The Case of the Drowning Men: The Smiley Face Serial Murder Theory

Jul 5, 2012 - by Eponymous Rox

Special to Crime Magazine

The Case of the Drowning Men: Investigating the Smiley Face Serial Murder Theory by Eponymous Rox.

An excerpt from The Case of the Drowning Men: Investigating the Smiley Face Serial Murder Theory by Eponymous Rox.

The police are calling them accidents. They say young men are simply drinking too much and meeting a tragic end in icy lakes and rivers. But, with sinister graffiti frequently found near where the victims died, the public thinks something else has been going on in America's northland since 1997. They're calling the sudden disappearances of hundreds of college-age men mysterious. They're calling the drownings murder.

 by Eponymous Rox

Chapter 1: Dead Certain

Since the mid 1990’s, in the northernmost district of the United States where Interstates 90 and 94 merge to cut a scenic route toward the west, crossing nearly a dozen states along the way and skirting the border with Canada, scores of young men are vanishing every year without a trace. Only to turn up days, weeks, or months later in nearby bodies of water, dead.

Occurring mainly between the months of September to April, it’s the same story repeating itself every time, with little variation: A young man goes out for the evening with his friends, gets separated from them some time after midnight, and, despite massive search efforts by his loved ones to find out what became of him, is never seen alive again.

For local law enforcement officials the hunt for lost men over the past 15 years has become an all too familiar tale of woe as well, not the least because it’s costly and disruptive. But as far as police are concerned, even before they launch an investigation, even before a body’s been recovered from the water and an autopsy performed, it’s always a cut-and-dry case: “No signs of foul play.”

Young people are simply drinking too much, the authorities claim. Young people will do crazy and stupid things when they’re inebriated. They’ll even throw themselves into an icy river or lake and drown.

Seems a reasonable enough explanation on its face, if only one or two fatalities occurring every once in awhile, and a scenario that’s not totally impossible to imagine either. But by the hundreds?

And why only males then? All matching the same description? Washing up in places thoroughly searched before…?

I first stumbled upon the case of the drowning men in early 2012, and quite by accident. Indeed, whatever it was I’d originally been researching at the moment, it was undoubtedly not related to death or dying, and I’m also positive it had nothing to do with H20 and its cold-weather hazards. But the brain is an efficient machine and though its focus may be directed to one particular matter it’s still constantly processing everything else on the periphery; sorting, analyzing and connecting all the data-bytes it comes across. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Like dots on a map.

Scientists say one of the things the human brain is very quick to detect is a pattern. If so, that must be the reason why, when I glanced at the February article concerning yet another youth who had wandered away from his buddies and whose corpse was found shortly thereafter floating in the Mississippi, I blurted aloud, “What, not again,” and clicked on the news link. Before that day, before I began to consciously pay attention to this issue, I can honestly say I’d never known of anyone, young or old, male or female, to drink and drown in autumn, winter or spring. Not in all the time I’ve lived in this, the affected area.

Like my fellow citizens who are also lifelong residents of the Great Lakes region—growing up here, going to school, working, vacationing, socializing—I can attest that these two things, drinking and drowning in cold weather, have never been synonymous with each other. Drowning after a night out on the town with your friends during the chilly months of September through April, with nobody else around to help, with no witnesses, just isn’t as inevitable as the police would have us all suddenly believe it is. It’s not, regardless of what age you are or your close proximity to the water, an ordinary way to perish.

This is probably because in these parts, even when people are drunk out of their minds, they don’t usually drown outdoors unless they’re in the act of swimming, or else involved in some other form of water recreation like waterskiing or boating. Activities which, because of our cold, northern climate, are only safely executed in rivers, lakes and ponds approximately three months out of the calendar year, in June, July, and August.

The rest of the time the water’s simply too cold to go in, and most everybody (native and transplant alike) understands that if water is at or below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s not only brutally uncomfortable, it can kill you—a body cools in water twice as fast as it does in air, losing an approximate rate of five degrees per hour. Death from hypothermia only takes about three hours in 40 to 60 degree water; less than two hours at 35 to 40 degrees; and less than three-quarters of an hour at temperatures below 35 degrees.

Those deadly equations are fairly easy to master and, in the land of lakes and rivers and ponds and streams and brooks, youngsters are taught them early on. As for the rare and reckless few who fail to grasp the math, to be perfectly candid, they don’t usually make it to their early teens, let alone full adulthood.

