Preliminary quantitative investigation of postmortem adipocere formation

F. Yan, R. McNally, E. J. Kontanis, O. A. Sadik

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The accurate determination of postmortem interval (PMI) using the formation of adipocere presents a significant challenge to forensic scientists interested in determining the time of death. Several attempts have been made to determine the time since the occurrence of death. However, up to date, this has been difficult because previous approaches have been mainly qualitative, focusing on the later stages of degradation processes. This work presents preliminary results of an experimental model of postmortem adipocere formation using liquid chromatography. Three pig cadavers were submerged in distilled water, chlorinated water, and saline water. Fresh specimens resulting from the degradation in the subcutaneous fat were obtained from the pigs at two-week intervals for a period of ten weeks, and were subjected to chromatographic analysis. By correlating the ratio of the disappearance of hydrolyzed fatty acids with the formation of hydroxystearic and oxostearic acids after death, a simple, quantitative analytical method was developed for the determination of PMI. Experimental observation of the chemistry of adipocere formation indicated that adipocere can be formed only a few hours after an incidence of death and this continues until the saturation of oleic acid degradation after several weeks. Different time courses were obtained for cadavers immersed in distilled, chlorinated, and saline water, respectively. This work has not in any way solved the time since death problem. But it may be an approach to the problem that has not been adequately explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-614
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


  • Adipocere formation
  • Chemistry
  • Forensic science
  • High-performance liquid chromatography
  • Postmortem interval
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Saturation index ratio


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