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Putrefactive Rigor: Apparent Rigor Mortis Due to Gas Distension

Gill, James R. MD; Landi, Kristen MD

American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology:
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181dd17b9
Case Reports
Abstract

Artifacts due to decomposition may cause confusion for the initial death investigator, leading to an incorrect suspicion of foul play. Putrefaction is a microorganism-driven process that results in foul odor, skin discoloration, purge, and bloating. Various decompositional gases including methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen will cause the body to bloat. We describe 3 instances of putrefactive gas distension (bloating) that produced the appearance of inappropriate rigor, so-called putrefactive rigor. These gases may distend the body to an extent that the extremities extend and lose contact with their underlying support surface. The medicolegal investigator must recognize that this is not true rigor mortis and the body was not necessarily moved after death for this gravity-defying position to occur.

Author Information

From the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner and Department of Forensic Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY.

Manuscript received February 5, 2009; accepted May 27, 2009.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: James R. Gill, MD, Office of Chief Medical Examiner, 520 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016. E-mail: jgill@ocme.nyc.gov.

© 2011 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.