Monday, June 13, 2011

What time is it, kids? It’s ISDP Time!

The thirteenth of the month has rolled around once again. That means it’s time for all the pallid, questionably groomed, and oddly dressed fans of the Olfactory Macabre to huddle around their dimly lit laptops and wait for their outdated browsers to deliver the latest edition of I Smell Dead People.

If you are tan or have used a razor in the past week, or if you are easily offended, now is the time to tune into something happier. But if you want to savor a nearly perfect collection of ghastly bon bons filled with the bitter dark chocolate of the soul, then read on—this month’s collection hits all the classic notes.

We begin on May 19, with what has become an ISDP sub-genre: foul odor leading to a body in a vehicle. WDEF TV reports from Bradley County in southeastern Tennessee:
The body turned up inside an 18 wheeler in the lot of the Loves [truck stop] at exit 33 on I -75.

... A clerk at Love’s reported noticing flies around a tractor trailer...and a foul odor coming from it.

Deputies responded to find a body lying in the truck’s cab between the driving area and the sleeping compartment.
The body was that of a man reported missing 12 days earlier.

Then there was this bizarre case in San Antonio, Texas, on May 24.
Just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, San Antonio police responded to a call from neighbors reporting a foul smell and liquid running down the driveway from a closed garage in the 4900 block of Port Kenton.
A hazmat team entered the garage and found a person dead in a car with a bucket of chemicals that had produced lethal amounts of hydrogen sulfide. Warning placards and a note indicate that this was suicide. KENS-TV reporter Noelle Gardner has the video here. We think she has big future in broadcast journalism.

On Saturday, June 4, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran with a story by Christopher Seward that is a model of succinct ISDP reportage.
‘Foul smell’ leads Clayton cops to human remains in abandoned car

Clayton County police discovered human remains in an abandoned car on Mount Zion Road in Jonesboro near the Woods of Southlake apartments Saturday.

The remains were found after a neighbor reported a “foul smell” coming from the vehicle.
By the following day the mystery was solved:
The body was later identified as Alena Marble, a resident of the apartment complex.

According to Clayton County Police spokeswoman Captain Tina Daniel, detectives interviewed two individuals shortly after Marble’s body was recovered. The victim’s daughter, Kajul Harvey, 22, and her boyfriend Latoris Grovner, 21, confessed to assaulting Ms. Marble in her apartment and later placing her body into the trunk of the car.
Finally, we have a classic “neighbors search wooded area” incident that marred Memorial Day weekend in the Peaceful Valley area of Spokane, Washington. A badly decomposed body
was discovered in a heavily wooded site by neighbors, according to a Spokane Police Department news release. They had “complained of a foul odor nearby” and found the body at about 7 p.m., the release said.
Because the rats keep chewing through the cable at FirstNerve Manor, we haven’t seen too much of the Casey Anthony murder trial on TV. She is accused of killing her 2-year old daughter.

Much is being made of a foul smell found in her car. Prosecutors believe it was from the decomposing body of her daughter which was found months later in a wood lot. In court, a tow-yard worker described a foul odor coming from her car. He was just one in a parade of olfactory witnesses that included crime scene investigator Gerardo Bloise and Deputy Jason Forgey, “a cadaver dog handler with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit.”

Casey’s mother also took the stand to describe the same awful smell:
Her voice cracking, Cindy testified about the foul smell in Casey’s white Pontiac Sunfire. “I said it smelled like something died in the car,” she testified, before tearfully recounting how she took Caylee’s doll out of the car and wiped it with a Clorox wipe.

“Casey’s purse was on the front seat and Caylee’s baby doll, her favorite doll was in the car seat like it was sitting where Caylee would have sat,” Cindy said. “Caylee’s doll smelled like the car so I took it out ... I sat the doll down and I went and got a Clorox wipe and I wiped the face and hands. The body was soft and so it smelled pretty bad ... I sprayed Febreze all through the car thinking that might help the odor ... I used pretty much a whole can of Febreze.”
Prosecutors didn’t rely on heart-rending or informal smell testimony; they also brought in heavy-weight scientific experts:
Arpad Vass of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee said the test results confirmed what his nose had already told him.

