Entomotoxicology in burnt bodies: a case of maternal
filicide-suicide by fire
C. P. Campobasso
Received: 20 January 2017 /Accepted: 14 June 2017 /Published online: 9 July 2017
Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017
Abstract One of the most common methods of maternal fil-
icide is by fire. In this case study, a 40-year-old female and her
children were found completely burned in a burnt out car. All
bodies showed a degree of destruction by fire consisting to a
level 3 of the Crow-Glassman Scale (CGS) and early stage of
insect activity. Toxicological analyses were performed on soft
tissues and body fluids still available. The results were posi-
tive for diazepam and its metabolites only for children with
blood concentrations consistent with therapeutic doses of ben-
zodiazepines. Home video surveillance cameras confirmed
sedation prior to death recording the mother while administer-
ing some drops of sedative drugs in a soft drink to the children
just a couple of hours before setting fire to the car. Based on
autopsy findings, all victims were still alive at the time of fire.
The cause of death was determined as carbon monoxide poi-
soning and fatal thermal injuries by fire. This case study has a
special focus on the entomotoxicology and the potential role
of insects in death investigations of burnt bodies, supposed to
be an inadequate substratum for insect colonization. It dem-
onstrates that in burnt bodies, arthropod colonization can be
quite immediate after fire is extinguished. Toxicological anal-
yses performed on larvae actively feeding on the children’s
bodies were positive for diazepam and its metabolites in small
amount compared with blood concentrations, whereas the lar-
vae collected from the mother’s body were totally negative.
These data, according to the autopsy findings and the toxico-
logical results from the victim’sbloodandtissues,supported
the suspect of a non-lethal sedation prior to death, which is a
common behaviour in maternal filicide.
Highlights • One of the most common methods of maternal filicide is by
fire, and sometimes victims are sedated prior to death.
• In burnt bodies, Diptera colonization can occur quite immediate, soon
after fire is extinguished.
• Entomological specimens may serve as reliable alternate specimens for
toxicological analysis supporting death investigation.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(doi:10.1007/s00414-017-1628-0) contains supplementary material,
which is available to authorized users.
* C. P. Campobasso
Department of Medicine & Health Sciences, University of Molise,
via De Sanctis, 86100 Campobasso, Italy
Department of Medicine and Health Sciences, Forensic Science
Section, University of Florence, largo Brambilla 3,
50100 Florence, Italy
Department of Forensic Pathology, University of Pisa, via Roma 55,
56126 Pisa, Italy
Int J Legal Med (2017) 131:1299–1306
Department of Biological Sciences, School of Applied Sciences,
University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield HD1 3DH,
Department of Experimental Medicine, University BL. Vanvitelli^ of
Campania, via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, snc.,
80138 Naples, Italy