Identification of unknown human remains by comparison of antemortem and postmortem radiographs

Nina G. Jablonski, Bobby S.F. Shum

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The identification of unknown human remains by comparison of ante mortem and post mortem radiographs has found wide acceptance in recent years. This report documents two recent cases in Hong Kong in which unequivocal positive identifications were achieved by comparison of radiographs. In both cases, comparison of radiographs was the only available means of establishment of identity. The first case involved the identification of a very badly burned body of a 22-year-old male by the matching of the ante mortem and post mortem radiographic images of the cranial base (in particular the sella turcica), hard palate, paranasal air sinuses, mastoid air cells, the lambdoid suture, and the upper molar teeth as revealed on comparable lateral skull films. The second was the identification of a deliberately mutilated torso of a 28-year-old female by comparison of the radiographic images of the lumbar spine, pelvis, and head of the femur as revealed on plain abdominal films taken before and after death. While evidence of injury or surgery did not figure in either of the identifications, the presence of a mild scoliosis and the absence of the twelfth ribs aided identification in the latter case. Emphasis is placed in this account on the value of radiographic comparison as a means of identification because it draws upon the matching of intricate and highly individual patterns of external and internal bony anatomy that are stable over long periods of time. In cases where ante mortem radiographs and photographs are available, establishment of personal identity by comparison of radiographs is deemed preferable to identification by photographic superimposition because radiographic comparison permits the matching of a potentially larger number of unique anatomical features and is less time consuming and technically exacting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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