Process of Identifying a Body Found - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Process of Identifying a Body Found

The search for answers continues in Graham, TX in connection to a body found last week.

Law enforcement officials are still working to identify the remains found, which can take a long time.

“The main purpose is to get that identification as quick as possible, so the family can have closure,” Officer Jeff Hughes with the Wichita Falls Police Department said.

Getting a positive identification is not as simple as some people might think.  Especially since technology advancements and television shows make it appear faster and almost instantaneous.

“We see that weekly on a regular basis, so a lot of times that becomes reality, when in fact, it’s not reality at all,” Officer Hughes said.

The truth is that there are a number of factors that come into play when identifying a body.  Officer Hughes said the biggest obstacle is the condition the body is when it is found.  The level of decomposition is another large factor when identifying a body, which is affected by multiple factors.

“Obviously it is affected by the elements around it, such as the weather,” he said, “Is it hot, is it cold?  Is it dry, is it wet?”

How long the body has been at the location is another big factor with decomposition.  Officer Hughes explained if it’s a fresh body, meaning it’s just been there for a few hours, fingerprints could still be intact and could be used to identify the body.  If it has been at the location longer, then law enforcement officials will turn to DNA, dental and medical records.  However, this can be difficult, since some of it could be destroyed though decomposition.

Weather is not the only factor that can affect decomposition.

“It is also dependent on that area itself, and by that I mean the type of wildlife that may be found around that area,” Officer Hughes said.

As he explained, if an animal gets a hold of the body, it can contaminate, or take away a lot of the evidence that could have potentially led to the identification of the body.  

Another factor is how much of the body is found.  Decomposition, the elements, and wildlife could destroy parts of the remains making the identification that much harder.

Also, while some might think determining the gender and the age of the body found is easy, Officer Hughes said it isn’t.  Clothing isn’t a definite clue either.  While it might help detectives come up with a starting point, it won’t always accurately determine the gender or age.

“Clothing really just gives you a presumptive identification because a lot of people can wear the same type of clothing,” he said, “Plus, the elements effect clothing as well.”

When it comes to identifying a body, part of the process is sending it off to a medical examiner's office.  WFPD uses one out of the Metroplex, so it doesn’t take long for the body to get there.  However, it could take a long time to process it. 

“When you send it to a lab like that, you have to remember that there are a lot of other cities and counties that use those same labs,” Officer Hughes said.

Law enforcement officials can put a rush on it, but even then it could take ten or more days for an identification.

“Even if you’re 99.9-percent sure, that’s not 100-percent,” he said.

This is why getting it right the first time and taking the extra steps is a must.

Alexandra McClung, Newschannel 6

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