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Decomposition of the entire body, including discoloration, skin slippage, bloating, mummification of lower arms, legs, and thighs, and marbling of abdomen and thighs and near-total detachment of scalp with hair.

Decomposition, or putrefaction, is a combination of two processes: autolysis and bacterial action. Autolysis is the breakdown of cells and organs through an aseptic chemical process caused by intracellular enzymes. Because it is a chemical process, it is accelerated by heat, slowed by cold, and stopped by freezing. Bacterial action results in the conversion of soft tissues in the body to liquids and gases. The chemicals produced as a result of putrefaction are cadaverine and putrescine, hydrogen sulfide and other sulfides, which generate a horrible smell.

Fig.1 Decomposition of the entire body.

Putrefaction begins immediately upon death and usually becomes noticeable within 24 hours. As soon as death occurs, the bacteria or microorganisms within the intestinal tract escape from the bowel into the other tissues of the body. As they grow, they begin to produce gases and other properties that distort and discolor the tissues of the body. The discoloration is a dark greenish combination of colors and is generally pronounced within 36 hours. As a result, the body begins to swell from the putrefactive gases, emitting an extremely repugnant odor.

Skin slippage is when the superficial layers of the skin “slip” off of the body. It occurs early in decomposition, in temperate conditions usually it starts around the two to three day mark and its appearance can be varied. Usually it starts as a formation of what looks like a blister, then when the roof of the blister ruptures the skin then flops off the body. it can make the body surface that is left very slimy to the touch.

Marbling is a common finding usually found after at least 24 h since death occurred and is a red, green, and black discoloration that follows the vessels of the body due to the breakdown of hemoglobin. Marbling occurs when certain types of bacteria found in the abdomen “migrate” to the blood vessels, causing them to assume a purple-greenish tint. This effect gives the skin on some body parts — usually the trunk, legs, and arms — the appearance of marble (hence its name).

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