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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Analysis of 155 consecutive forensic exhumations with emphasis on undetected homicides.

A total of 155 consecutive forensic exhumations performed in Münster, Germany from 1967 to 2001 were evaluated retrospectively on the basis of the autopsy report, the police report and the death certificate. Histology and toxicology were performed in most cases. The postmortem intervals varied from 8 days to 8 years. Compared to other countries, the autopsy rate was low (1.2-1.4%) and the exhumation rate high (0.016%): principle of reciprocity. The cause of death could be clearly determined in 103 cases (66.5%) and histology or toxicology were decisive in 40%. Some findings were discernable using immunohistochemistry after considerable postmortem intervals, such as acute myocardial infarction after 1 year and pneumonia after 2 years and a diazepam intoxication was determined after 4.5 years. Major deviations between the cause of death as stated on the death certificate and as diagnosed after autopsy existed in 57 cases (37%). A more detailed analysis revealed five subgroups. 1. primary suspicion of intoxication (n=18) confirmed in 6 cases including 3 homicides (with parathion, clozapin, diazepam) which are described in more detail. 2. primary suspicion of homicide other than poisoning (n=51) confirmed in 19 cases. There was a serial killing of 15 patients by injection of air. In the remaining 4 cases, a shaken infant, craniocerebral injuries from blows with beer bottles, a craniocerebral gunshot and a multiplicity of blunt force injuries were diagnosed. The latter two cases are described in more detail. Superficial external examinations and the low autopsy rate were 2 common reasons for the occurrence of "buried homicides" (n=22)-not a single forensic autopsy had been performed directly after the death of the victims. 3. primary suspicion of medical malpractice (n=39). 4. accidents including traffic accidents (n=30). 5. clarification of the cause of death, circumstances or identity (n=17). Exhumations were frequently successful for recovering evidence which should better have been collected immediately after the death of an individual. Exhumations can also be regarded as an instrument to evaluate the quality of death certificates and death investigations.[1]


  1. Analysis of 155 consecutive forensic exhumations with emphasis on undetected homicides. Karger, B., Lorin de la Grandmaison, G., Bajanowski, T., Brinkmann, B. Int. J. Legal Med. (2004) [Pubmed]
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