. How do you handle possible suicides?
I record all deaths, including suicides, as accurately as I can based on all of the information we have gathered surrounding the deceased. I would never alter or inaccurately record the circumstances of a death for insurance or reputation purposes, nor would any other coroner I have worked with. I cannot speak for everyone, obviously, but I would hope that the only coroners involved in cover-ups of this sort are the ones found in Hollywood. If we are unsure of the cause of death, we rule it undetermined. Again, that’s regardless of any circumstances. Death is what it is and we aim to accurately determine causes of death based facts and information.
That being said, I most certainly feel for the families that find themselves in those situations. Suicide is never an easy thing to go through. Handling the insurance aspect is certainly not a pleasant process. As far at the stigma – I know it happens, but I have to say that I find it incredibly unfair. Those left behind after a suicide often carry an immense amount of guilt and grief. I have witnessed family members place blame on each other for the suicide. I try to warn people to avoid going down the blame path. It tears families apart. I have seen it many times. Ultimately, no one is responsible for another persons feelings or actions, especially in relation to the act of committing suicide. The blame cannot lie with the people left behind. It is not theirs to carry. I hope that more people can come to understand these things and that this “suicide stigma” can cease to exist.

A letter to you 3

To all the parents I have had to meet,

One of the hardest moments of my job in the Coroner’s office was having to meet you during the worst day of your life. It was the day your world stopped spinning and ceased to exist as you knew it. The day that marked the start of a painfully long and unwanted chapter. The day that the beautiful child you brought in to this world was undeservingly taken out of it. It was a day that I have unfortunately witnessed far too many times. A day that never gets easier for me to be a part of. A day that I desperately wish you never had to live. A day that I thought and felt all of the things I am telling you now.

Mothers, I heard the deep, primal sounding cries bellowing out of you as you sprawled over the precious child you just lost, soaking them with your tears. This sound pierces my heart and steals space from my soul. Each time I hear it, I pray it will be the last. Fathers, I witnessed you shake and sob and punch holes through walls, then beg me to let you take your son or daughter home. I cringe when I remember the sound of you pleading to rewind from here, to set the clock back a day and start all over again. My heart breaks as I think back on these moments, but there are a few things I want you to know…

I want you to know that I care. Then and now. I care so deeply about you and your child. I cared about all of the details you needed me to know about your child on that day. I took in every bit of the information you gave to me, because you knew them best, and I made sure to use it. This is not just a job to me and the day I met you was certainly not just “another day at the office”. I want you to know that I did everything in my power to make sure your child had what they needed. I would have stayed in the office for any length of time so that you could sit with them as long as you wanted. I want you to know that I tried to anticipate your needs and help you with anything I possibly could.

I want you to know that you didn’t have to worry about them after you planted that final kiss on their tender cheek and walked out of my door. I know you did, and probably still do, anyway, because that’s what parents do. But I hope you can worry a little less with the knowledge I was here, with a heavy heart, gently caring for them. I want you to see that I tenderly wrapped your young child in a blanket so they’d be comfortable, and that I always left the lights on in case they were afraid of the dark. I want you to know that I paused and took a moment to grieve over the days and milestones your teen almost made it to but would never get to experience. I want you to know that even though you could not be here to walk out those final steps for them, I did everything in my power to do it as well as you would.

I am completely aware of the fact that I am not you. I could never know how you feel or what you have experienced. I know that nothing would have truly helped you through this day. But I hope that you could find some small comfort in the fact that I was here, guiding your child through those last crucial steps in the same way would for my own. I want you to know that I took care to do everything properly and did my best to avoid making any mistakes. I want you to know that I fought with all that I had to get all of the answers you deserved. If justice was needed, I did everything in my power to ensure it was served.

I am horribly and truly saddened that we had to spend this day together. But I hope that in some small way, by some small measure, I played a part in the beginning of your long, restorative, healing journey. I want you to know that as that day ended, I sat at home, with tears streaming down my face, thinking of you. I want you to know that I have thought about you since that day, and I will continue think of you in the days and years ahead, because you and your beautiful child have a permanent place in my heart.


With so much love,


Deputy Coroner & Author of Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die


(This letter was written for a few reasons. First and foremost, to the parents who have lost children. I just want them to know that there are people like me out here that deeply care for them and their children, especially in those final times. More importantly, I want them to know that people like me still care about and remember and grieve for them. Second, I know that in writing this, I speak for many coroners and other death investigators. The way we care for our families, whether they are children or adults, is a part of our job description as much as it is a part of who we are. You are the reason many of us come to work everyday and give our very best to the job. I wrote this in hopes that everyone becomes aware of what a coroner does. It is so much more than showing up to scenes and working on bodies. We are here for you, to find answers, comfort and assist in any way possible when it comes to the loss of your loved one. I hope that by coming to understand this, you can use us as a resource during your time of need, and that most importantly, you hold us accountable to do our jobs properly. We are here, we are available, and we want to help.)