Disposal of Human Corpses Part One & Two

This post was originally published back in March of 2013. Part One HERE & Part Two HERE. It’s a long one…..

 by Harry

The radio next to Brandon’s sleeping bag squawked bringing him instantly awake.  He heard his oldest son, “Dad, Dad, we have visitors, lots of them, and they are armed”.  For several weeks he had observed a number of roving bands scavenging in the neighborhoods at the base of the hill.  Brandon had quietly observed the rising pyres of his neighbors’ homes with the mild satisfaction of having watched every one of them drive away behind the Sheriff to the relocation center.  Apparently, the hoodlums had run out things to steal and destroy closer to town and decided to look for new venues.  Tonight all of Brandon’s planning would be sorely tested – a time he had hoped would never come, but a time he and his family had trained long and hard to meet with the odds stacked in their favor.

 

Almost four years ago he had selected his family’s home site at the top of a steep hill accessed by a long winding gravel road and well hidden behind an old growth of trees.  He had even planted additional trees, several areas of bamboo, and fertilized the wild rose bushes he found along the property lines to further hide his residence.  Even though there were a number of other houses further down the hill, some of them extremely large and obviously home to well off people, Brandon had hoped his home’s not-so-obvious location would deter anyone from becoming overly curious as to who lived beyond the simple mailbox mounted on a wooden post.  Brandon knew most of his neighbors, hard not to in a small town, and even hunted and camped with some of them.  However, he wasn’t really close to any of them; certainly not close enough for them to know how well prepared he was for the financial meltdown and subsequent food riots most of them had studiously maintained was a brain exercise for political extremists and survivalist kooks.

 

His wife, Naomi, was out of bed and headed down the hall to collect their daughter for the short run to the barn behind the house.  This was their fall back location and the movement, even in the dead of night, was well rehearsed with minimal excess motion and noise.  Stuffing his feet in his boots, zipping them, and grabbing his gear Brandon was out of the house and headed for the rabbit hole within 20 seconds.  Brandon knew his wife and daughter would establish radio contact once they were safely in place.  He slid into his position; a well emplaced fighting position which had both cover and concealment.  He would be virtually impossible to see and extremely hard to hit.

 

Brandon knew his son, Michael, was in the tree stand they had built together; a location they had selected for its panoramic views of the valley where they could sit above the world (and their chores), enjoy the evening breeze, and watch the stars through their NexStar 8 telescope.  Now it was his family’s aerie to watch the world below them take a daily turn for the worse.  Every night a different family member was assigned to sit in the aerie and watch for trouble, a plan that had now paid off.

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Once in place Brandon keyed his radio, “Brandon in place, radio check”.  He heard, “Mike, 5 by 5,” followed by “Naomi and Emma, in place, 5 by 5”.  He rekeyed his radio and said’ “Mike, Sitrep”.  He heard the excitement in Michael’s voice even through the radio, “Seven, repeat seven, on foot, in line, about 2 meters spacing.  Number 3 appears to be unarmed, the others have long guns, several look like military style weapons, no special security provisions evident, they are walking right up our driveway like they own the place.”  Brandon keyed in and said, “OK, game plan 2 – remember your targets are from the back to the front”.  He grinned a little when he heard, “Duh, knew that already”.

 

When Michael popped his transmit button twice indicating the intruders had reached a preset location, Brandon flipped the switches on the board next to the ammo can and light blazed from 5 high intensity spotlights.  As if on cue, the intruders stopped and looked directly into the lights completely destroying their night vision.  Brandon picked up the microphone which led to the PA system he and Michael had installed several months previously and said, “We don’t want any trouble, drop your weapons, place your hands on your heads, turn around and go back the way you came.  This is your one and only warning.”  It could have gone either way, the intruders could have turned and left, the night could have remained quiet and peaceful, could have beens don’t always pan out.

