Dear Mr. Hyoung-tae Kim,

Thank you for your second E-mail confirming that you received that you received my acknowledgment with an offer of help. Maybe the following opinion will be of some assistance. At the present time, I do not think it is worth your trouble and expense of sending me more information and video etc, as the issues are so clear that I feel you should consider the following opinion first of all, because the main areas of dispute concern the error of the prosecution in thinking that the time of death can be so rigidly estimated.

From the document you supplied, I can make the following comments;

  1. The three criteria upon which the prosecution rely to estimate the time of death, namely hypostasis, rigor and stomach contents are the three most unreliable criteria amongst all the various methods used for this purpose.
  2. Even using better criteria, especially body temperature, accuracy is unattainable and the range of error is very great so using these three poorest criteria, no hope of accuracy can be expected.
  3. The claims of the prosecution about the time of death based on these three factors are quite unacceptable and seem to show a basic failure of knowledge and understanding about modern forensic pathology.

Using Rigor mortis, there is very wide range of times in which rigor, first appears, then persists and then passes off. The world scientific literature is full of papers on this since the 19th century and the conflict of opinion is very, very great, so that no worthwhile "timetable" can be constructed, even in "normal" circumstances, let alone where the bodies were in a hot bath. Probably the best expert is Dr Thomas Krompecher, in the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, who wrote the appropriate chapter in a book (The Estimation of the Time Since Death in the Early Post-mortem Period. Ed Knight, by Henssge, Knight Krompecher, Madea & Nokes, 1995, Edward Arnold, London). The same book shows on pages 152 & 240, tables of data collected from 150 years of medical literature by Mallach and published by Schleyer. These show that the variation in published estimates for the start of rigor to be between 0.5 and 7 hours and the full onset of rigor between 2 to 20 years, the range with 95% probability being 6-10 hours. This is at average temperatures and it is well know that higher temperature usually hastens the onset, though this is not a linear relationship and thus cannot be calculated with any accuracy at all, except to say that "it develops more quickly"

The period of persistence of rigor and the time at which it finally vanishes, is even more variable, so that in any given case, one cannot firmly give an accurate estimate, as the shape of the curve of biological variation is so wide.

In this case you describe, the statement of the prosecution expert that "At normal temperature the body become stiffened within 7-8 hours is complete nonsense, as is his claim that therefore the "time of the murder is around 03.30-04.30 am". Any forensic pathologist who claims this fixed period with such accuracy, immediately displays his ignorance or inexperience of the subject.

The period in which full rigor is established at NORMAL ROOM TEMPERATURE can be anything from 3 hours to 10 hours and some are even outside that! I have seen a body in cool conditions where rigor was delayed for a week - and I have seen full rigor under 2 hours, during my 44 years of pathology, 40 of them as a full-time forensic pathologist!

As the body of the woman was in a bath at up to 43 C, the time would be very likely to be accelerated.

Bierefreund did experiments on rabbits and found that at 41 C, rigor began in 45 minutes and was fully established in one hour five minutes. Thus there is such huge variation in normal cases and marked acceleration in warmed bodies, that the claims of the prosecution experts are complete nonsense.

HYPOSTASIS as an index of time since death is even worse than rigor and in short, has no value at all, except to say that the person is dead!

The older textbooks, especially those in continental Europe, still claim that hypostasis has various phase, i.e. In the early period, the bloods is fluid and moves under gravity, then becomes fixed and cannot move. It is quite wrong to accept this as an invariable fact, because experiments can easily prove that SOMETIMES, hypostasis never become fixed and all of it will move at any time after death, if the posture of the body is altered. However, sometimes it is totally fixed, as claimed above, and none of it will move under gravity (though the time periods during which this may happen are very variable); and thirdly, and commonly, some of the hypostasis will move and some will remain fixed in the same body, so that there is partial shifting. In our book, on p 241, another table compiled by Mallach, showed that the onset of hypostasis was recorded as being between half an hour and three hours and maximum hypostasis between 3 and 16 hours.

Complete shifting occurred between 2 and 6 hours and incomplete shifting between 4 and 24 hours! Hypostasis may also be demarcated by tight clothing, such as brassier straps or panty elastic etc, which distorts any progression of gravitational shifting. Taking all these possible permutations, it is clear that the whole concept of shifting hypostasis is useless as a reliable marker of the time since death.

When a corpse is immersed in hot or warm water, hypostasis often has a different appearance, in that it can be sharply limited to the waterline, due to vaso-dilation of the skin blood-vessels by the warmth, which can still occur for some time after death.

German pathologists, such as professor Wolfgang Bonte in Dusseldorf, have written on this marked hypostasis line in electrocutions in bath-tubs, but it also happens without electricity.

Some pathologists also sometimes claim that the "thumb pressure test" is useful, whereby hypostasis can or can not be squeezed out by the pressure of a finger or forceps-handle after a certain time (Suzutani, Fechner etc) - but this suffers from the same discrepancies as the gravity phenomena - sometimes it happened, sometimes it did not - and the time factor is enormously variable. For example, Suzutani found that 30 % of 430 bodies had fixed hypostasis between 6-12 hours, but 70 % did not.

For the experts in your case to claim that partial relocation of hypostasis always -or even usually - occurs within 5-10 hours after death, is totally wrong. Of course it might do this in some cases, but there is more than an equal chance of it NOT doing so. Thus it has no evidential value in a criminal case, where the standard of proof is (or should be) "beyond reasonable doubt".

Stomach contents are the worst of the three and the old ideas, which the Korean prosecution experts still seem to believe, have been out of date for many years. The rate of emptying of the stomach is enormously variable, according to these factors;-

  1. The amount of food taken.
  2. The type of food taken, the proportion of carbohydrate and fat etc.
  3. The ratio of liquid to solid in the food.
  4. Personal variation, both intra- and inter- personal
  5. The physical and emotional state of the person

Again, all these permutations cannot possibly be calculated and adjusted, as some are unknown. The same persons eating the same food, may on one day have a different emptying time to another day.

Emotional and physical factors are very important. If a person is frightening or threatened etc, the stomach pylorus may shut and digestion stop. I have seen full stomach contents at autopsy, in a man who survived a severe head injury and lived for one week, look as fresh as if he had just swallowed it.

The only use of stomach contents as a help to time since death, is if the nature of the food can be recognized and related to a particularly characteristic type of meal known to have been consumed at a certain time - then it can be said that he must have died between that meal and his next meal.

In your case, for the prosecution to say that "light meal last 1-2 hours, medium meals 3-4 hours and heavy meals 4-6 hours in the stomach" is absolutely ridiculous used as an absolute fact. It was taken from Adelson's old book "The Pathology of Homicide", but Adelson meant it only as a very rough comparative indicator and his ideas have been overtaken by much more recent research since he wrote it over 25 years ago. Such statements are now against all normal standards of physiological knowledge. It is impossible to categorize meals into these three groups and the range of normal variation is so great as to make such statements meaningless and unacceptable.


Using the three most unreliable criteria for estimating the time since death, it is impossible in this case to assign the time of death to any particular period within the previous 12 hours and thus it is utterly impossible to allege that the death must have occurred between 7.00 and 9.00 am. No one in the world can be accurate to within this two-hour range, even using the best methods; even the Henssge method using body temperature, which is one of the best (or least inaccurate!) can only give a 5.2 range at best, with 95 % probability. In this case, using the three worst methods, it is impossible to say anything about the time of death, except that it could be anything from less than an hour to half a day!

Yours sincerely