I worked as a medicolegal death Investigator for 3 years right out of college. There's a lot the job does. But one thing it does not do is solve cases in 15 minutes. If you are curious about it or interested in a career in the death industry ask a question!

Proof of medicolegal board certification: http://imgur.com/a/svEu12Z

Comments: 104 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

ssbrichard21 karma

Are people still outlined in chalk if killed in the street?

pbm926 karma

I never once saw a chalk outline. At most, I saw a dot of spray paint of the location of the head and of the feet. Just to give a proximity.

aalios7 karma

I always thought that was an extremely weird practice to see.

As long as you've got the photo of the body, what would the point of the outline even be?

pbm96 karma

Outlines in TV shows highlight position and context of the deceased in relation to other evidence. Just need to know if scenario A is possible or scenario B based on where the body is and where another piece if evidence is.

You can't think of everything in an hour you are on scene. It's helpful to go back and piece together.

aaronthenia11 karma

What is the weirdest scene / set of events that you can remember seeing?

pbm947 karma

Someone cut their penis off, threw it at traffic, picked it back up and then stabbed themselves to death. Seriously, don't ever do hard drugs.

foxy_minx6 karma

How can you be so sure, someone else didn’t chop off the penis & stab them to death? 🤨

pbm925 karma

Because the 911 call went kind of like this... hey there's a naked man by the highway running at cars with a knife... hey he just threw something at me! Holy crap it was his penis....

IsThisGretasRevenge1 karma

Which hard drug was it?

pbm910 karma

Idk, but it's florida so probably meth

MyUncannyValley10 karma

Most of us only know this kind of job from TV shows so I’m curious how that compares to the real thing: do you actually use blood splatter analysis or is that a tv thing? What other clues and indicators do you go on when solving a cause of death that might not be exciting enough to show on factionalized versions of your job?

pbm912 karma

In college I studied the ins and outs of crime scene and lab analysis, so I'm familiar with blood spatter. I did use it, but only to give a general idea of what happened. As a medicolegal death investigator, people may not realize we are not a police agency. We work for medical examiners and coroner's.

My job is more to explain the how part of death no so much the who did it part. With that in mind, I did help give guidance to police. After someone is declared dead I am the only one who has jurisdiction to touch the body.

With that in mind, context of any death, including foul play, is important to obtain. My training was very helpful because I often only had 45 min worth of scene observations before we took the body. You have to take good photos and take good notes to make sense of everything when it's time to write the report.

MyUncannyValley5 karma

But what exactly are you taking pictures of and taking notes about? What indicators help you understand how someone died?

pbm914 karma

-whats in their pocket (needle, Crack pipe, etc.) -what prescription pills are missing in their bedside table (did they take too many or were they using properly) -did they have bruising and signs of a struggle? -did the impact from a car crash do enough trauma to the body or did their heart attack they have 5 seconds before it kill them -looking in someone's home, refrigerator, notebook diary, phone message history... they all give context.

MyUncannyValley9 karma

Ah, so it’s not just about the body. Also about the environment.

pbm99 karma

Correct, the body often tells you very little. It's all about context and thinking outside the box to obtain that context.

MyUncannyValley11 karma

You mean... “thinking outside the body”

pbm96 karma

Oh boy, yes haha

zomboromcom10 karma

What are your favorite and least-favorite depictions of what you do in fiction? Also, have you ever suspected the work of a serial crusher?

pbm96 karma

It's hard for me to answer that because I've literally never watched any of the shows. I like king of the hill, food network, and this is us lol.

Sus_scribr8 karma

What does dead body smell like? If you can pin point it what could it remind you of?

pbm918 karma

Brains smell very metallic to me. Was my lease favorite part of the body. Burned bodies smell like varying levels of a backyard BBQ (depending on level of being burned). Decomposed bodies smell like cheese you've left in a ziploc for 5 years.

