Sopher, Irvin M. The Role Of the Pathologist In Arson and Related Investigations.
Fire and Arson Investigator. June, 1984.
Abstract: This article discusses the information a pathologist
can contribute to a fire investigation. An autopsy can reveal the identity
of the deceased, the cause and manner of death, the time of death, and can
contribute valuable information regarding the cause of the fire.
The article summarizes the different method pathologists use to determine
the identity of the victim. Fingerprints and dental records are the most
widely used methods. When these methods cannot be employed, a pathologist
can estimate the person's sex, age, race, and height to compile a profile
of the victim.
The pathologist can determine the cause of death and the manner of death.
The cause of death refers to the direct element that caused the person to
die, for example, heart attack, gunshot wound, or smoke inhalation. The
manner of death is a legal classification and the terms used to describe
it are natural, accidental, homicide, suicide, or undetermined.
The time of death is important to investigators. The pathologist can
determine the time of death with accuracy be examining carbon monoxide levels
in blood, soot deposits in airways, and internal organ changes. The pathologist
can also conclude which injuries were sustained before death and which ones
The cause of the fire is determined by investigators and is usually done
at the fire scene. The pathologist's examination of the victims usually
corroborates the cause of the fire. If the cause of the fire is undetermined
the pathologist's findings will be considered inconclusive. However, information
gathered by the pathologist can sometimes point investigators in the right
For more information, contact:
International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI)
300 Broadway Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63102-2808