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Sunday, April 13, 2014
How’s a District Attorney Supposed To Make a Living Without a Corpse?
Dee Pipes and Charlie Yates write as Dee Wilbur (a combination of their middle names). We write together on our mystery novels. And, to get the ideas for them, we sit around and say, “What if this happened?” Or, “Do you think that that could ever happen?” We got started wondering if someone in a small town in Texas could be convicted of a murder even if they didn’t have a corpse. So we did some research and some thinking.
In most cases proving someone has been murdered is easy enough. A skilled pathologist does an autopsy on the body and determines the cause of death. Usually no problem.
But what if you have no body? What if the person seems to simply disappear, to cease to exist? Has the person been killed and the body hidden or destroyed or has the person just gone away on their own?
English common law had a rule that a body was necessary to prove a murder. This seems to have stemmed from a case in which a local official vanished and three men were hanged for his murder. A short time later the official returned alive and well. He had been kidnapped by parties unknown.
Some murderers have attempted destruction of the body hoping to use the “no body, no murder” defense. John Haigh attempted to dissolve his victim’s body in acid. Unfortunately, her dentures didn’t dissolve, and her dentist was able to identify what was left of her.
With modern forensics the use of circumstantial evidence has become more compelling. DNA evidence has played a large role in this. As of April 5, 2014, there have been 399 trials for murder in the United States (nobodymurdercases.com) in forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands. There have been 47 dismissals, acquittals, or reversals. The overall conviction rate is eighty-eight percent. Even so prosecutors are still reluctant to try cases where no body is found.
Of those charged, 91 % were males, and 58% of the victims were female. 54% of the cases involved domestic violence. Victims under 18 accounted for 16% of the cases.
In the United States case of People versus Scott, it was stated that “circumstantial evidence, when sufficient to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis, may prove the death of a missing person, the existence of a homicide and the guilt of the accused.”
In every T.V. show you see where there is no body, somebody says “If there’s no corpus delecti, we ain’t gotta case.” Corpus delecti refers to the “body of evidence,” not the “body of the victim.” (The Charley Project.org).
In A Foolish Plucking one follows a murder trial in which the prosecution has to depend on circumstantial evidence because no body has been found. Hope you like the fun of the puzzle it presents. Let us know when you solved it by posting on the Dee Wilbur Facebook page, please.