Edit: squished brains. Intact brain doesn't really smell like anything.

mysterychallenger7 karma

What initially drew yourself towards your current career? What keeps you around?

pbm910 karma

My mom was a court reporter and I really like science. So she suggested I study forensic science...I studied forensic science in college and interned on a crime scene investigation unit and also at my local medical examiner. That experience qualified me for the death Investigator position. While I've moved on from death, I'm now in fraud investigation. I like obtaining information on people or events. Finding out things quickly when others can't gives me a lot of satisfaction.

IncognitoBandit06 karma

What it is exactly that you do at work? And you use the word "completed" and not the word "solved", is this because you don't do the police work that follows a death or murder?

I imagine you are the one finding out how a person has died, if there was a struggle and such.

pbm95 karma

Exactly, my job was to be the "eyes and ears" and provide as much detail and context for a forensic pathologist when they do the autopsy.

I was responsible for obtaining positive identification, NOK notification, and for making sure the family picks up their people. Some have been in the coolers for a year because people don't get their people.

IncognitoBandit04 karma

Really seems like a pretty awesome job if it wasn't for all the dead people. I can't imagine how it has affected your mind dealing with so many bodies, all i can hope is you are at great mental health. You must have helped providing closure for so many people and i really respect you for that. Thank you!

pbm920 karma

Putting it bluntly, I would see things that are typically described as terrible, but I would go home and sleep immediately. You get used to it. Plus I worked midnight shift so a lack of sleep would really dominate my thought process when I got home.

The only thing that ever got to me was talking to a parent after they lost a child... and one suicide case of a younger guy (my age). He was the most thoughtful person to have committed suicide... he put a note that told the family don't come inside, but call police... he then put his laptop nearby him with usernames and passwords for everything. He left a note explaining how he felt. He hid his car keys and left a note how to get them. He even did it in the shower, which I guessed he thought would be an easy cleanup. He was a veteran. It made me sad to know suicide brought him peace. It also opened my eyes to the fact that some people have strong conviction on ending their lives. I used to think it was an abrupt emotional decision.

jck79972 karma

What was the reasoning for hiding his car keys?

pbm98 karma

I forgot initially but just remembered. He hid specific detailed information for law enforcement only (ssn, dob, and legal information for who gets what of his) in his car. Since he told family to stay outside he put the note for the info in his car next to his body. That way only police would see it.

SkropyDup4 karma

Have you ever had to work on multiple deaths in one scene/place? If so, how many?

pbm98 karma

Yes, multiple gang vs gang murders (usually 2-4 people) and multiple traffic fatalities with upwards of 5 or 6.

Brilo04244 karma

How complex do cases get? What was your most complex

pbm96 karma

Complex I interpret as putting in a lot of time. If that's the case then skeletal remains or unidentified decomposed bodies can be very complex. It can take 1 month to a decade or more to identify them. Unidentified people can be buried but not cremated. That way if an ID is ever made, the body can be exhumed and buried elswhere.

Edit: spelling

Leatherwreck4 karma

Having had to go through the things necessary for your line of work do you sometimes feel detached from the world as in more of an outside observer than an active participant?

pbm93 karma

It's not so much the job that did that for me. I've had an ability to notice things. Not like forsee things, but imagine more the lines of being able to spot a deer in a woods a thousand yards away type thing..the little things seem more obvious to me than others. Because of that I enjoy taking an observational standpoint. The job then and the one I do now (fraud investigation) kind of work well for that.

I'm good at finding information but not smart enough to be a data scientist lol.

Chattypath7472 karma

Don't put yourself down so much.

You've already got the skills for success just need the knowledge and you'd be golden in a data science field.

pbm91 karma


lucyskyanddiamonds3 karma

Did you have to present evidence etc. in court or did you just do the investigation part?

pbm96 karma

Court is few and far between for us. We don't have the education to be considered expert testimony. It would happen, but usually like 1 in every 1k cases.

insufficientfunds9073 karma

Hardest and/or most satisfying part of your job?

pbm916 karma

The hardest job was obtaining pertinent information from highly distressed family members. I had to learn about this deceased person's life history in like 10 minutes usually.

