In our season premiere Sarah breaks down the digestive system. Becca then discusses the history of forensic science, including the role of the coroner, medical examiner, and forensic pathologist, and who is allowed to perform autopsies. She discusses how forensic botany has provided key evidence to some of the most notable criminal cases in history, including the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the JonBenet Ramsey case, and how digestive forensics (a term we made up) played a part in the Hendricks family murder.
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Boudreaux, K.A. (n.d.). Luminol: A Glow-in-the-Dark Reaction. Angelo State University. https://www.angelo.edu/faculty/kboudrea/demos/luminol/luminol.htm
Bock, J. & Norris, D. (2016). Cases Using Plant Anatomy. Forensic Plant Science. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/science/article/pii/B9780128014752000051?via%3Dihub
Canadian Society of Forensic Science. (n.d.). What we do: Medical. https://www.csfs.ca/what-we-do/disciplines-sections/medical/
Claridge, J. (n.d.) Stomach Contents as a Means of Evidence. https://www.exploreforensics.co.uk/stomach-contents-as-a-means-of-evidence.html
Crime Scene Investigator. (n.d.). What is Forensic Botany?. https://www.crimesceneinvestigatoredu.org/forensic-botanist/
Criminally Listed. (2020). 3 Horrifying Unsolved Ax Murders. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrdMOPYXI3I
Geberth, V. J. (2007). Estimating the Time Of Death in Practical Homicide Investigations. Practical Homicide Investigation, 55(3). https://www.practicalhomicide.com/Research/LOmar2007.htm
Graham, S. (1997). Anatomy of the Lindbergh Kidnapping. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 42(3): 368-377. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/290811367_Anatomy_of_the_Lindbergh_Kidnapping
Kassem, S. (2021, Mar 22). Where the Hendricks’ case stands now. University Wire http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/wire-feeds/where-hendricks-case-stands-now/docview/2503513017/se-2?accountid=13631
Lyle, D. P. (n.d.). Forensics Case: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Homemade Ladder. Dummies. https://www.dummies.com/education/science/forensics/forensics-case-the-lindbergh-kidnapping-and-the-homemade-ladder/
Mayo Clinic (2019). Digestion: How long does it take? https://www.mayoclinic.org/digestive-system/expert-answers/faq-20058340
McPadden, M. (2017). David Hendricks Was Wrongfully Convicted For Slaughtering His Whole Family. Investigation Discovery. https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/crimefeed/crime-history/david-hendricks-7-years-in-prison-for-slaughtering-family-released
Rheinberg, N. (n.d.). Investigating sudden death: the role of the coroner. The Gazette. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/all-notices/content/101198
Schneider, J., Mas-Carrió, E., Jan, C. et al. Comprehensive coverage of human last meal components revealed by a forensic DNA metabarcoding approach. Sci Rep 11, 8876 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88418-x
Washoe County. What is the difference between a medical examiner and a coroner?
Working Scholars. (2021). Difference Between Medical Examiners & Forensic Pathologists. https://study.com/articles/difference_between_medical_examiners_forensic_pathologists.html
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S: Hi everyone, I’m Sarah!!
B: & I’m Becca, and you’re listening to Dietetics After Dark.
S: Welcome to season 2 everyone! We have been working hard behind the scenes and have so many amazing stories and mysteries and scandals lined up for this season, and we’re so excited to be back!
B: Yes, and we’re coming back with a bang! This episode is one that we both find SO fascinating. Today we’re going to be talking about Digestive Forensics and how food materials from the digestive tract can be used to solve crimes and one of the most high profile and shocking crimes that was solved using Digestive Forensics.
Okay, so in researching this topic, I realized that I now have a new career goal which is to be a dietitian that assists in a criminal investigation. I don’t want to partake in the autopsy, but I do want to get a call from the CIA and have them say Sarah, you’re the dietitian for the job. Based on your knowledge of the digestive process and the state of decay exhibited in this leaf of lettuce, you can help us find the killer.
So today we’re talking about digestive forensics, which actually isn’t the formal term. It’s typically referred to as forensic botany (although that refers to all plant materials in and around a crime scene) or postmortem stomach content analysis, which is an important tool in forensic science. A forensic pathologist can learn a wide range of things about the deceased from examining contents from the stomach and the intestine, vomit, and feces, and can also determine whether or not the individual was poisoned by looking at the liver.
