My next heroine’s a hedgewitch / healer, so when I saw a talk on bioforensics, I was the first in the queue for tickets.
Since the lecture took place in Dig, in York, England, I thought it would be about ancient plants and medieval murder. Instead, the speaker blew me away with her first few sentences.
“It’s March and you find a murder victim’s grave. Inside are some decomposing remains, a couple of meadowsweet flowers and some seeds. What does that tell you?”
I’d had a hard day at work, and my brain wasn’t working. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I knew Meadowsweet was one of the three herbs sacred to druids—probably because it contains salicylic acid (Aspirin to you and me) and they could use it to ease pain. Apparently I was way off beam.
Okay. Here goes. Meadowsweet flowers from June to October which means the victim was buried during those months.
Hang on. The flowers had seeds. Meadowsweet forms seeds from August onward. That narrows the time of death even further. On its own, the Meadowsweet can’t make a case, but it can eliminate suspects who weren’t around during those months. All that from a flower and a few seeds.
So, how did the forensic scientist find the grave?
A woodland burial creates a mound of earth. Even if the murderer spreads the excess earth about, as the corpse decomposes the ground sinks. I think Mother Nature hates a murderer since she marks the grave for anyone who really looks.
For the first year after the makeshift burial, only annual weeds grow over the spot. Long term the hollow will be full of lush vegetation as nutrients from the corpse leach into the ground.
Anyone out there writing a murder mystery? Here’re a few more ways nature marks the grave. Snowdrops will not grow back evenly. Instead they multiply from the outside in, clearly marking the grave’s outline. Nettles take two years to return, and Dog’s Mercury takes five.
Jill, our speaker, told us about a corpse that was discovered in a hedge of golden privet. The post mortem showed a golden privet leaf in her lung.
So a corpse doesn’t have a swallow reflex so the victim was alive when the murderer dumped them in the bushes.
Another victim had bramble scratches running vertically down their calves. I must have had my stupid head on because I didn’t get this one either. If someone wades through a patch of brambles the scratches run horizontally around the legs. Vertical scratches mean the victim was dragged.
And that brings me to the McDonald’s gherkin.
Our speaker sometimes analyses the contents of a corpse’s stomach. Yech!
One time, those contents showed the lady victim’s last meal was the sort of burger they sell in McDonalds or Burger King. That was a start. Then she found a piece of gherkin. Get this. McDonalds pickles are straight cut, and Burger King’s are crinkle cut. The piece she found had straight edges, so the victim had eaten at a McDonalds not long before her death.
When the police questioned workers in the local Mcdonalds, one of the servers remembered her. A quick check of their CCTV and they spotted her eating her last meal with her ex-boyfriend. It wasn’t proof positive, but it put him in the right place at the right time. Further investigations proved he’d killed her.
Murder solved by a piece of pickle.
Sadly, there aren't many burger bars in world of Werewolves Witches and Fae. Not that it matters. My geeky night out was a million times better than I expected. Plus, if I ever write a murder, I've got a few ideas.