Postmortal heat damage

This appears first after death and is similar to that found in immersed corpses, in the form of 

  • direct heat shrinkage
  • accumulated water vapor


All bodily fluids vaporize through heat, leading to heat fixation und temporary swelling, The organs then dry out and this evaporation is followed by heat induced shrinkage: 

  • Shrinkage of the skin:
    The fissures “migrate” to the centre of the burnt area.

  • Heat fissures in the skin (caused by evaporation of the adipose tissue under the skin):
    usually in the form of linear wounds with clean edges; these could be mistaken for it mortal stab wounds. The abdominal cavity may also burst.


  • Swelling of the lips, protrusion of the tongue:
    caused by evaporation of fluids from the tissues

  • “Fencer“ attitude:
    A crouching attitude cause by contraction of muscles and sinews.

  • Heat hematomas:
    The Epidural accumulation of brick red/brown, brittle, dry or friable blood. This is caused by the extrusion of blood contained in the bones after shrinkage and ablation of the hard meningeal tissue with rupture of the veins.



  • Heat induced shotholes:
    Such holes appear in the cranium due to evaporation of the cerebral tissues and fluids caused by extreme brittleness of the bones as they lose their organic substances under high temperatures.

  • Heat induced fractures in hollow bones:
    caused by evaporation of bone marrow.
    The shrinkage coefficient in bones amounts to some 10%.

Duration of burning

  • a corpse cannot self-immolate
  • at certain temperatures a progressive heat attrition takes place (possible conclusion on the duration of burning)
  • in a modern crematorium oven a virtually complete attrition takes place after 1-2 hours.

Criminalist questions:

  • accident
    • falling asleep with a burning candle or cigarette
    • a child playing with fire
  • Suicide
  • Homicide
    • by direct setting on fire (arson murder)
    • to conceal a murder (immolation of a corpse)


Was the victim alive at the time of the fire or already deceased when burned?