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A cold case: Can forensic entomology be useful 9 years after the crime?

Magni, P.A., Saravo, L. and Aprea, G. (2009) A cold case: Can forensic entomology be useful 9 years after the crime? In: 7th Meeting European Association for Forensic Entomology (EAFE), 9 - 12 June 2009, Uppsala, Sweden.


On June 2001, during the afternoon an 18 years old girl disappeared from a small city in the South of Italy. Three days later the corpse of a girl was found in a wood not far from the city. She was dressed, her hands and feet were tied with wire and her head was covered with a plastic bag. The murder appeared to be an execution. The autopsy confirmed that it was the same girl that disappeared. It was determined that she was not sexually abused, but there were many contradictory observations about the cause of death. The head of the girl sustained a bloody wound and the plastic bag over her head was not sealed properly, so there was a large mass of fly larvae on the head wound and in the eyes. The entomological evidence was poorly sampled and not used, instead the level of humidity of the girl’s clothes was used to determine a contradictory time of death. On February 2003, the investigation determined a male suspect who was found with a note written by the girl. After two years of imprisonment he was exonerated. At the end of 2007 the case was reopened and the Prosecutors who were handling the case decided to use forensic entomology to determine the time of death. Entomological samples collected during the autopsy were destroyed some years before, so we worked only on reports, pictures, crime scene and autopsy video and the girl clothes. Furthermore, meteorological data from the area nearest to the crime scene was also available. Desiccated insect material (eggs and larvae) was collected from the girl’s clothes and because of the state of this evidence a morphological examination was not possible. Instead using mtDNA analyses (COI) the insect material was determined to be Lucilia sericata (determined by a taxonomist). To identify the instar of the desiccated larvae we designed an experiment whereby different stages of Lucilia sericata larvae were desiccated and then the length was calculated before and after the dehydration process. This experiment revealed that the larvae from the body of the girl were 2nd instars of Lucilia sericata. This information together with the environmental parameters and the ecological data we determined when that eggs were deposited and therefore the most probable time of death. Based on this information a new investigation is being conducted.

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