 

After the smoke had cleared, Brandon and Michael waited 30 minutes to let the bodies finishing leaking and then carefully approached the 7 bodies.  Brandon mused about how lucky he and his son were to have encountered a band of idiots who thought the lights and loudspeakers were more important targets than the defenders.  Naomi and Emma joined them to provide perimeter security, so the grisly process of sorting through the remains began.  As Michael had said, Number 3 was unarmed, handcuffed, and apparently a prisoner.  He was just as dead as his captors one of whom had shot him in the back when he tried to run back down the hill.  His anonymity joined that of the others.  Michael policed up the weapons and what little gear they had while Brandon looked for any form of identification.  He found a few odd scraps of paper, a USGS quad sheet with several areas circled in red pencil, and a Readers Digest with about half of the pages ripped out.  As the two men began to collect the bodies into a pile Michael asked, “Dad, any ideas on how to dispose of this mess?  I don’t remember you covering that in any of our discussions”.  Brandon responded, “I didn’t think you really needed a lecture on how to operate a shovel”.  Michael got in the last word, “I can operate a shovel just fine, I just thought a smart guy like you would know some way to avoid investing a lot of sweat equity in a pile of garbage”.

 

Depending on your situation, location, team composition, age grouping, and other factors you will in all likelihood eventually have to deal with a corpse in a true SHTF episode.  For this discussion, a corpse is defined as the dead remains of a human being.  If necessary, animal corpses can be dealt with in a manner similar to human corpses; however, unless the flesh is contaminated, rotten, or in a condition or location which precludes your ability to turn it into useful components they might also be considered a potential food source, fertilizer, or bait.  This discussion will focus on human corpses.

 

First, for many people there is little difference between a “funeral” and the subsequent disposal of the deceased.  They are two completely different issues.  In fact it is not necessary to have one without the other.  It is quite common for a family to hold a funeral rite for a loved one without having a body to dispose.  A funeral is simply a ceremony for celebrating, respecting, sanctifying, or remembering the life of the dearly departed.

 

Disposal of a corpse is the practice and process of dealing with the remains of a deceased human being.  Across the world and throughout history numerous methods for disposal have been practiced.  In many cases, the manner of disposal is dominated by spiritual concerns and a desire to show respect for the dead, and may be highly ritualized.  This event may be part of a larger funeral ritual.  In other circumstances, such as war or natural disaster, practical concerns (health, sanitation, odors) may be forefront.  Many religions as well as legal jurisdictions have set rules regarding the disposal of corpses.  Since the experience of death is universal to all humans, practices regarding corpse disposal are a part of nearly every culture.

 

Currently, in the USA the most common methods of disposal are:

  • ·Burial of the entire body in the earth, usually within a coffin
  • ·Cremation, which burns soft tissue and renders much of the skeleton to ash.  The remains, known as “cremains” may contain larger pieces of bone which are ground to the consistency of ash.  The ashes may be stored in an urn, buried or placed in an ossuary, or scattered on land or water.
  • ·Medical disposal – research, organ donation, and other post life use of tissues and bones.  Although some dead tissue may be retained indefinitely and donated organs will be disposed of with their new host, most cadavers used for medical purposes are eventually cremated.
  • ·Permanent Storage in an above ground vault or mausoleum (referred to as immurement).

 

Less common means of disposal (in the USA, other countries have different ethical considerations and attitudes) include:

  • Exposure – body left in the open to decompose as practiced in Tibetan Sky Burials and some Native American Groups.
  • Burial at Sea – generally self explanatory, make certain you keep a couple of spare cannon balls lying around to ensure negative buoyancy.
  • Space Disposal – body is cremated and some of the remains are lofted into low earth trajectory with final destruction occurring when the container reenters the atmosphere and incinerates.
  • Dissolution – body dissolved in strong acid or lye and disposed of in a liquid state
  • Promession – think freeze drying with a good shaking to render the bits into a fine powder.
  • Ressomation – alkaline hydrolysis at a high temperature without allowing the liquid to boil.  The body essentially dissolves into a green-brown liquid with flakes of bone floating in it.
  • Cryopreservation – preservation in liquid nitrogen.
  • Taxidermy – now there’s a conversation starter.
  • Plastination – only to be used if you want to become a museum exhibit.

 

Many jurisdictions have enacted regulations relating to the disposal of human bodies.  The law may restrict the locations in which this activity is allowed, in some cases expressly limiting burials to property controlled by specific, licensed institutions.  For most jurisdictions, failure to properly dispose of a body is a crime.  In some places, it is also a crime to fail to report a death and to fail to report the disposition of the body.  The following suggestions are intended to be used under extreme duress in a situation which precludes the use of normal Health and Sanitation services.

