The attached is only the last half-hour of "Fresh Air" for 5/17 as
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DATE May 17, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Analysis: Use of insect evidence in solving crimes, as to how
insects affect a decomposing corpse
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Lee Goff, helps investigate murders by examining evidence that would
turn most people's stomachs. He's a forensic entomologist. He studies the
insects living in recently discovered decomposing bodies. The type of insects
and their stages of development offer clues about the time of death and other
pertinent information. Forensic entomology is a relatively new profession.
Goff has been at it since the early '80s. He's a consultant to the medical
examiner of the city and county of Honolulu, and a professor of entomology at
the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He discusses his work in his new book "A
Fly for the Prosecution." I asked him about the questions insect evidence can
help answer in addition to time of death.
Mr. LEE GOFF (Forensic Entomologist): Well, time of death still accounts
probably for about 98 percent of what we do. But they're also helpful in
providing some estimates of movement of the body. Insects are everywhere, but
you don't find all insects in all places. Some are quite specific to a
particular locality. And if we find something that's out of place, we can
tell that the body was moved. We also work in assessment of wounds. The
response of insects to a wound that occurs while the individual is still alive
when blood's flowing. It's quite different from the response to a postmortem
wound. So we can tell if something happened to the body before death and
around the time of death or basically after death.
GROSS: What's the difference?
Mr. GOFF: Well, in terms of the blood flowing this is very attractive to the
flies. And so they're going to come in very quickly to that particular site,
begin investigating it. The females, or males, take a meal from the flowing
blood and the females would lay their eggs. If the blood is not flowing, then
they will not be as attracted to this particular wound. This is something
that happened to the body after death. It's probably not associated with the
cause of death. And we find with the flies a very definite pattern of
invasion of the body. Tend to go around the natural body openings initially.
Go to the head, around the eyes and nose. Go around the anus and genitals as
a secondary level. And than the third choice is going to be one of these
wounds where you really don't have a lot of blood flowing.
GROSS: Would you give us an example of a case that you worked on and helped
solve by analyzing the insect presence in the corpse?
Mr. GOFF: Well, gee, several come to mind. Probably one of the more
interesting ones was a woman whose body was found on the north shore of the
island of Oahu. And the body, when it was found, was wrapped in several
layers of blankets. They had an idea the woman had been--well, she'd been
missing for about two weeks. They had a pretty good idea as to the location,
because the suspect, who was her estranged husband, in fact, tended to
frequent that area.
Went out and I took a look at the body, found that we had three species of
maggots that were present. And we had intact pupa. OK, this is the stage
between the maggot and the adult fly. None of the pupae had emerged, you
know, so this indicated we were on the first generation of flies.
Took those back to my laboratory, reared them at a known temperature, figured
out that basically we had about 10 days between the time I collected the pupae
and the flies had first laid their eggs, working backwards. The woman had
been missing, at that point, for about 13 days. I can account for actually 10
1/2 days of development. Figuring that if you wrap something up, the insects
are not going to be able to get there very quickly, and I was pretty confident
Wrote up a report saying that I could account for 10 1/2 days of insect
activity. Chances are it was longer than that because the body had been
wrapped. I was pretty comfortable with that. Medical examiner was happy with
it, the police were happy with it, the prosecutor was happy with it. However,
the defense attorney was unhappy with it. He had another individual, aside
from his client, that he wanted to pin this particular murder on, or at least
introduce evidence that this individual might have been the person who
actually did the killing.
They kept calling me and calling me and finally, I reached a point I was
getting a little tired of these phone calls so I decided I'd conduct an
experiment. And I got a 50-pound pig, which is what we normally use as a
model for decomposition, and I got a couple of blankets, duplicated the
wrappings and then I started looking for a place which was pretty similar to
the area in which the body had been found. Basically went out in my back
My wife wasn't too happy with that one, the neighbors were kind of a little
leery, the dog thought it was great. And I kept checking to see when the
insects would come in. Turns out it took them two and a half days to
penetrate those wrappings and lay their eggs. Two and a half days added to
the 10 1/2 gave us 13, which very firmly placed the victim in the company of
GROSS: So that helped you solve the crime. Was the suspect convicted?
