A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes

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9780674002203: A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes

The forensic entomologist turns a dispassionate, analytic eye on scenes from which most people would recoil--human corpses in various stages of decay, usually the remains of people who have met a premature end through accident or mayhem. To Lee Goff and his fellow forensic entomologists, each body recovered at a crime scene is an ecosystem, a unique microenvironment colonized in succession by a diverse array of flies, beetles, mites, spiders, and other arthropods: some using the body to provision their young, some feeding directly on the tissues and by-products of decay, and still others preying on the scavengers.

Using actual cases on which he has consulted, Goff shows how knowledge of these insects and their habits allows forensic entomologists to furnish investigators with crucial evidence about crimes. Even when a body has been reduced to a skeleton, insect evidence can often provide the only available estimate of the postmortem interval, or time elapsed since death, as well as clues to whether the body has been moved from the original crime scene, and whether drugs have contributed to the death.

An experienced forensic investigator who regularly advises law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad, Goff is uniquely qualified to tell the fascinating if unsettling story of the development and practice of forensic entomology.

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Review:

Almost every murder has literally millions of witnesses, but their only testimony is a maddening buzz. Speaking for the insects is forensic entomologist M. Lee Goff, who relates some of the secrets of his young profession in A Fly for the Prosecution. Equal parts scientific and true-crime journalism, the book reports unflinchingly on the development of this field as an important adjunct to traditional means of investigation. Based on our constantly improving knowledge of the reproduction and growth of carrion flies and beetles, an informed examiner can determine the time and location of death with great precision, often lending the final evidence needed to close a case. Goff has been at the forefront of forensic entomology and has worked closely with Hawaiian law enforcement for many years, yielding a rich assortment of crime stories to illustrate his research. Readers need a strong stomach to take the macabre details of some of the murders; fortunately for those at the borderline, all the excellent illustrations depict insects rather than their meals. Goff also explores how we came to the knowledge we have today, including the meticulous field research of the 19th century and the modern decomposition studies with pigs in a wide variety of environments and conditions. You might never need the knowledge, but reading A Fly for the Prosecution will at least satisfy your curiosity by telling you what the blowfly saw. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

M. Lee Goff is the Coordinator of the Forensic Sciences Program and Professor of Forensic Sciences at Chaminade University of Honolulu.

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