Autodidact: self-taught


Dead Men

by V. L. Craven

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by William R Maples, PhD and Michael Browning

p20: People began to see that something more goes to the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed–a knife–a purse–and a dark lane. Design, gentlemen, grouping, light and shade, poetry, sentiment, are now deemed indispensable to attempts of this nature. ¬† –Thomas De Quincey, On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts

p21: …the hissing, malignant envy that is the curse of university life at all times and in all places; the constant struggle to get published, to win tenure, to carve out a niche and be recognized in one’s field–all these torments are well known in Academe, and have been known to drive some people mad, even to suicide.

p35: There are times when you might walk into this room and know right away we’ve been working on something fresh. Sometimes the odors are ghastly. Sometimes, believe it or not, they are appetizing. Strange to say, when I was in my old laboratory in the Florida Museum of Natural History, people would come in and say: ‘What’s cooking?’ or ‘That sure smells good.’ When they found out it was a freshly burned human body they would go green and rush out.

p47: The general rule of thumb for the rate of decomposition is: one week in the open air equals two weeks in water, equals eight weeks underground. The horrific picture of ‘worms’ devouring a buried corpse is false. Flies will lay eggs on a body even before it is dead, and their wriggling, wormlike larvae, known as maggots, will hatch out in just under twenty-four hours. The cycle is so regular that it can sometimes be used to establish time of death. But maggots cannot live underground….
Maggots are tough, resourceful creatures. They have been known to feast on the remains of cyanide-poisoning victims and happily thrive on them. They have a covering of chitin that is almost impervious to everything but flamethrowers. They have evolved so as to live out their lives amid surroundings that would make most people faint with nausea; yet for them our corpses are delightful, a fragrant Elysium dripping with nectar and ambrosia. I have seen exultant maggots hopping like popcorn over the decaying remains of a human body, seething an glad myriads, leaping as high as eighteen inches in the air, falling on the floor in a soft, pattering noise, like gentle rainfall. They attack not at random, but in concert, like shoals of hungry piranhas. I have known maggots to attack a body so zestfully that, over the space of a few hours, their combined jostling can shove the false teeth out of a dead man’s mouth.

p49: A buried body can be devilishly difficult to find. In fact, except for the rare accident, buried bodies are seldom found, unless someone confesses to their whereabouts. Even then, it may prove extraordinarily difficult to locate the actual grave, because of changes in vegetation or terrain, or the confused state of mind of the individual who did the digging. ‘It was dark. I couldn’t really see. I think it was around here somewhere.’ … But if no one talks, and the burial remains secret, and the grave ages a bit, then finding a buried body is in the truth the rarest of accidents.

pp103 This requires some explanation, particularly at airports. I always make a point of telling the airline ticket agent just how many skulls I have with me in my luggage–not to shock her, but to make sure, in case the plane crashes, investigators will know why there were more skulls than passengers aboard. This is mere professional courtesy to my colleagues, who will have to pick through my remains in the event of an accident.

pp118- The instruments of murder are manifold as the unlimited human imagination. Apart from the obvious–shotguns, rifles, pistols, knives, hatches and axes–I have seen meat cleavers, machetes, ice picks, bayonets, hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, crowbars, prybars, two-by-fours, tree limbs, jack handles (which are not ‘tire irons’; nobody carries tire irons anymore), building blocks, crutches, artificial legs, brass bedposts, pipes, bricks, belts, neckties, pantyhose, ropes, bootlaces, towels and chains–all these things and more, used by human beings to dispatch fellow human beings into eternity. I have never seen a butler use a candelabrum! Such recherch√© elegance is apparently confided to England. I did see a pair of sneakers used to kill a woman, and they left distinctive tread marks where the murderer stepped on her throat and crushed the life from her. I have not seen an icicle used to stab someone, though it is said to be the perfect weapon, because it melts afterward. But I do know of a case in which a man was bludgeoned to death with a frozen ham.

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