The identification of plant or animal foods in the digestive system can give valuable information about the last hours surrounding death and it’s time-frame to help pinpoint time of death, and it can also help to establish a link between a victim and location. Food items found in the digestive system would then be subjected to macro and microscopic analysis. Unfortunately, this process is not always helpful, as many components of food are beyond recognition after being chewed and passed through the acidic environment in the stomach. Becca is going to tell us about some of the most fascinating crimes that have been solved using digestive forensics, but first, I’m going to tell you a little bit about digestion!
Digestion is the process in which the food is broken down into small molecules that the body can absorb and use for energy, growth, and repair. The digestive tract stretches from the mouth to the anus, and digestion occurs when food is moved through the digestive system. The final products of digestion are absorbed from the digestive tract, primarily in the small intestine. So, there are two different types of digestion: mechanical digestion and chemical digestion.
Mechanical Digestion is the physical breakdown of chunks of food into smaller pieces, this can occur in the mouth by chewing and also continues in the stomach, which is a fairly muscular organ that churns and mixes the food, breaking it into smaller pieces. When the food leaves the stomach, most of the mechanical digestion is completed and the result is a thick semi-fluid called Chyme, which is basically just stomach juices and digested food, that enters the small intestine.
The purpose of mechanical digestion is to increase the surface area of food particles so they can be acted upon more effectively by chemical digestion, aka. digestive enzymes. When we eat, we consume a combination of macronutrients called fat, protein, and lipids, which can all be broken down into smaller molecules that can be absorbed into body fluids and transported to cells where they can be used for energy, growth, or repair. So, carbohydrates must be broken down into simple sugars, proteins into amino acids, lipids into fatty acids and glycerol. Some chemical digestion takes place in the mouth and stomach, but most of it occurs in the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).
There are many different enzymes that work to break down our food. Different enzymes are secreted from the mouth to the small intestine that break down carbs, fat, and protein.
Staring in the mouth, saliva contains amylase which breaks down amylose, a form of carbohydrate. A trick to remembering all this is that all enzymes end in “ase” and all sugars end in “ose”. Saliva also contains mucus, which lubricates the food. Carbohydrate digestion is completed in the small intestine, with the help of more amylase secreted by the pancreas. Enzymes help break down long polysaccharide (carbohydrate chains) into progressively shorter chains of glucose. The end result is molecules of the simple sugars glucose and maltose (which consists of two glucose molecules), both of which can be absorbed by the small intestine.
Digestion of the sugar lactose, which is found in milk, requires the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose, which are then absorbed by the small intestine. People who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme lactase and can’t properly break down the lactose sugar.
Proteins are essentially long chains of amino acids called polypeptides. Protein digestion involves breaking the polypeptides into the amino acids and it involves three main enzymes: pepsin in the stomach, and trypsin and chymotrypsin, which are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine. The stomach also secretes hydrochloric acid, making the stomach environment highly acidic, which is required for pepsin to work to properly break down protein. Then, trypsin and chymotrypsin in the small intestine actually require an alkaline (or basic) environment to work, so bile from the liver helps to neutralize the acidic stomach contents as it empties into the small intestine.
For lipids, or fats, the chemical digestion of lipids begins in the mouth. An enzyme called lipase is secreted into the saliva, which breaks down short-chain lipids into molecules consisting of two fatty acids, but most of the lipid digestion occurs in the small intestine with the help of pancreatic lipase from the pancreas as well as bile secreted by the liver. Bile is required for the digestion of lipids because lipids are oily. Bile emulsifies, or breaks up, large globules of food lipids into much smaller ones, called micelles, much like adding a mustard or egg yolk to your salad dressing will help blend that oil and vinegar. The micelles provide a greater surface area to be acted upon by lipase, which then breaks down the micelles into individual fatty acid molecules.
Now, some things do make it through the digestive tract largely untouched, like fibre! Fibre, also known as roughage, is the portion of plant-derived food that cannot be completely broken down by human digestive enzymes. So fibre would be of particular important in digestive forensics when identifying particular plants found in the large intestine or feces, because it passes through the digestive system largely untouched.
The digestive system, from mouth to anus, is about 30 feet in length. Food typically takes 6-8 hours to pass from your mouth to your large intestine. Then, it takes about 36 hours for food to move through the entire colon. The whole process, from intake to excretion, takes about two to five days, depending on the individual. So you can see how examining the contents of the stomach can be very useful in determining the final 24 hours or so of a victims life, and possibly even determining specific locations and possible contaminants of their meals and snacks!