 

The widespread belief that corpses pose a risk of communicable disease is wrong.  Especially if death resulted from trauma, bodies are quite unlikely to cause outbreaks of diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, or plague, though they may transmit gastroenteritis or food poisoning syndrome to survivors if they contaminate streams, wells, or other water sources.  Even so, it is prudent to exercise basic protections to avoid contamination from bodily fluids; especially if you have no knowledge of the deceased’s recent activities or health condition.  At a minimum use gloves and wear rain gear and boots to prevent contact.  If you have better protection, use it – better safe than sorry.  After you finish disposing of the body or bodies, wash everything (including you) in hot water with soap or sterilize in alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or boiling water.

 

What happens when the rule of law leaves town and you are forced to deal with this issue without the assistance of a Medical Examiner, Mortician, and Funeral Home?  As mercenary as it may sound, the answer is simply – that depends on your relationship to the corpse.  If it’s a friend or family member or simply some passerby who for whatever reason died in your backyard you will probably want to dispose of the remains in a “decent” manner.  If the corpse is a complete unknown or worse an enemy combatant, you get to decide just how far your morals and ethics extend into the realm of doing some backbreaking work to dispose of their remains.  Just as different countries have different rules concerning the disposal of the deceased, different religions have many different conditions and requisites on how, when, and where a body may be placed.  You alone must decide how your beliefs impact any particular situation you may be called on to face.

The following discussion will cover the commonly available means of disposal which one prepper or a small group of preppers can perform.

Burial in the ground (with or without a coffin) is a relatively easy and clean way to dispose of a body.

Six feet under dates back to London’s Great Plague of 1665 wherein the Lord Mayor dictated that all graves be at least 6-feet deep to prevent further spread of the disease.  Silly Mayor, it was all the rats and their little flea buddies that spread the plague, not granny’s corpse.  Depending on your soil condition, a body may be covered with as little as 18-inches of soil.  Heavy clays will tend to pack down and limit odors from escaping better than sandy soils.  Generally, 3-feet is a safe depth for any soil type.  Remember to place the grave where it won’t affect your water supply or where you planned to place the foundation for your next barn project.

As a rule of thumb, even well preserved remains will decompose somewhat over time.  It is virtually impossible to inject sufficient toxins and preservatives into a human body to prevent the plethora of bacteria, worms, and other critters present in soil from munching on the massive food source you have placed in their neighborhood.  Hence, unless you have the desire or wherewithal to display Granny in the Parlor for a few days to allow everyone to remark how peaceful she looks it is best to simply place the corpse in its resting place as quickly as possible – eliminating the need for large quantities of formaldehyde, alcohol, formalin, glutaraldehyde, arsenic, and other toxins in your supply cabinet.

Whether you wrap the body in cloth or plastic, place it in a coffin, or simply roll it into the hole is a matter of choice.  If you feel the need to dispose of cloth, plastic, wood, or other possibly hard to replace materials along with the corpse, feel free to do so.  Unless you have a gasketed modern coffin handy, no amount of coverings is going to prevent degredation of the remains.  Placing the body in the hole is the safe and sanitary thing to do, gift wrapping is purely based on your desire to accent the remains in a manner which assuages your feelings of guilt, love, loss, respect, and admiration for the deceased.  Remember the term “Dead Weight” means just that – the person is dead and they won’t be any lighter simply because they aren’t breathing.  Why add an unnecessary burden on the burial party which already has an extensive chore to perform?  Personally, I agree with the sentiments of Miguel de Cervantès , “Nu, je suis venu au monde, et, nu, je le quitterai. (Naked I came into this world and naked I shall leave)”.

Burial in water (with or without a coffin) is another easy and clean way to dispose of a body, provided you happen to have a large body of water handy and a way to get the remains away from shore.

In the USA, burial at sea is an accepted method of corpse disposal provided one meets certain conditions – the EPA requires full body burials occur at least 3 miles from the nearest shore at a minimum depth of 600-feet (good thing London’s Lord Mayor didn’t hear about that requirement) and in a container which ensures “quick and permanent submergence” while cremains may be spread in the USA’s  Exclusive Economic Zone with simple notification of the EPA.  The closest suitable depth adjacent to the mainland USA is approximately 5 miles off the coast of Miami, Florida.  There are some suitable depths within 10-miles of the West Coast.  If you live in New York, you will have to be about 75-miles off Long Island to be at 600-feet of water depth.  This may change depending on the EPA’s interpretation of MARPOL Annex V which came into effect on January 1, 2013 (requires burial at sea to be at least 12 miles from shore).  This international treaty precludes any discharge from a ship’s incinerator or other ash containers and there is some debate as to whether that includes cremains (why ashes are considered a pollutant and an entire body wrapped in sail cloth is acceptable is a mystery to most folks who have an IQ in the luke warm range).