Mr. GOFF: Yes, he was.
GROSS: You compare a decomposing corpse to a barren volcanic island that has
recently emerged from the ocean.
Mr. GOFF: You know, when you have an island that's just coming up out of the
ocean, it's barren, it's kind of isolated from other things by a geographic
barrier. First thing that happens is usually you get plants coming in and
they'll take root and grow. As they do, they kind of change the island a
little bit. And by changing it, they may make it suitable for other plants
and animals to come in. These get there and they change the island some more.
Each one of these changes is a step in succession and a dead body is not
really that dissimilar. It's usually sitting somewhere where there aren't
dead bodies around. It's a resource waiting to be exploited and the first
insects that come in are your flies. And as they feed on the body, they
change the body. And those changes then make the body attractive to another
group of insects that will come in and feed on the body and thus change the
body again. And you have the same pattern of succession.
GROSS: Now, you know, in comparing the dead body to the barren volcanic
island, the first insects that come and feed on the body, then insects start
coming in that feed on the other insects as well as feeding on the body and
you get this whole ecosystem developing.
Mr. GOFF: Yeah, it is. It's a fascinating little series of interactions and
things. It's very complex. You have the necrophages that are your insects
that are actually feeding on the body. And we have the predators that come in
and feed on those. Then we have parasites that come in and parasitize things.
We have some that just happen to fall onto the body and aren't necessarily
doing anything with it. But it's a very complicated system and analyzing it
is really intriguing. You spend hours and get kind of lost in what you're
doing, almost forget that it's actually a dead body that you're dealing with.
GROSS: Well, from the book it makes it sound like you kind of want to forget
that it's a dead body that you're dealing with. You talk about how you try
not to think of it as being a person, but just something that you're studying
so that you can distance yourself from it.
Mr. GOFF: I think a little bit of distance is necessary. You can't
completely distance yourself from it. But a little distance is a good thing,
because otherwise you start getting subconsciously wrapped up in what might
have happened to the individual just before they died. When you do that, I
think you introduce an unconscious bias in what you're doing.
GROSS: What are your tools when you're called to examine a corpse? What do
you show up with?
Mr. GOFF: Well, basically I tend to travel fairly light when I go out.
Mainly, because I'm on a motorcycle when I get there. But I have a
collapsible insect net, I have my collecting kit, which consists of a whole
series of forceps and various incendiaries, scraping implements, a couple of
knives, scalpels, a series of files and a couple of rearing chambers. And
that's pretty much it.
GROSS: What do you have to do to protect your health when you're around these
insects and a decomposing body?
Mr. GOFF: Well, it's probably the one item that I'm always certain I have
with me, that I forgot mention because it's second nature, is I have a whole
series of rubber gloves and usually some kind of a respirator goes with me.
GROSS: Is that to cleanse the air or to protect you from the smell?
Mr. GOFF: Really to cleanse the air. It really doesn't do too much in terms
of the smell. The best thing for the smell is breathe through your mouth, I
guess, and you won't get nearly as much as if you breathe through your nose.
GROSS: Yeah, but I imagine you don't really feel like opening your mouth, I
mean, around that...
Mr. GOFF: Well, it's kind of a lesser of two evils. You know,
it's--basically, you have a respirator over it, so that's not a problem.
GROSS: One of the things you can tell by analyzing the insects in the
decomposing body is where that body had been and whether the body has been
moved, because there are different insects in different areas. And I imagine
there's different insects in cities than there are in the country. What's the
difference between the insect population that will feed on a corpse in an
urban area compared to the insects in a rural area?
Mr. GOFF: Well, we have this idea of what we call synanthropy or the level
or degree of association with humans. Many of the species of flies are going
to feed on decomposing material, but some will be more closely and
specifically associated with man than other species. So they're both looking
for the same type of resource, but they're looking for it in different places.
