This post was originally published on Scientific American
What follows is the coroner’s report for Lomax, employee of a large New York insurance firm, whose body was in the possession of witnesses Larry Wilson and Richard Parker over a short weekend at Lomax’s beach home.
- Lomax, Bernie
- Date of death: June 5, 1989
- Manner of death: heroin overdose
The victim was discovered in his beach home with several gunshot wounds in his chest. The witnesses stated that they had been with the body for a period of at least 24 hours since the victim passed away from an apparent heroin overdose.
However, it is the opinion of this investigator that the witnesses’ testimony is faulty, based on the condition of the body. Their “weekend at Bernie’s” should have been “weekend with a bloated, stiff, green corpse.”
According to basic forensic science, the human body after death is not a pretty thing. After the induced heroin overdose, the victim would have quickly exhibited pallor mortis, or a loss of color in the skin due to the end of blood flow, within minutes of death. To pass off the victim at parties and in public, the witnesses must have taken time to apply and reapply extensive makeup to the body of the victim.
During the next one to two hours, the victim’s body would begin to cool during algor mortis. In the first hour, the body would likely drop a few degrees in external body temperature. With each following hour, the body would have lost another one to two degrees. To pass off a body in this state as living, the witnesses must have periodically heated the body (most likely in the summer sun) every few hours during their weekend. Though externally warm to the touch, the victim’s body would continue to cool internally until it reached the ambient outside temperature.
After three hours, rigor mortis would set in. Famously known as the stiffening of a corpse, rigor mortis is brought on more by what the body can no longer do rather than something the body is doing. When a person contracts their muscles, chemicals build bridges between muscle fibers, pulling the tissue along and then detaching to repeat the process. When a person dies, they can no longer use the chemicals that usually break these little bridges allowing for continued muscle contraction. The muscle fibers become fixed in place as the metabolism of a dead body tailspins towards demise, resulting in the stiffening we are all familiar with.
Witnesses report that the body of the victim was not stiff, indeed, it was flexible enough to be carried around as if walking, dragged behind a boat, and finally flipped off a gurney to be buried in the sand by a small child. To achieve this ease of motion during the time the witnesses Wilson and Parker were in possession of the body, they could have used the same technique that butchers use to make sure recently refrigerated meat does not undergo rigor mortis. It is the opinion of this investigator that the witnesses applied alternating electric current to the body, in effect tenderizing the victim.
Six to twelve hours into their weekend with the victim, the witnesses would have seen the body undergo livor mortis. The blood of the victim, no longer able to fight gravity, would begin to pool in the extremities of the body. To hide the visual changes that accompany this state—ghostly pale areas accented by blood red ones—the witnesses kept the victim’s body covered at all times with a full outfit, including sunglasses.
Lastly, and most disturbingly, the body of the victim would have begun to decompose immediately upon death. The stomach area would bloat, intestines would begin pushing their way out, and cells themselves would rupture. In fact, because receiving numerous gunshots in this state, as the victim did, would have likely “spilled the guts” of the victim, it is the opinion of this investigator that the witnesses drastically altered the body.
No witnesses outside Parker and Wilson noted that the body was disemboweled after taking so many gunshots, so one conclusion could be that Parker and Wilson removed the internal organs of the body—in the style of Egyptian mummification—to prevent rapid decomposition.
And because the effluvium of a decomposing body would be repellent to all but insects, Parker and Wilson must have applied serious amounts of insect repellant and air freshener to the corpse. However, if these materials were used, they were not recovered at the scene.
Needless to say, regardless of what the witnesses actually did to the victim’s body to preserve it, Bernie Lomax’s body could not endure another such outing.
Finally, though there is no widely adopted state or federal laws pertaining to the “proper treatment” of dead bodies, the egregious actions of the witnesses Wilson and Parker evoke a response from international law. To pass off a dead body as living, to subject it to such abuse, to parade it about in public, is to violate the Geneva Convention. Rule 113 of the convention states that “each party to the conflict shall facilitate the steps taken … to protect [the killed] against … ill-treatment.” Though these rules only apply during armed conflicts between countries that have accepted the doctrine, it is the opinion of this investigator that the extreme mistreatment of the victim’s body (killed by a forced drug overdose) qualifies as an infringement.
This investigator concludes, perhaps overzealously, that charges should be retroactively filled against the witnesses on behalf of the Lomax estate, as the ensuing defamation of the Lomax name has made it impossible for his family to have a quiet weekend anywhere.
Image: Screenshot from Weekend At Bernie’s.