It would be difficult for the average citizen to properly bury in water a deceased person in compliance with current rules and regulations without the assistance of a licensed funeral home or very friendly ship’s captain.  However, under conditions in which the rule of law is suspended and given proper materials and tools this type of disposal may be preferable to land burial.  First, if there is a fast flowing stream or river nearby and the disposal committee (that’s you and whoever you have coerced into helping you dispose of the evidence) doesn’t really care where the body ends up or who’s drinking water gets polluted the body can simply be dumped into the water and allowed to wash downstream.  Needless to say, this may perturb one’s neighbors; hence, careful consideration should be given prior to this form of disposal.  Second, if a boat is available and a lake of suitable depth or the open ocean is at hand the body can be wrapped in a tarp (or placed in a coffin if you so desire) with sufficient weight and sunk.  The body must be securely attached to the weights or it may reappear on the water’s surface.  Also, if the lake is a source of drinking water it must be very large and deep to ensure the body does not contaminate the water supply.  Just because a newly dead body isn’t an immediate source of bacterial contamination doesn’t preclude one from becoming a haven for every form of parasite known to modern science after it spends a few weeks under water.

Cremation is another basic and common method to dispose of dead bodies.

Depending on your personal code of ethics, morals, spiritual beliefs, or other mental reservations, cremation may or may not be a viable option for disposal of a dead body.  It is the preferred method of disposal for Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism (the latter generally because it greatly disturbs their Chinese neighbors and thus must be a good thing to do).  It is forbidden by Islam, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Baha’i, and Orthodox Jewish beliefs.  It is severely frowned upon by the Roman Catholic Church.  It is lightly frowned upon by the Latter Day Saints.  Most Protestant faiths accept it without necessarily recommending it as a preference to burial.  Pagan (Historical Polytheism, Folk and Indigenous Religions, and Neopagansim) beliefs range from complete acceptance to total disavowal.  For obvious reasons (Auschwitz, Balzac, Sobibor, and Treblinka come to mind), many Liberal and Reformed Jews have an aversion to the process though for financial reasons it is becoming more common in Israel.

Cremation is the use of high-temperature burning, vaporization, and oxidation to reduce dead bodies, to basic chemical compounds, such as gases and mineral fragments.  Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite that is an alternative to the interment of an intact dead body in a coffin or casket.  Under current USA and State Laws, cremated remains, which do not constitute a health risk (i.e., irradiated), may be buried or interred in memorial sites or cemeteries, or they may be legally retained by relatives and dispersed in various ways.  Cremation is not an alternative to a funeral, but rather an alternative to burial or other forms of disposal.

Most modern crematoriums use natural gas or propane to develop the heat necessary to reduce the dead body to a few pounds of ash, teeth, and bone fragments.  Yes, there will be recognizable bits when the process is complete.  Even modern refractive ovens cannot completely reduce the human body to a pile of ash.  Furthermore, it takes some time to complete the process – approximately 1 hour per 100 pounds of body weight.  Although uncommon, open pyres are acceptable in some US localities.  For instance, a private group in Crestone, Colorado has acquired land and permits to perform a number of open air cremations every year.

In the USA, except in a few special circumstances (still born twin or a dead mother with her still born baby) each cremation will contain only one body due to Federal and State laws.  The body or bodies must be placed in a container prior to insertion into the oven – usually a cardboard box, though sometimes a wooden box is used.  Jewelry and other noncombustible objects are removed prior to cremation.  Depending on the item, some implants are surgically removed prior to cremation (the power supplies used for pacemakers and spinal stimulators tend to explode at high temperatures).

For a more primitive cremation all that is needed is a large pile of wood.  A funeral pyre is simply a stack of logs of suitable size to provide sufficient heat for a duration of time to reduce a human body to ash and bone fragments.  Accelerants may be used with appropriate caution.  Obviously, any substance which makes a fire burn faster and/or hotter is generally dangerous to store, move, place, and ignite.  Gasoline and gunpowder may cause the wood to burn hotter and faster, but they can also cause severe injuries to the living if used improperly.  Thermite, powdered magnesium, ALICE, and other stable accelerants are better choices, though they still require due caution in their use.  Dry wood in a large enough quantity will do the job – just have a little patience.  One note of caution, fires cause lots of smoke and light as well as create a bright thermal signature in the Infrared spectrum – consider this as a security issue when planning on the location of any pyres.