The average age of the males who go missing and are later found drowned in the Interstate 90 and 94 Corridor is between 19 and 23 years. In the entire grouping perhaps a handful have been only 17 and a few others as old as 30, although it must be said, in the case of the more mature victims, they didn’t look anywhere near their true age in posters or photographs.

Grown men drowning in cold weather on their way home at night. That’s become a strange new fact of life and the weird new math those who reside in the northern corridor have now had to learn, based upon figures which have been accumulating for nearly the past two decades.

We’re fond of and rely on facts and numbers to inform us here in the northland because, overall, we’re an educated people. Our extensive waterways, highways, railways, large cities, major industries and fertile farmlands have contributed to make the region one of the most affluent in the country. As a result, many of the world’s finest universities can be found in this region as well, and an overwhelming majority of us have attended them. We’re a schooled and highly trained bunch of skeptics we are, and even a bit conservative leaning.

Which is to say, we tend to mull things over long before we act. We don’t jump to conclusions…

In 2004 the April drowning of yet another popular, athletic, and bright 21-year-old male of medium build, at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, provided the tipping point for that community’s stoical tolerance of the matter. In terms of these events La Crosse is one of the hotspots, and by that year there’d been way too many of the same type of men dying under identical circumstances for the public to view it anymore as coincidence. With the inexplicable disappearance of honor student Jared Dion the city was up in arms, and when his body was eventually discovered downriver, the once-whispered suspicions of murder instantly morphed into full blown allegations of a serial killer or a gang of serial killers stalking college-age men in the area, not to mention accusations of police involvement and a cover up.

There were roughly 51,000 people living in La Crosse in 2004, according to the U.S. Census, and, to be sure, they weren’t all hapless students; city officials and the police department were late to acknowledge a crisis at hand, and, when they did finally react to it, the town-hall meetings they commandeered to dismiss the public’s fears as unfounded did little or nothing to calm things down again. Every public debate concerning the river deaths was jam-packed and rapidly descended into a shouting match.

It was probably in a last ditch effort to restore the peace as well as to mitigate harm to the university’s reputation that an open letter from faculty members at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse was penned and then distributed to the student body. Co-authored by the chairs of the Psychology and Sociology departments and titled “Why we are 99.9% sure it is NOT a serial killer” - a data based explanation, this urgent communiqué implored students to use their “critical thinking skills” to evaluate what was really going on in their town. A levelheaded analysis would prove these were only drownings, not murders, the professors assured them. A string of terribly tragic and utterly preventable accidents:

  1. Students are drinking too much and incapacitating themselves, a condition which drives some to seek out the river to refresh themselves, during which they slip and fall in.
  2. Only men are drowning as a result of intoxication because women are more savvy these days and don’t wander around alone at night, especially not if they’ve been partying.
  3. Annually, almost 10 times as many males die during water recreational activities and in other types of accidents than females do. Alcohol plays a role in a number of these cases.
  4. There are no drowning deaths at nearby universities like Madison because their campuses are beside lakes. Whereas La Crosse’s campus is situated right on the river’s edge, and rivers, being suddenly deep and fast flowing, are far more dangerous.
  5. The similarities between the victims constitute “illusory correlations” which can readily be explained through other qualifying factors.

Stepping into the middle of a community’s fray and trying to mediate it was highly unusual for a university, and, in light of the dire subject matter of their “data based explanation” and the negative impact advertising it might have had on future enrollment, a rather risky PR move, too. But the professors’ treatise was also an intelligent, compassionate, and methodical approach to debunking the serial-murderer theory before it could take root—the first of many—so the gamble was well worth it. Moreover, this strategy appears to have been quite successful. At least for awhile.

But in 2005, 2006 and 2007, drunk and sober young men continued to go missing along the interstates, sometimes two or more in the very same time span. Their corpses eventually to be retrieved from such rivers as the Calumet, the Hudson, the Charles, the Mississippi, the Milwaukee, the Wabash and the Wisconsin, as well as a number of area lakes, including Great Lake Michigan, Lake LaVerne, and the University at Madison’s nearby Lake Mendota. These latter deaths occurring in seeming defiance of the UW-L professors’ sweeping assertion that a lake doesn’t pose the same risk for drowning because “it becomes gradually deeper and is not moving swiftly.”


Smiley Faces

Also helping to rekindle the flames of conflict between believers and nonbelievers of a serial killer, new information had begun trickling in from reliable outside investigators which suggested that dozens of the questionable drownings could be linked now not only by an identifiable victimology and a distinct manner of death, but also through cryptic symbols like smiley faces and other taunting messages left at the scenes of a some of the suspected murders.

