The bodies of homicide victims found at sea or washed up on shore could provide investigators with crucial information needed to help solve the crimes -- once the activity of the animals that infest them under water is more clearly understood.
That's why Simon Fraser University forensic entomologist Gail Anderson is keenly watching what happens to six pig carcasses that she has dropped and anchored in Howe Sound off Bowen Island, near Vancouver.
Anderson's expertise on insect activity on homicide victims allows her to pinpoint with great accuracy such details as time of death and whether a body has been moved. She's taking the research to new depths because murders that involve bodies found in water can be among the toughest to solve.
"There is often nothing on which an investigator can pin evidence, yet there exists a wealth of information in the form of the sea creatures and the activity that occurs while a body is immersed," says Anderson, a professor in SFU's school of criminology, who is frequently called on to help investigators at crime scenes and to share her expertise in court.
Anderson's latest work is being funded by the Canadian Police Research Centre in Ottawa and has drawn a wealth of supporters from the Vancouver Aquarium, the RCMP and the Canadian Coast Guard. All are supplying divers as well as boats and underwater recording equipment.
The pig carcasses were dropped in late May, each weighted with three cinder blocks connected by a chain and dropped several thousand metres apart, to levels of 25-50 metres. Since they were dropped Anderson and dive crews have been out to sea about a dozen times.
Her initial results show significant promise. "We're seeing a wide range of things happening in the underwater environment, " says Anderson, who relies on divers to record activity and collect species for later analysis.