Multiple methods may be employed in an attempt to identify deceased individuals who are unidentified when reported to the medical examiner or coroner. The success and turnaround times of various methods differ.
To determine the number of deaths initially involving unidentified individuals, their demographics, the methods used and turnaround times for cases in which identification was successful and the portion of cases that remain unidentified for significant periods of time.
Design, Setting, and Participants:
Retrospective case review of all decedents who were initially unidentified when death was reported to the Fulton County Medical Examiner in Atlanta, Georgia, during a 1-year period between May 2003 and May 2004.
Main Outcome Measures:
Rate per 1000 deaths which involved an unidentified decedent, tabulation of methods used to make identifications, and rate of cases remaining unidentified.
Of 2279 deaths reported to the office, 100 were originally unidentified, resulting in a rate of 44 unidentified decedents per 1000 deaths reported. Those who remained unidentified involved 6 cases, resulting in a “cold case” rate of 2.6 per 1000 deaths. Seventy-eight percent were identified within 2 days, and the most common successful methods were visual identification (52%) and fingerprints (31%). Dental (10%), x-ray (4%), and other methods (6%) were least commonly used. Of the 94 persons identified, all identifications occurred within 29 days. DNA procedures were not needed in most cases, and in the few cases where such tests were needed, results were either unavailable or failed to show a match with known samples.
The majority of unidentified deceased individuals were identified within 2 days, with visual verification or fingerprints accounting for about 83% of methods successfully employed. The medical examiner noted a rate of 44 unidentified deceased persons per 1000 death reports, with an ultimate “cold case” (long-term unidentified) rate of about 2.6 cases per 1000 death reports. These data may be useful in developing office policy and procedure regarding the procedural and temporal aspects of investigations centered on achieving identification and making dispositions of unidentified deceased bodies.