A subsequent inspection throughout the region confirmed that there was in fact sinister-looking graffiti of this sort at many a river’s edge or lakefront, and, as with the ruckus at La Crosse Wisconsin just a few years prior, a large percent of the student populations in these locations, together with their families and the local citizenry, became understandably very worked up about these findings. Terrified.

It was investigative reporter Kristi Piehl from KSTP-TV out of Minnesota who first broke the story in 2008 of serial killers drowning men along Interstate 90 and 94, and of the doggedly determined pair of retired NYPD detectives in hot pursuit of them. The segment ultimately earning her an Emmy but apparently costing her a job. From that special report, the concept of a “Smiley Face Killer Gang” was born and went instantly viral, not just on websites and in chat rooms, but also in the major media outlets.

ABC, MSNBC, CNN and the Associated Press, among others, picked up the local news item and carried it nationwide, in so doing, widely broadcasting the seeds of what would become one of the most hotly-contested conspiracy theories of our time.

Once again, pandemonium broke out as anxious citizens began mobilizing and actively trying to bypass their own police departments’ authority, demanding instead that federal assistance be provided in order to apprehend a fiendish network of elusive serial murderers stalking, abducting and drowning specific types of young males across the northland.

Experts in criminology and forensic pathology studied the various case profiles as well, and, noting the telltale spikes in certain localities, they also began expressing similar opinions.

"The probability is virtually zero that five intoxicated students just happened to walk similar or even different routes and end up on the riverbank." Dr. Maurice Godwin, criminal investigative psychologist, commenting on the La Crosse Wisconsin cluster

"They could have been murdered but the person was just so good at doing it that they didn't leave any physical evidence… [they] could sedate and drown him in a tub or something like that and then throw him in the river." John Kelly, psychotherapist and profiler 

“The statistics are so stacked against this number of men, young men, Caucasian males, found in bodies of water in that cluster of states, within that period of time.” Dr. Cyril Wecht, forensic pathologist

“If you actually look at the statistics on drownings, most drownings occur during the summer and they're related to water activities like boating and water skiing and things like that. Very few drownings actually occur during the winter.” Lee Gilbertson, Professor of Criminal Justice at St. Cloud University

The supporting evidence for those conclusions was so compelling, in fact, that two high-level state representatives joined in the furor. Senator Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin and U.S. Congressman Michael McNulty from New York both submitted requests directly to the FBI urging the Bureau to formally investigate the serial murders being perpetrated in their states and to take swift actions to end them.

“Yes, there’s a serial murderer—alcohol,” La Crosse’s flustered chief of police, Edward Kondracki, retorted when confronted with these latest developments. But, “a rogue cop…or national smiley face gang…there is no serial killer!”

In this growing war of words, rival local-news networks that had failed to show any real interest in the story before felt obliged now to weigh in, some seeking to ridicule the award-winning reporter who had intrepidly launched the Smiley Face Murder Theory into the national spotlight.

Veteran columnist Steve Perry from the Minnesota Monitor unabashedly said of her, "Let the record show that Kristi Piehl of KSTP has done her part to bring the yarn to the huddled masses yearning to breathe the vapors of another massive conspiracy.” And reporter Brian Lambert at Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine angrily proclaimed that a story depicting serial drownings as actual serial slayings in disguise going on to earn a coveted journalism award was “ludicrous,” and that the very idea of a serial murderer being responsible for the spate of area deaths, "boggles every rational instinct."

But because a homegrown rumor, many years in the creation, had suddenly spiraled into a legend overnight, it would now require much more than scorn and carefully constructed editorial pieces to slam the lid back on the can of worms it had opened. The American public’s imagination and its keen interest in the case had been ignited, and it would take a multi-pronged effort to fully squelch the serial killer theory this time. In that process, a number of reputations would necessarily have to be sullied, a few investigations closed, and taxpayers’ monies liberally spent in order to increase security, and a sense of security, in communities close to water.

Fences, river patrols, safe buses, surveillance cameras, targeted campaigns of every variety aimed at damage control― these costly measures could be justified because public officials knew that, to govern properly, people couldn’t be living in fear day and night, and they couldn’t be distrustful of their law enforcement officers, either. Most importantly, university towns couldn’t expect students to continue flocking to them in droves, as many in this region have been accustomed to for over a century, if they’re suddenly afraid they’ll end up victims of violent crimes there. When it comes to social strife and chaos, in the end the end always does justify the means employed, and, as can be seen today, these strenuous attempts to solve “the problem” have been effective in crushing the ugly stories and criticisms that were running rampart not so long ago.