Most satisfying was being kind to people and going out of my way to help them or do my best to accommodate any wishes they wanted. I remember when my dad died how it was nice to have people help. One example was going way out of my way to get someone on the organ/tissue donation list with only about 45 minutes before the time to do so expired (consent, approval, and coordination isn't always easy). Another was getting authorization to transport a body out of the country within 24 hours due to religious beliefs.

vigorous_store2 karma

Most of us only know this kind of job from TV shows so I’m curious how that compares to the real thing: do you actually use blood splatter analysis or is that a tv thing? What other clues and indicators do you go on when solving a cause of death that might not be exciting enough to show on factionalized versions of your job?

pbm91 karma

I kind of answered this in two separate previous answers, but yes blood spatter is a thing. But a small thing. Context into the person's life is the biggest influence on determining a death. Look in their fridge cause they might have insulin in there. Look in there bedside table because they may hide drugs there. Look everywhere and determine what the person's lifestyle was.

Nosoapradiohaha2 karma

What is the most disturbing case you've been a part of?

pbm93 karma

I once went to a traffic facility where the road was poorly lit. The person was ran over multiple multiple times. They ended up being only 3 or 4 inches thick after that. There was nothing left that resembled a human.

Later in the autopsy they ended up piecing back their face enough that a visual ID could be made. I was shocked.

-Sinora2 karma

How does one become Death Scene Investigator and what are other people involved in initial crime scene inspection?

pbm92 karma

For college, criminal justice is enough usually, but any science experience is a positive. More importantly is the internships. Pester every local Medical Examiner/Coroner for a spot to intern

Others involved are crime scene investigators. They differ from death scene investigators because they care more about WHO did it rather than how the person died. Crime scene collects evidence from the person and surrounding area. Then of course you have homicide Detectives and the general police force setting up a perimeter.

siggibahama2 karma

Okay, so it seems every death on tv finds a suspect and a murderer before long, Is this the case, do most murders end up in the murderer being caught? What is the most perfect murder you have heard of?

pbm92 karma

A majority of murders go unsolved. The most perfect murder will always be when the murderer was a random person with no affiliation to the deceased and does it on a whim rather than premeditated. They use an old firearm with no serial number. This doesn't happen much thankfully, but still happens

Video cameras make it easier to prevent this but still nearly impossible to solve.

tanya_reader2 karma

This is the reason why I love reddit! So many interesting people in one place, with their unique experiences and stories.

What was your educational path towards this job? What degree should I obtain having a high school equivalency diploma? I'm sorry if I missed this question.

pbm95 karma

I studied Forensic Science as my major. A criminal justice degree can suffice but internships while studying will get you the job. Get the degree, do the internships, and pester them over and over. Also if you are able to move you can find a job. Look into ABMDI. It's the national standard for death investigators.

Striking-Tooth-90112 karma

did you get your associates or bachelors??

pbm93 karma


YATA20202 karma

What do you do now?

pbm93 karma

Fraud investigation. Same type investigative skills, but a lot less blood and dead people around me. I talk to people now instead of inspect them.

Alas-beans1 karma

Have you been to the body farms that do analysis on various rates of decomposition due to varying conditions?

pbm94 karma

I trained in college with someone associated with the body farm. Never visited it though. We did our own experiments, but nonetheless Dr. Bass and his body farm are very interesting.

IWillBiteYou1 karma

What advances in technology are coming down the pipe that will help in the job of identifying people (be they perpetrators or victims)?

pbm95 karma

It's not so much what is coming... more trying to get medical examiners and police to utilize what already exists... why are we still inking fingerprints when we can use sonic imaging? Why don't we have rapid testing of DNA in every autopsy room.

