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!

-Korttany


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.
SPLifeline

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,

Jacquie

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.)


David Bowie & Alan Rickman… Is there a death connection?

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We received this question: How often do you see patterns in death? For instance, two celebrities died this week at age 69, both of cancer. Considering the last celebrity to die at age 69 was over two years ago, two in one week stands out. Do causes of death, ages, given names, etc. tend to cluster?

David Bowie and Alan Rickman both passed away this week. Eerily, both were 69 and both died of cancer. Here are my thoughts: Deaths can happen in a cluster. There is a pretty widespread superstition that bad things, like death, happen in three’s. Though I am not one to really subscribe to these beliefs, I have experienced the same concept in my line of work. There have been multiple occasions where things will be really quiet at the office (because no one seems to be dying,) then suddenly one day the coolers begin filling up. In May of last year I had three heroin overdoses in one week. That many heroin related deaths is extremely unusual. Three in one week certainly stood out and prompted me to call the DEA. I also see an increase in related deaths when the weather shifts. As soon things get a little nippier around here, we experience an uptick in deaths. (They are usually respiratory related. Things like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.) Then, of course, there is the whole theory on suicide and that happening at particular times, which I cover in Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die. So, yes, my answer is that death can tend to cluster or follow a pattern. However, there is usually a reason or a cause for the increase. As far as David Bowie and Alan Rickman are concerned, I’d say their deaths were just a coincidence. An odd and unfortunate one, at that. Though, I guess if I’m being honest, there is always the possibility that maybe, just maybe, death does happen in three’s. And if that’s the case… who’s next?

 

 

The Golden Rule of Spreading Ashes 4

Thank you to everyone who has submitted questions! This blog wouldn’t be alive with you. With all the campaigning for this years election and interviews for the book, it’s nice to spend some time writing about what I know best; Death. Here are a couple questions we recently received.

 

-Why is a permit needed when spreading cremation ashes? What about for spreading them at sea?

I obviously don’t write the rules, so don’t take this answer as gospel truth. But, when it comes to the spreading of ashes, a permit is required simply because ‘they can’. I don’t know of any official reasons why it is required. Now, if you’ll stand by while I put my tongue in my cheek….I will say a lot of people dispose of ashes throughout the world, in various ways, and never ask permission. There are no cremains police running around arresting people. The position of almost every party involved is, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I’d be absolutely shocked if anyone of authority interrupted the beautiful and emotional act of spreading your loved ones ashes to cite you. There is one Golden rule: Take the identifier out of the ashes! Don’t just dump them. There are identifiers (usually round metal tags) that are put in the cremains at the crematory. Though the risk is very minimal, if someone finds the identifier and decides to check on whether a permit was acquired, it can be traced back to you.  Be careful and/or follow the rules.

Things are a little different when it comes to spreading ashes at sea. The law states that the cremains should be put in a permanent container designed to sink them to the bottom of the sea. It has something to do with the Clean Water Act. I am guessing they don’t want a bunch of loose ashes hanging out in the water. The permitting process would be helpful for you to discover all of the rules involved. For instance, you are supposed to be at least three nautical miles off the shore before dropping any cremains. You are also directed to determine the coordinates of where you have dropped them and report back to United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within 30 days. This is understandable, as they would like to be aware of the points that permanent containers are being dropped in to the ocean. Again, though, I am quite certain many people spread ashes out in the sea without following these guidelines. It is really more a moral decision than anything else.

 

-How much time goes by before a body gets stiff?

The time for a body to get stiff (or go into rigor mortis) varies based on several factors: age, muscle build, temperature, etc. A general rule is that a body will start to go into rigor about 2 to 4 hours after death. It should be in full rigor after 6 to 10 hours. Rigor will typically start receding around 20 hours and be pretty much gone after 24 hours or so.

Have any other questions? Throw them my way! Don’t forget to subscribe so you can be notified when the answers pop up.

(We received a question related to investigating a suicide by a person named Andy. Hey, Andy, if you’re seeing this, send a quick email to askacoroner.com so I can get back to you! Very intriguing stuff and I’d like to send you some thoughts I have.)


Where do the braces go?

Here are a few answers to this week’s interesting questions!

When people die that have braces on, do you leave them on or remove them when you are preparing the body for burial or cremation?

Braces and any other type of orthodontic gear is left in place regardless of the type of burial/cremation being performed. That being said, anyone viewing your body would not be able to see or notice the braces. There is a lot done to the mouth when preparing a body for a showing and the mouth will always be fully closed at a showing.

When preparing the mouth, with or without braces, a needle injector is used to insert a tack with a long wire attached to it. One wire is inserted in the upper jaw (maxilla) and one in the lower jaw (mandible) and then the two wires are twisted together until the mouth is securely closed. Often, a piece of cotton or other type of mouth former is placed over the teeth to give a fuller, smoother look. With braces, cotton may be used to fill in any gaps or smooth out any edges created by the hardware. The lips are then glued closed. An alternative to the wire method is to use a ligature and a curved needle. The prepare would insert the needle in the mouth upward under the nose, across the top of the mouth and back down into the bottom jaw, then across the jaw and back out (four points). The ligature would then be tied together to secure the mouth closed.

Does a person pee or poop at the last moment of death?

The answer is sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. It varies from death to death and person to person. The most common thing we see is incontinence with urine. Poop is most often found with cardiac related deaths. This usually ties in to something we call “The Death Poop.” People with cardiac issues often have an overwhelming urge to use the bathroom and unfortunately end up passing away on the toilet.

Have a question to ask Jacquie? Make your way to the “Ask” tab on the website and submit a question to be answered. All questions are anonymous, even to Jacquie. In order to keep this blog interesting, we rely on you to ask all the questions you can think of!

If you’re hungry for more right now, check out Jacquie’s new book, released this week: Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die. It’s filled with all the questions you won’t see here on the blog, as well as an abundance of information, humor and tips on how to prepare for death.