So you may have--well, an example. One of our flies, Synthesium
mianutacita(ph), which occurs in Hawaii and strictly urban types of situations
and likes to be in houses. On the other hand, we have some Calliphoridae
flies, Chrisum miamegasefela(ph) and Chrisum miarufafoses(ph), which really
prefer to be out of doors. They don't like being indoors.
Synthesium mianutacita doesn't want to go outdoors and lay its eggs on
something, so if you find something outdoors with that particular species of
fly on it, you know that at some point or another this most probably was in an
indoor situation and was later moved to an outdoor type of situation.
GROSS: Now when you're trying to study the insect population that feeds on
decomposing bodies, the surrogate for the human body that you use is a dead
pig. Why dead pigs? Are they similar to human bodies or...
Mr. GOFF: Really, the 50-pound domestic pig is much more similar to a human
body than you might actually think. What we're looking at really is the
material in the trunk and the material in the head, and we're not worried too
much about what goes on in the arms and legs. In terms of physiology, in
terms of manner in which they decompose, they're the thing that most closely
approximates human decomposition. They're readily available and not all that
expensive. So they've turned to be a very good animal model.
GROSS: My guest is forensic entomologist Lee Goff, author of "A Fly for the
Prosecution." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, Lee Goff, is a forensic entomologist. He studies the
insects living in recently discovered decomposing corpses. The insects offer
clues about the time of death and other pertinent information.
Now I was interested, reading your book, that one of the things that you can
do now as a forensic entomologist is to help determine whether the dead person
had taken cocaine or heroin or other drugs before death by studying the
presence of cocaine or heroin in the insect population that's living in the
corpse. Is that something that you discovered you could do?
Mr. GOFF: I think that probably the original work was done by some
pathologist/toxicologist back around 1979, 1980, when they were faced with a
body where there wasn't enough flesh left to actually do a toxicological
analysis, but there were some maggots present. And they were able to pick up
some of the barbituates by analyzing the maggots. But it kind of sat there.
With the drug problems that came up in more recent years and taking a look at
a couple of cases that I had, I began to wonder, not only could we detect the
drugs, but what would be the effect on maggot development when the maggot was
actually ingesting those materials?
GROSS: What have you learned?
Mr. GOFF: Well, what I have found is that basically almost all the
substances that we have tested and--which included cocaine, heroin,
amphetamines, the new drug Ecstacy, all the--angel dust and some of the
tricyclic antidepressants such as Amitriptyline, all of these have an effect
on the growth patterns of the maggots, and we're making an accurate estimate.
The period of development--you have to know whether or not these drugs were
present in the body.
GROSS: One of the things I couldn't help but think about, reading your book,
was how, when you see an insect like an ant or a spider, or certainly a
maggot, you never know: Where has this insect been before coming to my picnic
or coming to my kitchen?
Mr. GOFF: Well, that's true. Depending on the insect, you could be somewhat
suspicious and worried, and other insects, you wouldn't worry about that much.
GROSS: Is this the kind of thing that bothers you...
Mr. GOFF: There's always a possibility of contamination.
GROSS: ...I mean, with everything that you know?
Mr. GOFF: Not really, I think just kind of something you accept. If you
start worrying about where everything has walked, then pretty soon you're
gonna find yourself in a position where you're becoming very paranoid.
GROSS: Do you have a great respect and admiration for insects, even though
many of us find them quite creepy?
Mr. GOFF: Oh, yeah, they're fascinating. You take a look at them, they're
some of the most successful organisms on Earth. They're remarkable in terms
of the structure, the morphology, the manner in which, you know, they survive,
their developmental patterns. Tremendously fascinating insects.
GROSS: Now some of the insects that you deal with are the insects that we
find particularly repellent because they're found around things that are
decaying and decomposing. What do you know about them that helps you admire
them as opposed to just being, you know, disgusted?
Mr. GOFF: Well, I think it's when you take a look at how beautifully they
are constructed to perform that particular function of recycling, breaking
down material, how nicely this whole thing fits into the whole scheme of life.
