Anil Aggrawal's Forensic Science Fiction: Story 3: A Tale of Detection



-Dr. Anil Aggrawal

The man had been dead for five days!

At least that is what the forensic pathologist Dr. Chandra would have everyone believe. The body was in an advanced state of putrefaction and there were maggots over the body. Every pathologist knows that flies lay eggs in and around natural orifices of the dead body a little after about 3 days and maggots hatch in another two days. So if a body is found full of maggots, it must be dead five days before.

All evidence pointed towards Papi Singh as the killer. He and Bachan Singh, the dead man had been sworn enemies. They both ran rival gambling dens and when two months back Bachan Singh spat over Papi Singh after a drunken brawl, Papi Singh had sworn to get even with him. Everybody knew about that.

The body of Bachan Singh was found of the night of 27th May. That put the time of death round about the night of 22nd May. Throughout the proceedings Papi Singh kept asserting he hadn't killed Bachan Singh. Some of his cronies swore they had seen Bachan Singh roaming around on the night of 23rd May with a lady of ill repute but nobody believed them. In fact nobody could think of suspecting Dr. Chandra's judgement.

But the defence lawyer Basu was a shrewd man. He was a man of multiple interests and had his fingers in several pies. He studied the autopsy report in great detail and found that the main reason for Dr Chandra's judgement was the presence of maggots on the body. All the putrefactive changes plus the maggots put the time of death as five days, but the same changes minus the maggots put the time of death as merely three days and put the date of death as the night of 24th May. That suited his client Papi Singh, as he had left for Chandigarh on 24th morning by train making his alibi watertight. Everybody knew about it, and furthermore he had the train tickets to prove that. Papi Singh even had some minor scuffle with the guard of the train, and the guard remembered it. Even he could be called as a witness to say that Papi Singh had indeed made the journey to Chandigarh on the morning of 24th May. This was as good an alibi as could possibly be.

In essence, Papi Singh could be saved from the gallows, if it could somehow be proved that Bachan Singh had died just 3 days before and not 5 days before as Dr. Chandra had indicated in his post-mortem report. But from where did the maggots emerge? That was the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

The answer began emerging in Basu's mind a few days later. While reading the latest issue of the American Journal of Ornithology he read with interest the report of an Indian ornithologist who had reported finding a new species in India called Passeriformes peculiaris. The females of the species ate small seeds while the males ate eggs of insects. This in itself was not a very startling or amazing finding as the same situation is prevalent in many known species. Male anopheles for instance sucks flower juice while the female anopheles sucks blood. The real amazing find was that if by mistake the female bird swallowed the insect eggs which look very much like the seeds it ate, it would not be able to digest them. It would be able to keep the eggs in its gizzard as long as they did not hatch. But once the maggots hatched, they would start irritating the gizzard, and the bird would be forced to disgorge the maggots immediately. Still more surprisingly, the bird would search for decaying flesh, so that it could get nauseated strong enough and be able to evacuate its gizzard as completely as possible. The female of the species seemed to have a kind of aversion for these maggots, so to say.

What Basu decided was this. Bachan Singh was killed on 24th night by someone else, and his body thrown away in the open. As the species Passeriformes peculiaris was rather abundant in the region where the body was found, some birds, which had earlier ingested the insect eggs accidentally, disgorged some of the maggots on the decaying flesh. In other words flies never laid eggs on the corpse. Quite simply, the body had not been dead long enough for that to happen. Maggots were directly disgorged upon it by the female Passeriformes peculiaris, and that put the time of death as just 3 days. Maggots were in fact only artifacts.

But in the court everybody laughed at this outlandish conjecture. New reports had to be taken with a pinch of salt, they said. However the defence kept harping on the authenticity and reputation of the journal. Finally the judge appointed a committee of ornithologists, entomologists and forensic experts to look into the issue and give its report. The main task of course was to look into whether such a bird really disgorges maggots on decaying flesh or not.

And when finally the report came after a month, it acquitted Papi Singh. It said laconically,

"The girly bird retches the worm!"


This story was published in Published in Spandan (Maulana Azad Medical College's Magazine) 1990-91 on Page 8



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