How to Identify Dead Bodies

How to Identify A Dead Body

Many techniques have been invented in order to identify a dead body so that families may be relieved and informed and to assist in prosecuting criminals. Identifying when and how a person has died is also useful as evidence against a criminal act and as important details that families may wish to know of their loved one's death.

The Simplest Way

The simplest way of identifying a body is to check it for any physical items that may give evidence to it's identity, most commonly in paper form. For example:

  • Diaries
  • Bank cards
  • Bus passes
  • Receipts
  • Named clothing
  • Driving licenses
  • Passports
  • Library cards

Everyone has unique fingerprints, just like faces. Except even identical twins have different fingerprints.
Everyone has unique fingerprints, just like faces. Except even identical twins have different fingerprints.


Human beings, (and various other animals) have fingerprints.that do not naturally change during their lifetimes. Fingerprints are folds of the epidermis (outer layer) of the skin. These folds can vary in length and width and can join together to form differing patterns.

Sebacious glands secrete sweat and oils and when these get on our finger tips (interestingly, fingers and hands do not themselves have sebacious glands) and we touch something, an impression of our fingerprints is left on them.

We can then proceed to identify these impressions to identiy the owner or user of a particular object (gun, knife, keys) using different techniques by cross referencing them with suspects or everyone on a database.

There are 3 main ways of making fingerprints visible:

  • Using powders such as aluminium, carbon or iron that stick to the print
  • Using superglue, which reacts with the water and other substances in the print
  • Ninhydrin

    Fingerprint Uses in Identifying a Dead Body
  • If a corspe's face is unidentified due to the accident it has been in, or only a hand is found at the crime scene, with no identification to be found, fingerprinting remains a fast and reliable method of identifying the body.

An example of the type of dental x-ray that might be used for cross examining dental records.
An example of the type of dental x-ray that might be used for cross examining dental records.

Dental Records

In cases where lot of physical damage has been done to the body e.g. because of fire, acid or decay, dental records are a useful method of identifying a body. This is because teeth are much hardier than other organic material in the human body, it is less susceptible to things like fire and decay.

However, because dental records must be compared to something, this technique can only be used when there are dental record to compare the teeth in the body found. For example, after the "9/11 attacks", dental records were used to identify the bodies because the employees names were known, and so the people who were expected to be in the buildings at the time had their dental records cross referenced with the dead bodies found.

DNA profiling

Using a complicated procedure of obtaining, fragmenting, isolating and staining, DNA can be compared from the body found at a scene of events to suspected family members in order to check whether there is a chance that they are connected. Family member's DNA are not identical to each other and so the findings may not be conclusive.

Taking DNA from both parents of the suspect will however let them know if they are definitely not related to the body or not, conclusively.

The DNA of a criminal found can be checked with suspected criminals to find out who did the crime at a scene. Thus we can then interrogate the criminal to find out who he killed if we did not already.

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Comments 3 comments

K+J 5 years ago

This was very helpful to us in Drama class, Thank yuuu.

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Philanthropy2012 5 years ago from London Author

Glad it helped someone, you're welcome :)

Ida 4 years ago

Thanks..much easy to understand

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