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A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes

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Overview

The forensic entomologist turns a dispassionate, analytic eye on scenes from which most people would recoil--human corpses in various stages of decay, usually the remains of people who have met a premature end through accident or mayhem. To Lee Goff and his fellow forensic entomologists, each body recovered at a crime scene is an ecosystem, a unique microenvironment colonized in succession by a diverse array of flies, beetles, mites, spiders, and other arthropods: some using the body to provision their young, some feeding directly on the tissues and by-products of decay, and still others preying on the scavengers.

Using actual cases on which he has consulted, Goff shows how knowledge of these insects and their habits allows forensic entomologists to furnish investigators with crucial evidence about crimes. Even when a body has been reduced to a skeleton, insect evidence can often provide the only available estimate of the postmortem interval, or time elapsed since death, as well as clues to whether the body has been moved from the original crime scene, and whether drugs have contributed to the death.

An experienced forensic investigator who regularly advises law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad, Goff is uniquely qualified to tell the fascinating if unsettling story of the development and practice of forensic entomology.

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Editorial Reviews

Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer

The perfect gift for the hard-core crime fiction addict.

Boston Globe

A new breed of forensic scientists has discovered that they can actually solve crimes by studying the insect demolition crew that dismantles the human body after death. While the fauna in this book might not be everyone's cup of tea, for others of us, A Fly for the Prosecution, by M. Lee Goff, is deliciously disgusting. You'll find out that maggots aren't alone—a veritable Cosa Nostra of creepy-crawlies gather at the scene of the crime, from hide beetles to wasps to ants, each with a special role to play as the body decomposes.
— Vicki Croke

Honolulu Advertiser

I planned to leaf through the book, then read it in earnest the next day. But the opening paragraph grabbed me: 'It was a perfect morning for shoreline fishing and throwing nets for crabs. The sun was shining brightly and the air was perfumed with the scent of plumeria when three fishermen set off for Pearl Harbor...Peering over the fence in the direction of the stench, one spotted a dead body lying on its back.' Goff had me hooked.
— Elaine Masters

Springfield State Journal-Register

Overall, Goff has written a good book about a fascinating and fairly new subject. Especially for crime buffs and science buffs, this book is quite engrossing—as long as you aren't grossed out by a few flies, maggots, beetles and other crawling critters.
— David Bloomberg

Scientific American
'The suspect was convicted of second degree murder and the major witnesses were flies.' With these words entomologist Goff introduces his somewhat exotic specialty: forensic entomology...[which] assists criminal justice...by providing clues about how a body may have been moved after death, by placing a suspect at the scene of a crime, and by showing that drugs or toxins have contributed to a death. Goff...traces the development of his field from modest beginnings to its present wide acceptance as an adjunct of detective work and criminal trials.
New York Times Book Review

Seductive...Goff is a forensic entomologist, and he tells the story of what exactly that means and of how his field (which hardly existed before 1980) came to take a respected place in death investigations. Along the way, he provides a small hive of entomological tales...Goff, a marvelously vivid and clear explainer of his science...uses plenty of true-life (or rather true-death) cases to show how it's done. The tales can be riveting.
— Atul Gawande

Washington Post Book World

Goff takes you into the world of the forensic entomologists: the intrepid band of insect experts around the world who turn their intimate knowledge of creepy crawlers to the service of police work...A fascinating read...Great, gory stuff. Goff seems like just the sort of gifted storyteller you'd want to have a drink with—but, perhaps, not dinner.
— John Schwartz

Science News
[Goff] is both well-versed on the topic and adept at presenting his findings…In sometimes gory but always riveting detail, Goff tells how maggots, flies, and beetles feasting on dead bodies can help forensic entomologists.
Times Literary Supplement

A dead body is fertile ground for distinct waves of insect populations to inhabit...The succession of insect occupation of the body gives important clues to the post-mortem interval, and acts as a forensic clock which can provide often incriminating evidence in a murder case...The right sort of person to put together this unsavory combination of criminology and natural science is M. Lee Goff...[whose] book on the subject is the first of its kind. In it, Goff describes how insect evidence helps solve crimes and convict perpetrators...Behind each story is a lesson in forensic entomology...Goff is not your everyday academic. He is bohemian, alternative, bold; a true biologist, he is observant and involved...But he is also very human.
— Nasim Mavaddat

Science Books & Films

Anyone interested in forensics will want to read [A Fly for the Prosecution]. Author M. Lee Goff has pioneered the use of entomology to assist in solving crimes. [His] book is easy to read and free of technical jargon...This is a great book for everyone to read. I recommend it especially to the professional entomologist and to anyone who uses insects in the classroom or who has an interest in forensics.
— Susan Y. Nichols