So the main message here is to make sure you’re regularly getting enough FIBRE, so that if you ever (knock on wood) have an autopsy performed on you to determine your final moments before death, then the medical examiner can have lots of fairly intact plant foods to explore.
Like we needed another reason to eat more fibre. Thanks for that amazing overview Sarah. As you said earlier, I am going to be taking this digestive process information and I am going to put it into action. I went down so many rabbit holes for this episode. Even the academic papers and textbooks on this topic are FASCINATING since they usually cover real cases, which I guess I wasn’t expecting. But they do so from an evidence-based perspective. And I would highly recommend doing a quick Google scholar search on the cases you find the most interesting…it’s wild to see scholarly articles talking about crime.
Some of the sources I used include an article by Bock & Norris in Forensic Plant Science. You can find the rest on our website linked in the bio.
Today I am going to be talking about digestive forensics, which isn’t what this area is formally called. I actually think we may have even coined this term ourselves. Sarah started calling it that so I started calling it that but I Googled it and literally no results came up, but I like the term so it stuck. So I will use “digestive forensics” to describe the analysis of food stuff in forensic cases here as there are a bunch of names for it. It can be called things like forensic botany or forensic pathology - and the name is based on what exactly the specialist is looking at and what their qualifications or areas of expertise are. So I am going to break down some of these specialties as well as some of the differences between the most common forensic terms we know in criminal cases, like coroner and medical examiner. Many of these are used interchangeably, despite some differences.
So to start, all of these terms or roles fall under what is called forensic science, forensics, or criminalistics, which are the tests, methods, and techniques of investigating a crime. And this isn’t limited to work on crime scenes like in CSI - most of this work actually takes place in labs or office environments. Such as with things like forensic accounting that looks at financial misconduct; or digital forensics that looks at instances of cyber bullying. So it’s a huge area that essentially applies science to determine if laws are broken. And it is often used in either civil or criminal cases.
As I said, within this area of science, there are many roles or jobs that people can hold. For instance, a coroner can certify a death, but they do not necessarily perform an autopsy themselves. Way back when, in the medieval times, so around the 1190’s, coroners in England were crown officials who acted as judicial officers and actually collected tax following an unnatural or violent death. This tax, which basically consisted of the individual's possessions and finances, was collected for the Crown, whereas previously it might be taken by corrupt sheriffs. So when you commited a felony back then, you actually forfeited all of your belongings. And even suicide or “self murder” was considered a felony at this time (Rheinberg, n.d.). So the role of the coroner was essentially to keep those assets safe from corruption for the queen.
Today a coroner might deem a death as suspicious or violent and order an investigation into it, but they aren’t always required to be a physician. So each state in the US and province in Canada has different requirements and responsibilities under this job title. In Ontario, coroners must be MDs or physicians. But in other provinces in Canada they might come from a variety of different backgrounds (Canadian Society of Forensic Science, n.d.). And same within the states - they are usually an appointed or elected county official, such as someone in law enforcement, but they might also just be an appointed citizen. They usually do have a university background or experience in forensics or criminology. Usually.
Next we have medical examiners. And for the most part they have taken over the role of a coroner - even though some coroners still do practice today. And in both Canada and the US they must always be physicians - usually forensic pathologists, but not always. In Canada, each province either has a medical examiner system or coroner system. So one or the other. In both countries - so US & Canada - medical examiners are usually appointed into their role, not elected (like a coroner can be). They can issue a death certificate and collect evidence, and they usually work with law enforcement or public health officials (Washoe County, n.d.; Working Scholars, 2021). Essentially it is their job to determine if further investigation is needed.
As I mentioned, most medical examiners have their MD, but they sometimes also have training in forensic pathology. And for this reason, medical examiners are often called forensic pathologists and vice versa, even though there is a difference. Forensic pathologists specifically look to establish the cause of death - so the who, when, where, how, and by what means. This is a bit different from general pathologists who look at the onset and diagnosis of disease. Forensic pathologists on the other hand usually perform autopsies, interpret lab results and toxicology reports, and give expert testimony during a trial. They require education beyond their medical degree on topics such as ballistics and toxicology; and are typically in school for like 13 years prior to being certified (Working Scholars, 2021). So in short, forensic pathology is the study of death, or cause of death. They evaluate the evidence and determine what happened.
