In Sri Lanka, a 76-year-old female was found dead in her house lying supine on the bed and the chest was covered with a T-shirt and the lower part of the body was exposed. The right foot was resting on the floor. The arms were spread out and the head was resting on a pillow. There was no sign of a struggle. The T-shirt had 3 tear marks and the piece of cotton cloth was found on the floor which was extensively torn and it was believed that this material had been used to cover the lower part of her body.
Postmortem animal scavenging is a familiar phenomenon to forensic death investigators. The Discovery of decomposed bodies in a domestic setting is not an uncommon occurrence. However postmortem animal scavenging of their owner is not commonly reported but can occur when the main predisposing factors are social isolation, living with free pets in the house, and a medical condition causing sudden death.
In domestic surroundings, pets and rodents who have access to the corpse can cause drastic postmortem damages. Thus postmortem scavenging is a potential source of puzzling marks for forensic pathologists and investigators when unveiling criminal activity. In cases where there is indoor postmortem scavenging the cause of the death can be either natural, suicidal, or accidental. However, to arrive at a definitive conclusion of the animal responsible for postmortem scavenging, careful examination of the scene where the body was recovered from and thorough examination of the external injuries on the corpse is of paramount important
The house was in a state of disorder with garbage everywhere. There was hardly any blood at the scene and on the clothing except few dried-up patches on the T-shirt. There were no signs of struggle and the house was locked from inside. At the time of the recovery of the body, 15 dogs were living free inside the house including 4 puppies and 4 medium-sized male dogs. All of them had been kept inside the house by the deceased and were thought to be rescued stray dogs which had not been properly trained as pets. The woman was last seen alive by her son 11 days before and by the neighbors 4 days before. According to the son of the deceased, she had been living alone and was suffering from diabetes for a long time for which she was on oral medication. As the cause of the death was not known forensic autopsy was conducted on the order issued by the magistrate.
The body was in a badly putrefied status and the head was partly skeletonized. The upper partial acrylic denture was in place. The left hand was missing up to the elbow and the humerus was exposed. Toes of both the right and left feet were missing and the metatarsal bones on the right leg were exposed. The autopsy revealed no fractures in the head. The soft tissue defects showed no slashing of tissues. The wound edges on the right leg revealed small parallel partially curved superficial notch marks suggestive of a bite wound. There was a single puncture wound next to the soft tissue defect in the right leg and it can be attributed to a canine imprint of a dog. According to the postmortem changes, the time between the death and the recovery of the body was about 4-6 days.
Histological examination of the wound edges showed no obvious vital reaction. Toxicological analysis of the blood showed no significant alcohol levels or any other toxic substances.
According to the autopsy and histological findings the cause of the death was recognized as complications of Diabetes Mellitus. In considering the death scene investigations, autopsy, and forensic odontological examinations it was concluded that the injuries found on the body of the 76-year-old woman had to be caused postmortem by the dogs found at the scene.
Pets as well as animals such as rodents who have access to the house can be responsible for indoor postmortem scavenging. The most common pet animals of indoor postmortem scavenging are dogs and cats however small animals such as birds and hamsters have also been reported of showing similar behavior patterns.
Frequently the face, hands, and legs are destroyed by postmortem animal interference as they are unclothed and thus easily accessible. Even in the presence of plenty of food in the near proximity, indoor postmortem mutilation by pets has been noted. Furthermore, such activities have been noted even within a very short period of time after death. These reasons clearly show that the only reason for such behavior by the animal is not hunger or lack of food in the proximity. The other reasons for such behavior are associated with the psychological state of the animal. A pet noticing his master being in an unconscious state will try to help by licking or nudging, failing to produce any positive results the behavior of the animal can become more fanatic and could lead to biting. This kind of behavior is known as “displacement” which is motivated by confusion and fear.