Patterns of Intentional Dismemberment in Florida Medicolegal Death Investigations

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Katie M. Rubin
Janet E. Finlayson


This study identifies broad patterns of intentional dismemberment in Florida as observed in cases accessioned over a 15-year period at the University of Florida C. A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory. A review of all case files dating from July 2003 through June 2018 (N = 959) found 28 individuals with indications of intentional dismemberment. Decedents ranged from neonatal to 76 years in age at death; half were female, and 91.7% were identified by the medical examiner as White. Transection via sawing was the most common dismemberment mode (50%), followed by disarticulation of joints (19%). The most common implement was a saw, and electric reciprocating saws were the most common saw type. These data are compared to multiple U.S.-based dismemberment samples, positioned within a larger U.S. framework, and assessed against international data. Combined U.S. data suggest female homicide victims are more likely to be dismembered than male homicide victims. The use of three different modes of dismemberment, with transection by sawing more common than transection by chopping and transection by any means more common than disarticulation, is noted across the Eastern U.S. However, selection of implement and mode may be influenced by sub-regional factors such as population density. This is in contrast to available Latin American data, which indicate dismemberments—commonly in the context of organized violence and used as a means of symbolic communication—occur primarily to males and overwhelmingly by chopping. The discrepancies in dismemberment patterns between the U.S. and Latin American contexts illustrate the importance of sociopolitical circumstance when making broad comparisons across geographic samples.

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