New Scientist
A murder mystery, set in Hawaii, starring an entomologist? Sounds too good to be true, but open A Fly for the Prosecution and ready yourself for finding out which flies land on corpses within 10 minutes of death, and how many days it takes their larvae to pupate. M. Lee Goff, one of the world's handful of forensic entomologists, helps to solve crimes by fixing--with remarkable accuracy--times of death. An entertaining tale of blowflies and blister beetles.
Nature

Although forensic entomology has a certain fascination for the public, any forensic pathologist will tell you that it is much more entertaining to read about cases than to collect live arthropods from decaying human corpses. This is where Goff's book comes in—[it's a] colourful collection of forensic entomology research and cases (mostly in his own Hawaii), along with personal thoughts about how to deal with violent death and decay.
— Mark Benecke

Booklist

Goff, a pioneer in the field [of forensic entomology], says he learned to avoid jargon when testifying in court, and in his maximally informative, minimally rebarbative professional memoir, he treats readers as if they were jurors. His tales of analyzing the species found on a corpse...should prove riveting to anyone interested in insects or crimimal procedure.
— Ray Olson

Biologist

[This] book is witty, well-written, scientifically lucid, and packed with case histories, amusing anecdotes, and practical information. Anyone with a genuine interest in the subject—whether professional or general—can hardly fail to be impressed and enlightened.
— John A. Lee

Choice
Despite the disturbing subject of this book, Goff…does an excellent job of clearly presenting the historical development and the scientific basis for the practice of forensic entomology.
Entomological Society of Canada

Dr. Goff's incisive, detailed and often humorous description of forensic entomology will be a popular addition to any library…Dr. Goff describes in great detail the use of insects in criminal investigations, liberally illustrating his information with detailed case histories. He clearly illustrates how insects are used in death investigations, to determine time of death, as well as aiding in many other facets of the investigations.
— Gail Anderson

Quarterly Review of Biology

Lee Goff leads us through his exciting and, at the same time, entertaining world that strongly depends on silent crime scene assistants: maggots, adult flies, beetles and, occasionally, a grasshopper.
— Mark Benecke