Everyone dies, but so little amount of funding is put towards medical examiners. The Orlando medical examiner got a ton of money because of Dr. G. It's great.

MiscIshLegit2 karma

This saddens me bc it makes me think of innocent people being convicted, or on the other side, guilty people being let off bc the funding and technology isn't there to prevent it.

pbm93 karma

Oh trust me it baffled me and my coworkers how unscientific a death investigation CAN be. I'm unfortunately talking about very rural counties that sometimes don't have the best resources. I don't doubt there are thousands of wrongful deaths each year that an eye isn't even batted. As in no one even suspected it to be a wrongful death because the correct amount of human/monetary resources were not used to investigate.

ProtectionAbject61531 karma

do you recommend the position?

pbm93 karma

Sure, it was straightforward work. Do it efficiently. Proofread your work and you can leave work at work. I worked midnight, which sucked... but the pay was decent. 55k with 20% retirement every year. That was in FL. So you mileage may very, but I think it's helpful to others to share that info.

It was a public sector job

Lifekraft1 karma

Late to the party and sorry if it has been already answered (i read almost everything but didnt find a precise answer) but what did you exactly studied/how long and do you have any idea if your work exist in other countries ?

pbm91 karma

I studied forensic science (basically criminal justice degree with upper level biology and chemistry). I also interned with a crime scene team and at my local medical examiner office.

My job definitely exists in other countries, but under what title I'm not sure. Searching death Investigator or coroner office is a good start in any country.

AHallzy1 karma

What is the effect of the job on you? (Mentally, emotionally and/or physically) and what was the first time like?

pbm93 karma

The first time is jarring, but if you can handle the first time you can handle the job. Like any job, it becomes more and more a part of what you do on a daily basis. It feels like a job and with any job there are some things you like and don't like. I didn't like having to take decomposed people's finger skin off their hand and superimpose it on mine in order to ink their fingerprints on a card. Did it effect me mentally? No, I just washed my hands pretty good before eating my dinner right afterward.

Some people it can effect. I switched industries because I couldn't take the midnight shift anymore. My new job is amazing. Day shift, work from home, private sector (vs public government), and all of that has effected my mental health very positively. It had nothing to do with the death. This is for me though. Others may experience different things.

AHallzy2 karma

Thank you so much for the response and for the work you do, I've always been curious of jobs surrounding death so it was nice to read this thread.

I personally don't think I'd be cut out for that kind of work 😅 as curious as I am, I am also very emotional

pbm93 karma

You can always take a tour of your local Medical Examiner or Coroner office (depending on corona). Or if in college you can intern. Always worth a try. You never know

justapatient121 karma

What are the criteria that warrant a medicolegal death investigation? Is one done for every person who dies unexpectedly without witnesses? For example, say you find a 75 year-old man dead (no witnesses), soaked in urine and with blood around his mouth? Would his situation be investigated? What if it were the exact same physical scenario, but the deceased was a 17-year-old girl?

pbm92 karma

Great question. That is part of our job is to determine if a death needs investigating at all. In FL we are governed by FL statue 406.11. It lists 12 ways that a death falls under jurisdiction of a medical examiner. We take in a case, organize, and then present it to a medical examiner doctor on call.

For your cases you gave it would rely on medical history. Blood coming out of any deceased mouth isn't atypical. The 70 year old case would need to have medical history known. If they had HTN and diabetes I would tell the police to call a funeral home and have the primary care doctor follow up. Granted the officer would need to say there was no foul play suspected. Boom done.

The younger case would obviously be suspect. If that person had a laundry list of medical history we may let their doctor sign the death certificate... but usually the medical examiner on call will want to accept that case. The medical examiner has authority to autopsy anyone they feel should need one.

Other_Exercise0 karma

What do you think about the OJ Simpson case? Not about how it was handled, but who the evidence points to?

pbm91 karma

My work efforts didn't go towards who did it. More how they died. So I can't give much more than a personal reflection on that.