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A 40-year-old woman was found dead in her apartment lying supine on the bed and the upper trunk and legs were fully covered by clothing. The head and neck were almost totally skeletonized apart from a small portion of subcutaneous tissue and facial muscles left on the cheek-bones and chin. The lower partial artificial denture was lying free inside the mouth cavity. Significantly, there was hardly any blood at the scene except for a small amount of dried blood on the head and on parts of the clothing next to the neck region.

There was no sign of a struggle and the apartment was secure. A pit bull terrier owned by the partner was inside the apartment. The woman was last been seen alive by the partner 37 hours before. According to the postmortem changes, the time span between death and the finding of the deceased was about 1 day. A crime was suspected and a forensic autopsy revealed lobar pneumonia with uniform consolidation of the lower lobe of the right lung, histologically appearing as early red hepatization of acute pneumonia.

Fig.1 Woman’s face eaten postmortem by her dog.

Besides pulmonary edema of the left lung and an acute right-sided dilatation of the heart, a slightly enlarged fatty liver was found. The larynx, thyroid gland, parts of the carotid arteries, and the upper fifth of the esophagus and trachea were missing. On the back of the head, a large scalping injury was found. Inspection of the injury margins on the neck showed v-shaped and rhomboid-shaped punctured wounds in the immediate vicinity of the damaged soft tissue margins extending up to 1.2 cm in depth and up to 1.0 cm in diameter. There was no obvious vital subcutaneous bleeding in the ragged wound margins.

Histological examination revealed no vital reactions neither in the soft tissue margins nor in the transected carotid arteries. There was no evidence of blood aspiration or air embolism. Apart from the lungs, no relevant findings attributable to death were found in the other organs by histological examination. Toxicological analysis showed an alcohol level of 194 mg/dl. Death was attributed to lobar pneumonia. According to the autopsy findings and death scene investigation, the injuries were found to be caused postmortem by the pit bull terrier found at the scene.

Although the occurrence of artificial postmortem injuries due to animal scavenging is a well-known fact to forensic death investigators, the morphological appearance of these injuries can be misinterpreted by police officers investigating the suspected crime scene or by the consulted medical practitioner.

In this case, the size and depth of the v-shaped and rhomboid-shaped punctured wounds adjacent to the damaged edges are typical for teeth marks caused by a large dog and were inflicted by a pit bull terrier found at the scene. Stab wound-like bite marks are diagnostic for canine dentition of carnivore origin. In contrast to the finely serrated edges found in postmortem damage of rodent origin, the wound margin of postmortem injuries caused by carnivores appears less regular and often rounded. Another morphological criterion for injuries by carnivores origin is the potential finding of claw-induced linear scratch-type abrasions in the vicinity of damaged areas as described for dogs and big cats.

Frequently the face, hands, and legs are destroyed by postmortem animal interference as they are unclothed and thus easily accessible. However, there are cases where such lesions have been noted in other areas of the body which have been covered by the cloths including genitals but they are rare.

In cases with postmortem animal predation, the psychological state of the animal is a possible reason for its behavior. One possible explanation for such behavior is that a pet will try to help an unconscious owner first by licking or nudging, but when this fails to produce any results the behavior of the animal can become more frantic and in a state of panic can lead to biting. The motive is not to attack the owner but is a kind of ‘‘displacement’’ behavior motivated by confusion and fear. The fact that the efforts of the animal will obviously be fruitless explains why this can easily escalate and culminate in excessive mutilation.

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