The ability to effectively remove soft tissue from the skeleton without compromising surface morphology or overall bone integrity is essential to a thorough and complete analysis by a forensic anthropologist. There is no agreement among forensic anthropologists regarding the best method for defleshing skeletal remains. Choosing the most appropriate method for defleshing remains and exposing the unique features of the individual must be done with consideration of the forensic context of the remains. The use of undiluted household bleach, as a means of defleshing cadavers is notably controversial in the forensic science literature. Specifically, when bleach is introduced to forensically significant skeletal material, the potential for cortical exfoliation due to the corrosive nature of bleach (sodium hypochlorite) poses a significant threat to the integrity of the outer cortex of the bone. Bleach cleans and whitens bones, which may be appropriate for museum display; in the forensic context it is an adverse product of the process. No single method is a panacea for all situations. Maceration is an invaluable procedure in a forensic context, although not all maceration techniques are applicable to medico-legal cases. Anthropological assessment of the technique’s usability often involves the length and ease of the process, the resulting bone quality and color, and the relative odor (1). Removal of the soft tissue can reveal subtle nuances of trauma that may otherwise be obscured or masked by the presence of flesh (2).
Maceration techniques have been shown to reduce the potential for DNA extraction following maceration (1). As discussed by Mann and Berryman (2), the bleach attacks and oxidizes the protein bonds in the bone, effectively destroying the potential to harvest any mtDNA and Nuclear DNA. Thus, if possible, in cases where identity is in question mtDNA and Nuclear DNA should be harvested prior to using this particular method of cleaning.
The current study focuses on whether the method presented by Mann and Berryman for defleshing remains, illustrated using the chest plate of a stabbing victim post- autopsy, can safely and effectively remove soft tissues from recently deceased partially skeletonized remains. The specimens used in this study are non-human, cattle of the family Bovidae. Bovine skeletal material has demonstrated biocompatibility with living human bones in various biomedical surgical procedures (3) and more recently as a biochemical osteointegratable bone grafting medium in humans (4). Thus, for the purposes of this experiment, bovine material is as near to an ideal medium as possible. The two specimens consisted of an articulated distal end of a femur and proximal end of a tibia.
We obtained the remains from a local slaughterhouse; they were not treated with any chemicals and were dismembered using industry standard blades designed for animal dismemberment. Some of the decedent’s external layers of flesh had...