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Bugging Out

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Joe Keiper has practiced enough "Forensic Entomology in Cleveland" to run circles around the folks on CSI. Since 2000, he's helped the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office solve 24 murders, suicides, and accidents by analyzing blowflies and their eggs found on decomposing bodies. "Any coroner worth their weight in salt will tell you about the degree of rigor mortis and sticking a thermometer inside the body cavity to get a temperature," says Keiper, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "But all of that is fakey Hollywood stuff. The only way to get a good estimate of time of death is to look at insect evidence."

At today's lecture, Keiper will reveal the findings behind some of the cases he's worked on — including the 2003 murder of 11-year-old Shakira Johnson on Cleveland's East Side. "I kinda hate to spill the beans here, but this is not that difficult to do," he says. "If I know what the environmental data are — the temperature, whether it's sunny or cloudy — I can tell you how old a maggot is. Therefore, I can pinpoint the time of death to within two hours of when it actually happened."

Keiper's made believers of local law enforcement. "I've talked with a lot of lawyers and detectives to help them accept this as a real science, not this hocus-pocus, made-up stuff," he says. "It also makes people understand that there are things about Mother Nature that we should all know about. This begins to hit the tip of the iceberg."
Tue., Feb. 7, noon

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