“The odor was extremely overwhelming ... I recognized it as human decomposition,” said Vass, a pioneer in the biochemistry of human decomposition.
Fox News legal analyst Greta Van Susteren thought the prosecution’s parade of olfactory experts was an egregious example of “over-trying” a case.
I think the Casey Anthony prosecution would be smarter to play it safe because it has lots of other evidence and not hand the defense a possible appellate issue.

Think about it…does the jury need for a witness to identify the foul odor as human (what else is the jury going to think it is??)
In her live blogging, Van Susteren also highlighted the prosecution’s novel use of chemical analysis of smell:
Scientist is gonna say air from car had special fatty acids that come from gases emitted from decomposing bodies…will also testify about high levels of chloroform in air

Defense will say these compounds can originate from anything….garbage left in the trunk mixed with baby diapers or wet bathing suit….cleaning products…all mixed together can produce these compounds…can u definitely say it came from a dead body? What are the controls?

First time this evidence has been used in court

Judge allowed in when they had a frye hearing because he said defense can rebut it.
Is this an effective tactic, or like the over-trying of DNA evidence in the O.J. Simpson case, could it backfire?

Stay tuned. See ya next time!


JoanElaine said...

What a timely post!
On the weekend, after watching detectives react to the smell of a corpse on an old episode of Law and Order, I asked my husband if he had ever smelled a dead body. His answer was as I expected – no.

He then told me what he thinks a dead body would smell like: dead rats, only 100 times worse. We both know what dead rats smell like – we live in a port city and everyone has had rats, living and dead, as roommates.

I argued that the smell of a dead body would be a much different, but still horrible smell, given that humans have much more flesh. But what do I know? I failed biology....Can you shed any light on this?

I'm sure few people (outside of those working in medicine, policing, military...) know what a dead body smells like.
The tow-yard worker said "I know what that (decomp)smells like". Did he really know? What did he know about Casey Anthony when he smelled the odor in her car? Now that he is a witness in a murder trial, has that foul odor become a horrible stench?

I wasn’t following this case, but now I am intrigued…

Avery Gilbert said...


I always enjoy hearing from fragrance bloggers whose interests lead them now and again into the Dark Side.

I've not personally encountered the human version of the legendary "foul odor" but from all I've read I think your husband is on the right track, i.e., dead rat x100.

In What the Nose Knows I review the six stages of postmortem decay as pioneered by Jerry Payne: fresh, bloat, active decay, advanced decay, dry decay, and remains. With the exception of the first and last stages, each one has its characteristic smell.

Bloat, for example, isn't tremendously offensive as a smell. It can be mistaken for a gas leak, cooked cabbage, or a skunk in the distance.

Advanced decay, however, is horribly stinky and quite distinctive. From the accounts I've read, it leaves an indelible impression. (So I'm inclined to believe the tow-yard guy.)

At the very least, it appears from court testimony that the odor in Casey Anthony's car was bad AND unusual. If an experienced crime scene person says "it smelled like a dead body" then, again, I'm inclined to credit his testimony.

JoanElaine said...

Thanks for the info, Avery! Looks like I'll be checking out your book again (I read books in bits and pieces) so I can read about the 6 stages.

If a crime scene investigator says "it smells like a dead body", I'm NOT going to disagree! It's not that I don't believe the tow-yard guy, I was just wondering how hindsight bias might affect one's perception of a smell.

Avery Gilbert said...


I'm with you on the tow-yard guy; given the tiny bit of his testimony that's been quoted in the press, I'd have to reserve judgment about believing him on ISDP. If it turns out that he's previously towed a dead-body crime scene vehicle, then I'd tend to believe him. And if there's one thing we've learned from just this installment of ISDP, there are plenty of tow guys with such experience . . .