All throughout the northern corridor now, a truce appears to be in place and holding, and, for the most part, it’s been pretty quiet these past couple of years.

But then there is that plaguing issue of a steadily rising body count.


Chapter 2: Anatomy of a Drowning

For those who think that drowning is a pleasant way to go, think again. Drowning is a violent assault on the body during which the frightened victim fiercely, albeit briefly, battles to survive. Death follows exhaustion within only two or three minutes.

Technically, it is true that a person can drown in as little as a cup of water. A cup, a puddle, a ditch, a bathtub—anytime liquid enters the air passages and lungs, even if someone doesn’t die immediately, it can still turn fatal because there are a host of medical complications which arise that are always life-threatening, such as pneumonia and renal failure. These types of delayed fatalities are known as “secondary drownings” and, although their symptoms may develop over the course of several days, or even longer for some patients, they’re usually triggered within only a few hours of the initial incident.

But most victims drown fully submerged in water when the nose and mouth inadvertently become covered. Sometimes, when there is an instantaneous glottal spasm blocking off oxygen, or a preexisting medical condition, death can be automatic without any signs of a struggle. In the majority of drownings, however, this is not the case. Struggling is one of the key stages leading to unconsciousness and death. In fact, so intense can this final fight for life be that, in more than 10 percent of drowning fatalities, an autopsy will actually reveal bruised and ruptured muscles, particularly in the shoulders, chest and neck. Evidence of injuries of this nature suggest to a medical examiner the strong likelihood that a victim was alive in the water at the time of their demise and not placed there already dead.

The stages of a full-immersion drowning event are fairly quick and, because the victim’s airways are being blocked, either by water and/or the epiglottis, it’s often completely soundless. There will be panicked thrashing as the victim desperately attempts to get air and to grab onto nearby objects for security, and then, when they can no longer hold their breath, they’ll begin to inhale water in large quantities, gulping it into their stomach as well. This action also rapidly circulates water throughout their other systems and bloodstream with differing biochemical reactions depending on whether they’re in saltwater or in fresh. This last stage of drowning ends with coughing, vomiting, convulsions, loss of consciousness, death, and rigor mortis.

Very shortly after the victim dies their body will start to sink. If retrieved soon thereafter, their arms and hands may display cadaveric spasm, a posture in death borne out of extreme mental anguish and which reveals the person’s final thoughts and movements as they frantically fought to stay alive.

If a victim is not promptly retrieved at death, then, without exception and no matter how deep or how swift the water may be, the corpse will continue to drift downward until it reaches the bottom. This is where it will remain in a somewhat fetal position until gases from putrefaction cause it to rise to the surface once more.

A semi-fetal posture is the norm for all drown victims

A semi-fetal posture is the norm for all drown victims, so if divers do locate such a body before it ascends, but it isn’t in this pose and/or the head is seen to be tilted to one side, they must include these observations in their police recovery report, as it reveals the victim died on land and was put in the water post-rigor mortis.

Typically, once the body does emerge on its own, it will surface in the general vicinity of where the victim originally went under. From this location the water may then carry the corpse along for quite a distance, depending on the strength of the currents or if it becomes ensnared and is thereby prevented.

Refloat largely varies on the water’s depth and temperature, taking only a matter of hours to occur if extremely warm and up to two weeks or longer if at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. The timetable, therefore, is not fixed but is loosely as follows: at 40 degrees Fahrenheit it takes approximately 14 to 20 days for a drown victim’s corpse to resurface; at 50 degrees 10 to 14 days; at 60 degrees seven to 10 days; at 70 degrees three to seven days; and at 80+ degrees one to two days or sooner. In very cold and very deep bodies of water, like certain oceans or the Great Lakes of North America, it’s not unusual at all for a drown victim to never resurface, lying on the bottom in a state of suspended decomposition until the body eventually disintegrates or is otherwise destroyed.

But in temperate oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds, pools, reservoirs, quarries, or the like, a corpse will inevitably rise again, sooner or later, occasionally exploding to the surface if it was deliberately anchored. And when it does reappear, if the person did genuinely die from drowning, then the corpse will always be discovered floating face down in the water, with the head drooping forward and lower than the rest of the body.

