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Body Disposal in Homicide

Valeria Flores; Hyun Kim, M.A.; Maeve Sielawa, M.A.; Paulina Malinowska, M.A., M.A.; Brian Ramanauskas, M.A.; Duke Becker; Haley LeRoux; Louis B. Schlesinger, Ph.D.; Leonard Opanashuk, J.D.; and Sarah W. Craun, Ph.D.

Body disposal sites are the most objective crime scene locations available because they represent the last known whereabouts of the victim. Difficulty in finding a homicide victim's body can significantly delay police investigations. Further, this casts uncertainty on the individual's status and can leave law enforcement agencies unsure if they should treat the case as a matter involving a missing person, rather than a homicide.

Previous Research

Disposal of a victim's body shows an additional level of effort by the offender to stymie the police investigation. Researchers determined the common methods of disposal in domestic homicide cases include covering, dimpling, burying, and leaving the body in remote places. Other research into rural homicides in Finland found that 27 percent of cases involved disposing of the corpse in waterways; the remaining victims were left in terrestrial areas, and half of the perpetrators put extra effort into concealing the body.

Body disposal methods can range from unsophisticated to elaborate and creative. A nonconcealed corpse shows the least amount of effort by the offender, while a concealed one provides some protection against accidental discovery. Perpetrators often commit murders in victims' homes and quickly conceal or move the bodies. Storing corpses offers the most protection from discovery; however, this also requires the most effort and creativity by the offender. Another key aspect of a perpetrator's disposal plan may be dismembering the body to reduce its shape and simplify storage and transportation. However, researchers found successful efforts at dismemberment in only 7 percent of cases.

In general, offenders prefer familiar places so they know what to expect. In one study, more than half of perpetrators disposed of bodies in locations known to them, primarily because they formerly lived or currently reside in the area. Other researchers found that in their Korean-based study, suspects' geographic knowledge typically originated from their previous residence (25 percent), current home (18 percent), or another familiar location, such as a workplace (9 percent).

The victim-offender relationship may be crucial to the method of body disposal. For example, the distance between the homicide crime scene and the disposal site was longer for victims who were relatives, intimate partners, or strangers than it was for acquaintances. Some consensus exists that the disposal or destruction of a victim's body also may be associated with perpetrators' desires to physically distance the victim from their own home or to obscure a close personal relationship.

Current Study


To provide an empirically based guideline on how body disposal might correlate with the relationship between victim and offender, the authors compared several variables (concerning disposal location and method) with the victim-offender relationship. They studied a nonrandom national sample of 840 closed, fully adjudicated state and local homicide cases contributed by law enforcement agencies for research purposes.

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This revised and updated edition is the result of a collaborative effort to present the most up-to-date information about the issues confronting death investigators today. The death investigator is the eyes and ears of the forensic pathologist at the scene. It is hoped that these guidelines, reflecting the best practices of the forensic community, will serve as a national standard.

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Chula Vista Police Department, Chula Vista, California, USA

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