GROSS: Well, tell us something about the maggot that you find fascinating.
Mr. GOFF: Well, basically, you have a tremendously evolved eating machine.
I mean, the only thing that this particular beast is designed to do is to
feed, get larger, do that as efficiently as it possibly can. It feeds in
masses. It's more efficient feeding in a mass than it is by itself. You take
a look at the breathing structures, at the posterior end of the body, as
opposed to the head, which is, again, more efficient in terms of the feeding
activities. Just magnificently designed to perform a particular function.
GROSS: How is the maggot designed to feed so efficiently?
Mr. GOFF: In the feeding activity, they have what you'd call pre-oral
digestion, and basically what that means is that they're gonna digest the food
that they want and ingest that instead of just taking things in and trying to
process them all inside the body. So they have salivary enzymes that are
going to be secreted and a pair of mouth hooks are gonna lacerate tissue. So
the laceration combined with the salivary enzymes breaks down the food that
they want and then they just ingest that. It eliminates a lot of necessity
for waste handling.
GROSS: Did you ever see the David Cronenberg version of "The Fly" with Jeff
Mr. GOFF: Yes. Actually, that was one of the better examples of fly feeding
activity. It was fairly realistic, with the individual regurgitating back
onto the food, which precisely is the manner in which the adult fly feeds.
GROSS: Do you have kids?
Mr. GOFF: Yes, I do.
GROSS: What do they think of your work?
Mr. GOFF: Well, they managed to survive their childhood without too many
traumas, you know. My older daughter has gone into communications and my
younger daughter is now at UCLA majoring in anthropology. I went horribly
wrong somewhere. All the entomology that came into the house and she's
working in anthropology. On the plus side, she's planning on conducting a
decomposition study down in Belize this coming summer, so it hasn't totally
gone off the wall.
GROSS: You know, in a lot of families, the kids try to gross out the parents
by bringing bugs into the house. I guess it was the other way in your house.
Mr. GOFF: Yeah, they--both of them kind of grew up going out to look at dead
pigs on occasion when I had to do sampling on the weekends. They kind of got
used to it.
GROSS: One of our producers was telling me a few days ago about an article
that she'd read in which there was, like, in a forest, a whole bunch of
basically dead bodies that were there for research purposes. Are you familiar
Mr. GOFF: Oh, it sounds like she's talking about the body farm down in
GROSS: That's exactly what it was.
Mr. GOFF: Yeah. That's Bill Bass' anthropological facility down there.
GROSS: What's that about?
Mr. GOFF: Well, he started it, I guess, back in the late '70s and they're
trying to actually explore different changes that occur to the human body,
from an anthropological viewpoint, when they're left out. They've done some
entomological work down there. And, in fact, Bill Rodriguez(ph), who's with
the armed forces medical examiner, was one of the students very early on
working on decomposition. He did some entomological work with him, but it's
been primarily an anthropological focus.
GROSS: You know that kids rhyme--our version was, `Did you ever see a corpse,
go by and feel that you were the next to die? The worms crawl in, the worms
crawl out. They chew your guts and they spit them out.' Have you thought at
all about what you want for yourself when--you know, what you want for your
body after you pass? Whether you want to be buried and--if you think of the
insects who will come afterwards?
Mr. GOFF: Well, actually, I think my plans for my body--insects haven't
figured into it too much. I'm planning on cremation and having my ashes
scattered in my favorite surfing spot.
GROSS: That sounds good. Well, I want to thank you very much for talking
Mr. GOFF: Well, it was a pleasure.
GROSS: Lee Goff's new book is called "A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect
Evidence Helps Solve Crimes."
Coming up, a preview of our next program in our American Popular Song series.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Filler: Preview of tomorrow's show
(Soundbite of "On Emancipation Day")
TERRY GROSS, host:
That's Dick Hyman at the piano playing "On Emancipation Day," from the 1903
Broadway musical "In Dahomey," the first Broadway show written and performed
by African-Americans. The principal composer of the show was Will Marion
Cook, who later became one of Duke Ellington's mentors. Cook is the subject
of the final edition in our series on American popular song, which we'll
broadcast tomorrow. We'll be reviving songs from a period of African-American
pop music that is very tricky to explore because a lot of the lyrics are
written in dialect and perpetuate some of the stereotypes of the time.
