Decade-old body can yield clues
Even 10 years after his death, whatever Moorhead police are looking for may yet be in Roger Meyer's remains. The body of Meyer, who died at age 27 in 1992, was exhumed Wednesday from a Moorhead cemetery and sent to the Ramsey County Medical E...
Even 10 years after his death, whatever Moorhead police are looking for may yet be in Roger Meyer's remains.
The body of Meyer, who died at age 27 in 1992, was exhumed Wednesday from a Moorhead cemetery and sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy.
Moorhead police were close-mouthed about why they arranged for the exhumation. Meyer was a close friend of David Ortner, a Moorhead man who is to be sentenced soon on child sexual abuse charges.
Moorhead Police Lt. Bob Larson said only that Meyer's family agreed to the exhumation, which was done because of questions over the circumstances of Meyer's death.
While Larson did not say what information police hope to gather, the chairman of the University of North Dakota Medical School's pathology department said there could be quite a bit of information there.
How much, said Dr. Mary Ann Sens, a board-certified forensic pathologist who came to UND this year after seven years of practice in South Carolina, depends on the conditions under which the body was buried.
"Assuming the body is in still reasonable shape, and that depends a little bit on the water table and embalming, there's actually a lot you can tell," Sens said.
There could be enough evidence left to detail trauma from knife or bullet wounds; internal bleeding from trauma; and a limited amount of toxicology information -- like the presence of poisons or other substances.
It would be hard to tell if the dead man had been drinking, because embalming fluid would affect the results, Sens said.
The body's condition also depends on how healthy the dead man's vascular system was. If the veins weren't too heavily blocked, embalming fluid could have penetrated enough tissue to have preserved much of the body, she said.
It's hard to predict how well a body has been preserved, no matter how long it's been buried, Sens said.
Hair from Napoleon Bonaparte, who died in 1821, was analyzed just a few years ago, she said, to determine whether he had succumbed to arsenic poisoning.
Sens recalls doing an autopsy on a car accident victim who had been dead more than three years. The autopsy showed that he had died of a heart attack just before his vehicle crashed.
Yet, she's seen other exhumations done within three to six months in which virtually nothing could be told about the death.
Sens said it is relatively uncommon to exhume a body after 10 years.
"But it's certainly not unheard of," she said. "With the statute of limitations in most states, most crimes, aside from murder, would have expired."
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