Alexander, Michael Benjamin (2014-12). The Forensic Application of Soil: Clandestine Graves and Human Remains Detection Dogs. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The use of soil in forensic applications is widespread from mud left on tires and shoes to the examination of soil for pollens endemic to specific areas. The research presented examined 1) the role of soil texture in clandestine grave detection, 2) residual scent of human remains in cadaver decomposition islands (CDI) through identification by human remains detection (HRD) dogs, 3) the chemistry profile of the CDI and its relationship to the post mortem interval and 4) the chemistry profile of plants near CDI's and potential identification by HRD dogs. Results indicate that 1) soil texture determines gas release potential and therefore has the potential to affect clandestine grave detection by HRD dogs, 2) residual odor of human remains in the CDI can be viable to HRD dogs up to 915 days PMI or 667 days after the body has been removed 3) chemistry profiles between control reference soils and CDI soils can show significant differences between DOC, DON, NO3-N, NH4-N, and PO4-P. Ammonium-N shows a strong relationship with PMI at R2 = 0.45 and DOC with R2 = 0.424 values, and 4) plant chemistry retrieved from by CDI's show strong relationships to HRD dog alert accuracy. The research in this study indicated the importance of further research into each of these elements which may yield better understanding of soil decomposition interactions as well as presumptive tools for law enforcement for criminal investigations.

publication date

  • December 2014