Seattle Times/ Post-Intelligencer
The perfect gift for the hard-core crime fiction addict.
Boston Globe - Vicki Croke
A new breed of forensic scientists has discovered that they can actually solve crimes by studying the insect demolition crew that dismantles the human body after death. While the fauna in this book might not be everyone's cup of tea, for others of us, A Fly for the Prosecution, by M. Lee Goff, is deliciously disgusting. You'll find out that maggots aren't alone--a veritable Cosa Nostra of creepy-crawlies gather at the scene of the crime, from hide beetles to wasps to ants, each with a special role to play as the body decomposes.
Honolulu Advertiser - Elaine Masters
I planned to leaf through the book, then read it in earnest the next day. But the opening paragraph grabbed me: 'It was a perfect morning for shoreline fishing and throwing nets for crabs. The sun was shining brightly and the air was perfumed with the scent of plumeria when three fishermen set off for Pearl Harbor...Peering over the fence in the direction of the stench, one spotted a dead body lying on its back.' Goff had me hooked.
Springfield State Journal-Register - David Bloomberg
Overall, Goff has written a good book about a fascinating and fairly new subject. Especially for crime buffs and science buffs, this book is quite engrossing--as long as you aren't grossed out by a few flies, maggots, beetles and other crawling critters.
New York Times Book Review - Atul Gawande
Seductive...Goff is a forensic entomologist, and he tells the story of what exactly that means and of how his field (which hardly existed before 1980) came to take a respected place in death investigations. Along the way, he provides a small hive of entomological tales...Goff, a marvelously vivid and clear explainer of his science...uses plenty of true-life (or rather true-death) cases to show how it's done. The tales can be riveting.
Washington Post Book World - John Schwartz
Goff takes you into the world of the forensic entomologists: the intrepid band of insect experts around the world who turn their intimate knowledge of creepy crawlers to the service of police work...A fascinating read...Great, gory stuff. Goff seems like just the sort of gifted storyteller you'd want to have a drink with--but, perhaps, not dinner.
Times Literary Supplement - Nasim Mavaddat
A dead body is fertile ground for distinct waves of insect populations to inhabit...The succession of insect occupation of the body gives important clues to the post-mortem interval, and acts as a forensic clock which can provide often incriminating evidence in a murder case...The right sort of person to put together this unsavory combination of criminology and natural science is M. Lee Goff...[whose] book on the subject is the first of its kind. In it, Goff describes how insect evidence helps solve crimes and convict perpetrators...Behind each story is a lesson in forensic entomology...Goff is not your everyday academic. He is bohemian, alternative, bold; a true biologist, he is observant and involved...But he is also very human.
Science Books & Films - Susan Y. Nichols
Anyone interested in forensics will want to read [A Fly for the Prosecution]. Author M. Lee Goff has pioneered the use of entomology to assist in solving crimes. [His] book is easy to read and free of technical jargon...This is a great book for everyone to read. I recommend it especially to the professional entomologist and to anyone who uses insects in the classroom or who has an interest in forensics.
Nature - Mark Benecke
Lee Goff leads us through his exciting and, at the same time, entertaining world that strongly depends on silent crime scene assistants: maggots, adult flies, beetles and, occasionally, a grasshopper.
Booklist - Ray Olson
Goff, a pioneer in the field [of forensic entomology], says he learned to avoid jargon when testifying in court, and in his maximally informative, minimally rebarbative professional memoir, he treats readers as if they were jurors. His tales of analyzing the species found on a corpse...should prove riveting to anyone interested in insects or crimimal procedure.
Biologist - John A. Lee
[This] book is witty, well-written, scientifically lucid, and packed with case histories, amusing anecdotes, and practical information. Anyone with a genuine interest in the subject--whether professional or general--can hardly fail to be impressed and enlightened.
Entomological Society of Canada - Gail Anderson
Dr. Goff's incisive, detailed and often humorous description of forensic entomology will be a popular addition to any library…Dr. Goff describes in great detail the use of insects in criminal investigations, liberally illustrating his information with detailed case histories. He clearly illustrates how insects are used in death investigations, to determine time of death, as well as aiding in many other facets of the investigations.
Choice
Despite the disturbing subject of this book, Goff…does an excellent job of clearly presenting the historical development and the scientific basis for the practice of forensic entomology.
Nature
Although forensic entomology has a certain fascination for the public, any forensic pathologist will tell you that it is much more entertaining to read about cases than to collect live arthropods from decaying human corpses. This is where Goff's book comes in--[it's a] colourful collection of forensic entomology research and cases (mostly in his own Hawaii), along with personal thoughts about how to deal with violent death and decay.
— Mark Benecke
Booklist
Goff, a pioneer in the field [of forensic entomology], says he learned to avoid jargon when testifying in court, and in his maximally informative, minimally rebarbative professional memoir, he treats readers as if they were jurors. His tales of analyzing the species found on a corpse...should prove riveting to anyone interested in insects or crimimal procedure.
— Ray Olson
Boston Globe
A new breed of forensic scientists has discovered that they can actually solve crimes by studying the insect demolition crew that dismantles the human body after death. While the fauna in this book might not be everyone's cup of tea, for others of us, A Fly for the Prosecution, by M. Lee Goff, is deliciously disgusting. You'll find out that maggots aren't alone--a veritable Cosa Nostra of creepy-crawlies gather at the scene of the crime, from hide beetles to wasps to ants, each with a special role to play as the body decomposes.
— Vicki Croke
New York Times Book Review
Seductive...Goff is a forensic entomologist, and he tells the story of what exactly that means and of how his field (which hardly existed before 1980) came to take a respected place in death investigations. Along the way, he provides a small hive of entomological tales...Goff, a marvelously vivid and clear explainer of his science...uses plenty of true-life (or rather true-death) cases to show how it's done. The tales can be riveting.
— Atul Gawande
Times Literary Supplement