A pathologist examining the digestive tract can learn a wide range of things about the deceased from examining contents from the stomach and the intestine; they might look at vomit, and feces, and can also determine whether or not the individual was poisoned by looking at the liver. The identification of plant or animal foods in the digestive system can give valuable information about the final hours surrounding someone’s death and it’s time-frame to help pinpoint time of death, and it can also help to establish a link between a victim and location. Food items found in the digestive system would then be subjected to macro and microscopic analysis. Unfortunately, this process is not always helpful, as many components of food are beyond recognition after being chewed and passed through the acidic environment within the stomach. Especially things like baked goods and processed cereals - they can be extremely difficult to identify. But even in these cases, sometimes time of death can be estimated based on where the food is found in the digestive system.
So I spoke with my hometown neighbour who is a forensic pathologist and he mentioned that they will also do small biopsies on the intestines to pick up clues as to what may have happened or how that person may have lived. They might find bacteria in the stomach, like H. pylori, that might have caused food poisoning; or they might look at the small intestine for diseases like celiac, Crohn’s disease or cancer. Pathologists can tell you a ton about the life that that person lived and it can be said that they kind of speak for the dead after they are gone.
My neighbour also said that he couldn’t recall any criminal forensic autopsy cases solved by pathologic examination alone - it usually takes more evidence since digestion can be unique to us as individuals. But he did say that he was familiar with a few cases where the opposite had happened - someone died of sudden asphyxiation or suffocation, only to find during the autopsy that the person asphyxiated on a large ball of food. So in these cases they identified that no foul play was involved, but that a bolus of food was to blame.
Depending on what the forensic pathologist finds, other specialists may be called in. Some of these experts include forensic anthropologists who look at skeletal remains to identify things like sex, age, and race; forensic entomologists who look at insects on the body to determine time of death and location; as well as forensic botanists who look at plant materials and soil within and around a crime scene.
Forensic botany is what we will be focusing in on for the rest of this episode, as it is most often tied to food-stuff in crime scenes. Botanists don’t really work with the deceased, but they help make connections between any evidence and the crime. They can help identify where and when a crime was committed, and by whom. There are even more mini niches or specializations under forensic botany. Such as molecular biology, ecology, and limnology which is the study of aquatic environments and might help you uncover information if there is something like algae found on a body; but also palynology, which is the study of pollens; dendrochronology, which is the study of tree rings; and systematics, which is the classification of plants (Crime Scene Investigator, n.d.).
Palynology or the study of pollens is often used as evidence since pollen doesn’t really decay. It is also unique to its location and the time of year. So it can help identify a crime scene and whether or not a body was transferred.
So this doesn’t have anything to do with food or digestive forensics specifically, but the first known case to have ever used forensic botany or dendrochronology in a trial is that of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. So on March 1 1932 Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., who was the 20-month old son of Anne Morrow and the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh; he was taken from his 2nd floor bedroom in Hopewell, New Jersey. Left behind was a pretty sketchy-looking homemade ladder and a ransom note demanding $50,000 if they wanted the baby back alive. Around 10pm the child’s nurse altered the parents of their child’s absence and the police were called. Because the parents were home during this time, a lot of speculation and theories have circulated about whether or not the parents were involved in the crime. But there was never any strong evidence to suggest this.
There were a few attempts to pay the ransom, but none were successful in getting the child back. The police did record the serial numbers from the bills used to pay the kidnappers. But unfortunately two months later on May 12, baby Charles Lindbergh was found dead in a forested area near his home. It took over 2 years but they finally tracked down some of the ransom money when a gas station attendant called the police on a suspicious-looking man who had paid with one of the bills. This man was Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
The state of New Jersey hired a wood expert (or dendrochronologist) named Arthur Koehler, and he found that the wood from the ladder matched some wood found in Bruno’s home. Koehler found consistencies in the nail holes and distinctive marks in both the ladder and attic floorboards, as well as the same combination of four different types of wood. Using that evidence and some ransom money found in Hauptmann’s garage, he was convicted of kidnapping and murder, and he was executed in 1935 (Graham, 1997; Lyle, n.d.). So even though some people still believe in his innocence, the evidence provided from the wood is more than circumstantial. And it goes to show how the uniqueness of plants can be used almost like a fingerprint in a criminal case like this.
Another famous case involving forensic botany is that of JonBenet Ramsey. And I won’t really get into it here since this case has already been covered 1000’s of times. But the pineapple that was found in her digestive system indicated the time of death and helped to corroborate her parent’s retelling of the events since they had mentioned the pineapple in their statements to police. Of course this evidence did not help solve this case, which remains unsolved to this day. But it did play a factor in what we do know about the facts of this case.
