Forensic Analysis of Volatile Organic Compounds from Decomposed Remains in a Soil Environment

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Soil in Criminal and Environmental Forensics. Soil Forensics, 2016, pp. 297 - 316
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The detection of clandestine graves or concealed remains can pose a challenge to investigators. Research into the chemical signatures of decomposition, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can aid in the development of improved methods for the detection of remains and can further the understanding of decomposition processes. Over the last decade a number of studies have investigated decomposition VOCs from a variety of soil environments. However due to the variety of environments and methods used during these investigations a consistent odour signature remains elusive. This paper will discuss the complexity of decomposition odour and the current knowledge base of decomposition VOCs within soil environments including the impact of the entire death assemblage on the production of VOCs. The use of advanced instrumentation such as comprehensive two dimensional gas chromatography – time-of-flight mass spectrometry for the characterisation of decomposition odour is proposed. Incorporating advanced instrumentation and data handling tools into the analysis of decomposition odour will facilitate the comparison of odour profiles and generation of a consistent decomposition odour signature.
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