Lividity, the pooling of blood and fluids, will then have permanently settled into the under regions of the corpse by then, weighting it from beneath and essentially acting as a ballast so that, even when disturbed, say by a collision with a boat, it will return to this original position.

If one can stomach a physical inspection of the body and knows what to look for, at this point it becomes relatively easy to determine the length of time a victim’s actually been submerged. However, because a previously sunken body could have been slowly dragged along the water’s bed by currents and thereby further damaged against rocks and similar objects, or even partially eaten by marine animals, it may be difficult for the layperson to ascertain if any visible injuries happened in life or were obtained postmortem.

Damaged or not, though, if a body has been in the water for at least one to 48 hours, wrinkling of the skin will be present already, particularly on the palms of the hands and fingertips and on the soles and toes of the feet. Noticeable blanching and bloating of the epidermis may also be underway too, with pronounced blotches and discolorations ranging in hue from pink to dark red distributed unevenly across the body.

In excess of the above time period, the victim’s epidermis may look a greenish bronze and will have begun pimpling and even pre-peeling as fat deposits just beneath it slowly transform into a soapy material and loosen the skin. This is especially true of the flesh on the hands and feet which will slip off on their own―or when tugged on―just like gloves, a process of decay aptly named “degloving.” If signs of degloving are already evident on such a corpse, special care must be taken in recovering the body from the water, as additional harm can easily be inflicted when physically grappling with it or maneuvering it about with hooks and mechanical devices.

Once it has been successfully recovered, a waterlogged body will rapidly deteriorate when fully exposed to air, therefore an autopsy must be performed immediately in order to help determine the exact cause of death and the manner. This may seem superfluous, but the fact is death by drowning is not wholly assumed by medical experts and law enforcement, especially where there have been no witnesses to unequivocally substantiate it.

In forensic terms, there is nothing whatsoever deemed “classic” about any drowning, no one particular physical characteristic manifesting in a corpse that would aid in expediting such a ruling. Because of this, the methodology for reaching a determination that it was a water death and accidental is one that is chiefly focused on excluding foul play. This places a great deal of importance on the initial investigative role of police personnel who could inform or misinform a medical examiner with their onsite reports and early conclusions.

Even the autopsy is insufficient on its own for definitively pinpointing the victim’s cause of death as an accidental drowning, but the line of inquiry a medical examiner follows during this phase of the inquest is to review the circumstances of how the deceased person reportedly first entered the water and to try to judge if the body they’re viewing matches up to that version of events. If so, and the death indeed appears benign, the medical examiner will then proceed to determine whether the drowning was a result of the individual’s own failure to stay afloat or the byproduct of some underlying ailment. For this reason, there are educated assumptions which may safely be arrived at when the victim in question is young and healthy, whereas it’s not impossible in older people that they may have died in the water as a result of a heart attack or emphysema, or some other serious medical problem.

That makes prompt identification of the body vital to a postmortem medical exam, but, of course, a corpse will always be more deeply probed in those cases where the victim’s identity is still not known or the fatality somehow looks and sounds suspicious.

Lying on the examiner’s slab and before taking a scalpel to flesh, there are visual clues that can provide a few preliminary answers about the death. For instance, drowning produces a thin foam in and around the victim’s mouth which usually lingers there for several days before washing away. The presence or absence of this transient substance, on the other hand, is not conclusive because drug overdoses, electrocutions and strangulations also have the same foaming effect, and because up to 20 percent of drownings are actually “dry drownings” where the victim took no water into the airways but died instantly, or else suffocated very quickly from a sudden throat-closing reflex.

To see if this telltale foam did once exist, though, placing a hand firmly on the victim’s chest and gently compressing it should bring the substance back up once more, perhaps even with pebbles and sand in it. Alternately, when a corpse has begun to decay a darkish, foul-smelling fluid might fill the mouth instead, but this is standard to all types of deaths where putrefaction has set in and is therefore of little diagnostic value. It is the existence of a pair of oversaturated lungs, ideally with debris in them, that will most strongly point to death by drowning. But, again, this by itself is not proof positive either, since a dead body can slowly draw water into its air passages even if only placed in the water after having died elsewhere.

Also, the victim’s hands can, and often do, reveal important evidence to a medical examiner. A drowning person grasps at everything within arm’s reach to prevent going under, so the victim may still be clutching a variety of foreign objects. These can be anything the drowning person managed to grab hold of before losing consciousness, such as nearby plants, twigs and other artifacts. In fact, this phenomenon is so common, that in some cases it can be considered suspicious if the hands are empty. For example, if the victim’s body was entangled in a densely weeded aquatic environment it is reasonable to expect to find the victim clutching fistfuls of such weeds. Similarly, victims holding things that aren’t natural to the settings they drowned in will also be indicative of foul play. And, finally, in very rocky locations, a victim’s hands might even be slightly mangled with a missing fingernail or two from scraping against stone to stay afloat.

