Using Science To Solve Murders

Forget Scotland Yard. Forget the FBI. Forget bloodhounds and fingerprint experts. Richard Merritt, an aquatic entomologist at Michigan State University, is the specialist that police call upon when they need help in determining the time of death of a decomposed corpse. Merritt’s research into the insects that live in streams and lakes has earned him a spot in the small cadre of forensic entomologists. “I’ve worked with all those insects that live in decaying organic matter, so I know their habits,” Merritt boasts. He was recently called in to help determine the circumstances surrounding the death of a person whose skull had been unearthed by police. Merritt found the remains of the pupae of flies in the cavities of the skull—which police estimated had been buried 11 years earlier—and was thus able to determine that the body had not been buried immediately after death. In...

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