A dead body is fertile ground for distinct waves of insect populations to inhabit...The succession of insect occupation of the body gives important clues to the post-mortem interval, and acts as a forensic clock which can provide often incriminating evidence in a murder case...The right sort of person to put together this unsavory combination of criminology and natural science is M. Lee Goff...[whose] book on the subject is the first of its kind. In it, Goff describes how insect evidence helps solve crimes and convict perpetrators...Behind each story is a lesson in forensic entomology...Goff is not your everyday academic. He is bohemian, alternative, bold; a true biologist, he is observant and involved...But he is also very human.
— Nasim Mavaddat
Honolulu Advertiser
I planned to leaf through the book, then read it in earnest the next day. But the opening paragraph grabbed me: 'It was a perfect morning for shoreline fishing and throwing nets for crabs. The sun was shining brightly and the air was perfumed with the scent of plumeria when three fishermen set off for Pearl Harbor...Peering over the fence in the direction of the stench, one spotted a dead body lying on its back.' Goff had me hooked.
— Elaine Masters
Washington Post Book World
Goff takes you into the world of the forensic entomologists: the intrepid band of insect experts around the world who turn their intimate knowledge of creepy crawlers to the service of police work...A fascinating read...Great, gory stuff. Goff seems like just the sort of gifted storyteller you'd want to have a drink with--but, perhaps, not dinner.
— John Schwartz
Science Books & Films
Anyone interested in forensics will want to read [A Fly for the Prosecution]. Author M. Lee Goff has pioneered the use of entomology to assist in solving crimes. [His] book is easy to read and free of technical jargon...This is a great book for everyone to read. I recommend it especially to the professional entomologist and to anyone who uses insects in the classroom or who has an interest in forensics.
— Susan Y. Nichols
Quarterly Review of Biology
Lee Goff leads us through his exciting and, at the same time, entertaining world that strongly depends on silent crime scene assistants: maggots, adult flies, beetles and, occasionally, a grasshopper.
— Mark Benecke
Biologist
[This] book is witty, well-written, scientifically lucid, and packed with case histories, amusing anecdotes, and practical information. Anyone with a genuine interest in the subject--whether professional or general--can hardly fail to be impressed and enlightened.
— John A. Lee
Entomological Society of Canada
Dr. Goff's incisive, detailed and often humorous description of forensic entomology will be a popular addition to any library…Dr. Goff describes in great detail the use of insects in criminal investigations, liberally illustrating his information with detailed case histories. He clearly illustrates how insects are used in death investigations, to determine time of death, as well as aiding in many other facets of the investigations.
— Gail Anderson
Springfield State Journal-Register
Overall, Goff has written a good book about a fascinating and fairly new subject. Especially for crime buffs and science buffs, this book is quite engrossing--as long as you aren't grossed out by a few flies, maggots, beetles and other crawling critters.
— David Bloomberg
Atul Gawande
Goff, a marvelously vivid and clear explainer of his science...uses plenty of true-life...cases to show how it's done.
New York Times Book Review
Seattle Times Post-Intelligencer
The perfect gift for the hard-core crime fiction addict.
David Bloomberg
Goff has written a good book about a fascinating and fairly new subject...this book is quite engrossing.
Springfield State Journal-Register
John Schwartz
A fascinating read...Great, gory stuff.
Washington Post Book World
Library Journal
This is a lively and informative firsthand account of forensic entomology in the United States. Goff entomology, Univ. of Hawaii, Manoa is a consultant to the Medical Examiner of Honolulu. He is especially well qualified to write this book because of his active involvement in many criminal investigations and his leadership in a profession that has come into its own within the past two decades. Much of the book deals with the use of entomology in investigations, especially in estimating the postmortem interval--the time elapsed between death and discovery of the body. The interval can now be estimated with considerable accuracy by identifying the insects present on the corpse, their stages of development, and their relationships with other insects. This book is not for the squeamish owing to the descriptions of corpses at the scene of death, in the morgue, and in various states of decay, including insect infestation. But Goff also writes about coping with murder scenes, testifying in court, and publicizing his profession. This book should appeal to a wide audience owing to its readability and novel subject matter. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Booknews
The rapid growth of the crime and crime-prevention industries should make it no surprise that there is now a field of forensic entomology. Goff (entomology, U. of Hawaii-Manoa) is a consultant and medical examiner for Honolulu, and describes how insects can provide clues about dead bodies, such as how long they have been dead, whether they were poisoned, and whether they have been moved since they died. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Atul Gawande
And so, ready for the lazy Sunday afternoon, we have A Fly for the Prosecution, an irresistible coupling of murder stories and a high-minded science tale -- about bugs on corpses no less.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674007277
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 0.51 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

M. Lee Goff is the Coordinator of the Forensic Sciences Program and Professor of Forensic Sciences at Chaminade University of Honolulu.
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Read an Excerpt

From A Fly for the Prosecution by M. Lee Goff

An unusual case from Texas involved the body of a woman found with the mangled remains of a grasshopper in her clothing. At first, nobody paid much attention to the grasshopper, although its parts were collected and preserved as evidence. The police identified several suspects and brought them n for questioning. At the time, 1985, male fashion was making another of its statements by reintroducing cuffs on men's pants. During a search of the suspects, the left hind leg of a grasshopper was discovered in the cuff of one of the suspect's pants. This was the only part of the grasshopper that had not been recovered from the body, and the fracture marks matched perfectly. Despite the defense attorney's assertion that "grasshoppers always break their legs like that," the suspect was convicted of murder.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Honolulu, 1984

1. Beginnings

2. The Bugs on the Body

3. The Pigs' Tale

4. The First Flies

5. Patterns of Succession

6. Cover-ups and Concealments

7. Predators

8. Air, Fire, and Water

9. Drugs and Toxins

10. Coping

11. Testifying

12. Spreading the Word

Epilogue: Summing Up

Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index

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