In death as in life, a person’s eyes can tell a story, too. If the victim still has eyeballs in the sockets and these are wide open and glistening, as is usual for bodies found face down in the water, then there is a high probability that the victim drowned, although this alone won’t yet prove whether it was on purpose or by accident. If, instead, a horizontal demarcation “line” is perceptible on each of the eyes (showing distinct cloudy and un-cloudy zones created by postmortem exposure to the air) then the victim expired, or was killed, someplace on dry land.

Opening the corpse comes next. If the victim truly died in the water then, regardless if it was a dry or wet drowning event, there will always be a considerable volume of watery fluid in the stomach with yet more debris in this mixture, because a person cannot help but to drink water in the final act of drowning. A thorough analysis of the stomach contents is required then and these fluids must be found consistent with a sample of the water the victim allegedly succumbed in. If they are not, this will be determined to be just as suspicious as not finding any such fluid present.

The rapid ingestion and aspiration of large quantities of freshwater and its swift circulation throughout the body will, as well as diluting the victim’s blood by as much as 50% percent dilute whatever fluids they might have consumed ante-mortem (prior to the agonal event). Thus, a postmortem toxicology test to determine if any of those might have been intoxicants, and alcohol thereby a culprit in the death, will obviously be thwarted—a blood/alcohol reading from a drowning victim can be drastically lower than what it would have been if measured when the person presumed to be drunk was still alive.

Additionally, taking an accurate BAC from a drown victim is further rendered futile in cases where decomposition has already begun, since alcohol is naturally manufactured in the body through the process of decaying. Consequently, a BAC level in these types of deaths, which on the average requires another month for a lab to process, is not very informative to an experienced and astute medical examiner, especially one who isn’t totally convinced that drinking was what caused the individual’s drowning.

Signs of trauma to the body, if any, can be equally as perplexing at a glance. While bloody wounds the victim may have received when still living will leach from prolonged soaking and no longer be as noticeable to the naked eye, postmortem injuries a corpse derived from impacts as it traveled along may be much more prominent and deceptively appear as intentional. That’s because those latter injuries tend to occur on the more vulnerable parts of the deceased, like the face where a lot of excess blood has collected, and a puncture or tear to these sensitive areas can cause them to ooze profusely.

So too, the whole head of a rotting corpse might totally blacken from all the blood that’s shifted to it and congealed, and to the unfamiliar observer this shocking appearance can be mistaken for evidence of having been burnt.

Because all of the foregoing demonstrates that a drowning is never medically clear cut and, often enough, can be simulated to disguise a murder, and because a drowned person may even falsely resemble a murder victim on some occasions, it does demand 100 percent certainty to officially rule it as the cause of death and an accident. This means any lingering doubts a medical examiner still has should and must be disposed of in a more comprehensive autopsy.

There are any number of additional tests which, when performed, can begin to reduce overarching concerns, but a Diatom Test has proved the most decisive in an inquest where the truth of a drowning death still remains shrouded in some mystery.

A diatom, that bountiful microscopic organism found in every single environment on Earth, creates a hard, crusty exterior casing which is virtually indestructible even to decay. Identifying the specific diatoms native to the waters the victim allegedly drowned in and then finding the presence of those diatom breeds in the tissue samples of the victim’s organs and in their blood makes it all the more certain that this is the place where the person ultimately died. It also proves the individual did in fact drown and was not placed in that locale after death, since, even if a pre-dead body did take water into the stomach and lungs, there is no way for the dead to circulate water (and that water’s microorganisms) throughout all the rest of the body’s system. Only a living person—or rather a person who is dying—could achieve this, during the process of drowning.

After that comparative analysis and matchup is made, if drowning is judged to be the actual cause of death, but the manner itself still cannot confidently be listed as accidental, the death certificate issued will reflect this finding, citing the manner as unknown or undetermined, and the case will then be turned over to the police once again, pending further investigation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eponymous Rox researches and writes about cops, curs, and killers. His next work in this special true-crime investigative series is titled KILLING KILLERS: How the World’s Wickedest Got Whacked. Also fully-illustrated, KILLING KILLERS is slated to premier in winter of 2012.



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