Alright, on to our main story. It took me a tremendous amount of time to decide on a case to cover. And unfortunately, a lot of the most famous cases involving forensic botany also involve children, so brace yourself. We will be covering the Hendrick’s Family Murder.
Ok, ready? Alright, the Hendrick’s family was made up of David and Susan Hendricks and their three children - Rebekah, Grace and Benjamin. They lived in Bloomington, Illinois and were devout members of the exclusive branch of the Plymouth Brethren, which is a non-conformist, evangelical Christian movement that doesn’t have any real churches or leadership. So it is kind of seen as being a bit strange.
David, the father, was born in 1954 to a family in Oak Park Illinois with 7 children. Susan, the mom, was born a year before him just outside of Oak Park. They met at a church gathering when David was 15 and Susan was 16 years old. Susan got a job at a religious publishing company and needed a place to stay so she moved in with the Hendricks’ for the first few days of her new role. She was offered a full time position at the publishing company and continued working for them while taking highschool classes at night in Oak Park.
By the end of the year David & Susan were secretly engaged, and in 1973, so when they were 18 and 19 years old, they got married. Following just 2 years of university, David began working for an orthotics and prosthetics company that created artificial limbs and braces. Following David’s start in that role, Susan gave birth to their first child Rebekah. Then only one year later they became pregnant with their second child, Grace. David then left the prosthetic company and started his own business in Galesburg. It ultimately flopped and they decided to move to Bloomington. Susan gave birth to their son Benjamin shortly after in 1978. David continued to work in the prosthetics field and a year later he filed for a patent for a back brace that he had created called the cruciform anterior spinal hyperextension orthosis, or the CASH orthosis. And it is essentially a brace that stabilizes the spine and limits movement in certain areas. I looked online and you can still buy it today.
The CASH orthopedic brace business was a huge success - it made the family really rich - and in 1982 David purchased a large home for his family to move into.
On November 7th, 1983, Susan went to a baby shower at a friend's house, and David took the three kids to Chucky Cheese around 6:30pm. There they had pizza and played, leaving around 8pm. On their way home they stopped at the bookmobile in their area where they returned some old books and took out new ones. Have you ever been to a bookmobile? David put the children to bed before 9pm. Then Susan arrived home from the baby shower around 10:30; she and David talked before he left for Wausau (WAA-SAA), Wisconsin on a pre-planned business trip that night. Wausau is about a 5 hour drive from Bloomington. In the morning David tried calling his family, but he wasn’t able to get a hold of them. He tried a couple more times and asked his neighbours if they had seen them, but he wasn’t able to reach them all day. He was getting a bit nervous and called the police to ask them to do a welfare check on his family, and he started the 5-hour drive back home.
In the meantime, the police entered the home to find Susan, Rebecca, Grace, and Benjamin all dead. An axe & knife were left in one of the rooms, which were deemed the murder weapons. I won’t get into the injuries, because they are a bit gruesome. David arrived home to find multiple police cruisers outside and was told what had happened. The house had also been trashed - with things riffled through and dumped out. But nothing seemed to have been stolen and there were no signs of forced entry.
The lead detective was suspicious of David right away since he claimed he did not show much emotion upon hearing the news. He was also skeptical about the business trip David had left on - in the middle of the night. Which seems super sketchy to me too. But David claimed to have left for the trip between 10:30 and 11pm right after Susan got home. And he had a breakfast receipt from Wisconsin at 7:17am the next morning. But I mentioned that WAA-SAA is only 5 hours away. So there are still a few hours seemingly unaccounted for there.
Upon receiving the autopsy results, the medical examiner found that the veggies from the pizza that the kids had eaten at Chuck E Cheese were still intact in their stomachs. Specifically the tomato & oregano. This likely meant that the food was in the acidic environment of the stomach for less than 2 hours. Which was not consistent with David’s retelling of events.
While this information is enlightening and can be used alongside other evidence, it usually can’t be used alone as gastric emptying times vary from person to person, but also in certain situations like when someone has been physically active like the children had been at Chuck E Cheese - that’s because physical activity can increase the speed of gastric emptying. And digestion does stop at death, so the stomach contents essentially freeze in that state. If the medical examiner was correct, the children were likely killed by 9:30pm, 2-3 hours after they had eaten. And if that were the case, it would have been before Susan had gotten home and before David had left on his trip. Suspicious right?