Several of the lyrics we'll hear were written by the great African-American
dialect poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Some of those songs were first performed
by Bert Williams and George Walker, the celebrated vaudeville team who were
also the stars of "In Dahomey."
Our guest pianist tomorrow will be Dick Hyman. One of our guest singers will
be Vernell Bonnerese(ph), who has explored this period in his own musical
revues. To give you a preview, we asked him to sing a sing that he's
performed on stage, which was originated by Bert Williams. It's called
(Soundbite of "Somebody Lied")
Mr. VERNELL BONNERESE: George Washington, so history says, would never tell
a lie. I wish there were more Washingtons. I do hope to die. When I was but
a little boy, somebody felt my head, says he, `You'll be a president someday.'
That's what he said. Somebody lied. Mm, somebody lied, you see. There never
was a president that ever resembled me. Somebody lied. It's plain as plain
can be. Somebody lied. As sure as you're born, somebody falsified to me.
When I first started out in life to be a president, I got a livery stable job.
Eh, it wasn't worth a cent. Somebody said, `There stands a mule. Go curry
her for me. Don't be afraid of her hind legs. She's gentle as can be.'
Somebody lied. Somebody lied, you see. That mule just twisted in her stall
and handed me one, that's all. Ooh! Somebody lied. It's plain as plain can
be. Somebody lied. As sure as you're born, somebody falsified to me. Hmmm.
GROSS: That's Vernell Bonnerese with Dick Hyman at the piano. I really like
the way you do that. It's really very funny.
Mr. BONNERESE: Thank you.
GROSS: Now Bert Williams, who originated that song, gives a lot of people
trouble because he performed in blackface. And in 1906, his vaudeville
partner George Walker wrote something really interesting about Bert Williams'
blackface performances, and this is from an article George Walker wrote called
The Real Coon(ph). Vernell, would you read us an excerpt of that article?
Mr. BONNERESE: Sure. `The blackfaced white comedians used to make themselves
look as ridiculous as they could when portraying a darkie character. In their
makeup, they always had tremendously big red lips and their costumes were
frighteningly exaggerated. The one fatal result of this to the colored
performers was that they imitated the white performers as darkies. Nothing
seemed more absurd than to see a colored man making himself ridiculous in
order to portray himself. My partner, Mr. Williams, is the first man I know
of our race to attempt to delineate a darkie in a perfectly natural way, and I
think much of his success is due to this fact.'
GROSS: Vernell, what's it like for you to be interested in a period of music
in which you have to confront things like blackface and dialect lyrics?
Mr. BONNERESE: It's part of my own education, as far as theater history is
concerned. When I went to college, there was no such thing as black theater
history, so groups of us had to find every morsel that we could in order to
educate ourselves and become stronger in knowing our own history. So for me,
every time I find new material--there's things that I haven't gotten my hands
on--for me, it's wonderful because it's education. Edutainment.
GROSS: That's Vernell Bonnerese. He and pianist Dick Hyman will be back
tomorrow for our program on composer Will Marion Cook. We'll rebroadcast the
complete American Popular Song series Mondays beginning in July. We'll close
today's show with Will Marion Cook's song "Swing Along" as recorded by Paul
Robeson in 1933. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of "Swing Along")
Mr. PAUL ROBESON: Swing along, chilluns, swing along the lane. Lift your
head and your heels mighty high. Swing along, chilluns, t'aint a-gonna rain.
Sun's as red as a rose in the sky. Come along, Mandy. Come along, Sue.
White folks watchin' and seein' what you do. White folks jealous when you're
talking two by two, so swing along, chilluns, swing along.
Announcer: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, our series on American popular song concludes
with the music of Will Marion Cook, the principal composer of the 1903
Broadway musical "In Dahomey," the first Broadway show written and performed
I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
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