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When insects help solve murder mysteries

Applying his expertise to all the living things that somehow find their way to crime scenes, from flies to shipwrecks, Magni has become a pioneering figure in the growing field of aquatic forensics, which extends the science of criminal investigations to evidence found in the oceans. Blue expands.

In 2012, before Magni became an international figure, he was completing his PhD in biology in his hometown of Turin in northern Italy. One morning in November of that year, a passer-by found a teenage girl lying on her face near Lake Brasciano, 400 miles south of Turin. It was found that the body belongs to 16-year-old Federica Mangiapelo, who is from the nearby town of Anguilara Sabazia.

There were no signs of murder, but the young girl’s shoulder was dislocated, her jacket was half off, and her purse and cell phone were missing. Her hair, clothes and shoes were wet, but these marks did not necessarily indicate that she had been in the lake, as it had rained the night before. An autopsy revealed that he had suffered a cardiac arrest and had died four hours before the cyclist found him.

In the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, authorities concluded that Federica died of natural causes, possibly epilepsy, which she reportedly suffered as a child. But Federica’s family firmly said that their daughter was healthy and could not have died suddenly in such mysterious circumstances and tried to keep this case alive in the media.

If not for Magni, the murder of Federica Mangiapello in 2012 might not have been solved

Coincidentally, shortly before Federica’s death, Magni had given a lecture on forensic aquatics at one of the training academies of the Italian Carabinieri (country’s military police). The young police officer who was present at that meeting, eventually became the agent of Federica’s case. With Federica’s family insisting that she did not die of natural causes, the police officer advised his superiors to contact Magni to see if he might have a new method to explain what happened on the lakeshore the night Federica died. reveal

Magni wasn’t sure if she could help, but she promised to help. As for Federica, it was possible that she might have been dragged into the lake against her will. If he was in the lake, what clues might he have left?

Scientists have known since at least the 13th century that insects and other creatures can help solve crime mysteries. In 1247, Song Tzu, a judge and coroner of death in criminal courts, wrote the first manual of forensic medicine, entitled “Washing of Mistakes”. The book tells about a farmer who was killed by a sharp object near a rice field. The next day, investigators ordered the suspects to put down their sickles. Flies rushed to just one of the blades and were attracted to blood that was invisible to the human eye. Confronted with this evidence, the killer confessed.

The first modern use of forensic entomology is thought to have occurred in France in the 19th century. At that time, the medical examiner analyzed the remains of a child found in an apartment building. By examining the fly larvae and moth pupae on the body and using his understanding of their life cycle, he concluded that the child had died eight to ten months before the body was discovered. Based on his report, the current occupants of the apartment were exonerated, and the police arrested a couple who lived in the apartment a few months ago, when the child was believed to have died. The court sentenced them to murder.

However, even now, when local police departments have their own forensic laboratories and investigators, specialized forensic entomology remains obscure. “In the United States, less than 20 people are certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomology,” says Gail Anderson, a forensic entomologist and co-director of the Forensic Research Center at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Given that arthropods can provide us with a great deal of information about how a person died, it would be unfortunate to ignore this area of ​​forensic science. Immediately after death, enzymes digest the dying cells and bacteria colonize the soft tissues. It doesn’t take long for insects or other arthropods, including flesh flies and carrion-eating beetles, or sometimes land crabs that eat the carcass or reproduce inside it, to occupy it. Analyzing these processes underwater becomes extremely difficult. On land, bodies decompose predictably, but cold water can slow or stop decomposition, making it more difficult to determine the time of death.

For obvious reasons, investigating and collecting evidence in water is more difficult for investigators than doing so on land. “You’re dealing with divers and salinity,” Anderson says. “Tides, water currents or other forces can quickly destroy or destroy or distort evidence.” Perhaps in part because of these challenges, there are few experts in the field of aquatic forensics, which means a lack of research and proven best practices even for basic procedures such as preservation and evidence collection.

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