Future editing Becca here - when it comes to the analysis of contents in the digestive system, individuals performing an autopsy focus mainly on the location of the food. Like if a stomach is completely empty during analysis, the victim’s last meal was likely at least 4-6 hours prior to death. However, in this case, because the food was still in the stomachs, it seems like they also made an estimation using the breakdown of the food in the acidic environments to help establish a timeline.
The police also thought so, and seemed to have made up their minds that David was guilty. But they struggled to determine a motive. According to family & friends David & Susan were a happy couple. Shortly after the murder though police found some compromising but not incriminating information. David would apparently hire models to wear his CASH back brace for marketing photos. While he had never had an affair with any of the models, he had displayed some inappropriate behaviour with the women. But other than this they could not establish a motive, and there was no physical evidence that David had killed his wife or children.
Luminol was then used around the home and one of the bathrooms lit up. But this doesn’t always mean that blood is present - it can also mean that other compounds like bleach or soap have been found. Upon contact with blood, luminol reacts with the iron in hemoglobin, the protein in our red blood cells. But it also reacts with metals and strong chemicals (Bourdreaux, n.d.). So it is possible that the bathroom had been recently cleaned. But no additional testing of the bathroom was done, and no blood was found in the drains. This means that it is likely that the murderer left in their bloody clothing. But no blood was found in David’s car either.
Despite the lack of evidence, David remained the key suspect. And one month later, in December 1983, he was arrested and charged with the four murders. In October 1984 he pled not guilty to the crimes. To everyone’s surprise he actually received the support of Susan’s family who still believed he was innocent.
During the trial, the DA emphasized David’s participation in the conservative Plymouth Brethren denomination which would ultimately prevent him from ever getting divorced. So their argument was that he had killed his family to get out of the marriage, and they brought the CASH models onto the stand to testify about his behaviour.
The digestive forensic evidence of the pizza toppings was also presented at trial, which made jury members question David’s timeline. And on November 24 1984 he was convicted of all four murders. This was despite some pretty important facts like that blood splatter analysis and the presence of 2 murder weapons suggesting two killers and mislabeled evidence at the hands of the police. Rather than the death penalty, Judge Richard Baner gave David 4 consecutive life sentences since he claimed to be unconvinced that David had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In 1990, so 7 years later, his conviction was overturned and he received a retrial because of those model interviews. The Illinois Supreme Court criticized the attempts to imply that David was having an affair when there was no real proof of that. In this second trial they were not able to use the gastric evidence, so despite the fact that it was possible he was in the home at the time of the murder, the jury found him not guilty because they weren’t given this information.
(McPadden, 2017; Bock & Norris, 2016; Criminally Listed, 2020)
David has since relocated to Florida and continues to run his orthopedic & back brace company. He now lives with his 4th wife and their children - he remarried once in prison in 1988 and another time in between. But the weird thing is that Susan’s family actually attended that last wedding. And that maintained relationship makes me wonder if he may actually be innocent.
As of March 2021, the Bloomington Police Department still has 127 pieces of physical evidence in storage, so should the case reopen they are ready to go. Some of this evidence includes the stomach contents of the victims.
Most recently, in 2008, Susan’s sister Martha Neils called a press conference to accuse her now ex-husband, John Neils, of the murders. Turns out that John had been incredibly jealous of David’s success and Martha now claims she lied about his alibi which was that he was home with her. She now claims that he went out to “lift weights” for a period of time that night. Martha also wasn’t invited to the baby shower that Susan was at the night of the murders and had apparently cried about it. So another theory is that John went out to avenge his wife. Regardless, Martha claims that John, who worked at a hospital, came home the night of the murders and gave her scrubs with blood on them asking her to wash them. When asked where they came from John said they belonged to a doctor that he worked with. But that doctor apparently didn’t work at that hospital at that time. Remember this is all hearsay. Overall there is no conclusive evidence pointing to either David or John so the case remains unopened and unsolved (Kassem, 2021).
And unfortunately that is the case of the Hendricks family murder. There is no happy ending or resolution, but it does goes to show the significance that digestive forensics can have on a case in casting doubt on the statements made and the time of death. Identifying a timeline can help determine who the victim was with or how they may have died if drugs or pathogens were involved. In criminal cases it is rarely used alone. But that doesn’t take away the fact that it is a super interesting science.