Exposure is an open air disposal wherein predatory birds, insects, fungus, and other life forms are allowed to feed on the remains.

Although extremely uncommon in Western society even for Native Americans, it is still widely practiced in Tibet and other Eastern countries.  Restricted until the 1980’s, the Peoples Republic of China now allows this procedure.  In Tibet a Sky Burial is commonly called Jhator which is much more involved than simply leaving the body to the animals and elements.  Rogyapas (usually Monks, but not always) or “Body Breakers” dissemble the body to make it easier for the vultures to quickly remove the flesh and organs.  Once the vultures have reduced the body to bones, the Rogyapas pound the bones to dust and mix them with barley flour and yak butter and offer this to the ravens, crows, and hawks.

For all practical purposes this is the easiest means to dispose of a dead body.  Simply leave it in outside in an open area away from food and water sources or for a more respectful disposal place it on an elevated bier and allow Mother Nature to have her way with the remaining organic material.  Obviously, some odors should be anticipated as well as an increase in bird activity around the dead body.  Consideration should be given to how this will affect your group’s moral and security.  If you are in an area with larger predators (bears, pumas, feral hogs, etc) and the body is not restrained it may be moved from its initial location.  Careful placement of the body may also provide several months worth of attraction to animals which can be trapped or shot for your dinner table.

Dissolution is simply dissolving the remains in a strong caustic chemical – acid or lye being the most commonly available.

Unless you like to play evil, mad scientist and have access to a large amount of suitable chemicals this process is probably not one which most preppers will pursue.  In the 1940’s British mass murderer John George Haigh used 45 gallons of sulfuric acid to dissolve each of his victims.  The process required two days and he reported that the fumes caused him to vacate his premises during that time.  In the 1980’s John Gotti’s son was accidently killed in a traffic accident.  One of the Gotti family’s hit men dissolved the body of other driver in 55 gallons of an unknown acid.  Quick lime or caustic lime (different from agricultural lime which is a soil amendment) will certainly speed up the decomposition of a body while hiding most of the ensuing odors; however, it is a fairly dangerous substance to handle (it causes severe chemical burns and it will ignite upon contact with water).  Just for informational purposes it takes about 8 pounds of quick lime to adequately dispose of a 200 pound human corpse.

Germ Warfare or what did you bring to the garden party?

As noted previously, unless there are extenuating circumstances most newly dead human bodies are not immediate sources of biological contaminants.  However, a dead body no longer has an immune system to fight off invading microbes and parasites; hence, after a few days bacteria in and on the body will begin to multiply exponentially.  Many of these bacteria can cause severe and sometimes fatal diseases to healthy individuals.  Cryptosporidium (most commonly parvum and hominis, though canis, felis, meleagridis, and muris may be present) and Giardia Lamblia are two parasites which are commonly found in contaminated water.  They both cause severe dehydration and in weakened individuals (children, older adults, and adults affected by other ailments) can cause chronic illness and in some cases death.  Almost all public swimming pools will have some small, but measurable, concentration of these microbes in the water.  Aggressive treatment with bleach and other sterilizing chemicals keeps the concentration low enough to allow the general public to swim with minimal risk of infection.  Most lakes and streams in the USA will have one or more of these microbes present in measurable quantities.

Dead bodies are a food source for literally thousands of microscopic life forms, many of which are potentially harmful or fatal to healthy humans.  Placement of the dead body in such a manner which allows these critters to migrate into an enemy’s food or water source is a simple, but effective means of germ warfare.  In the Middle Ages catapults and trebuchets were used to loft dead animals and humans over castle walls where the putrid remains would burst open scattering pestilence across a large area.  Similarly, dead bodies were placed upstream of a town’s water supply to ensure an adequate source of contamination in the occupants’ drinking water.  Just remember that flailing arms and legs gives a human missile strange ballistic characteristics and adjust your catapult’s tension appropriately.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you will never be called on to assist in the disposal of a human corpse.  It is an unpleasant task in the best of circumstances.  In a stressful and lawless situation it can be a daunting task, especially if one is attempting to provide security to one’s family and property while dealing with one or more dead bodies.  However, if the opportunity (or onus) arises and you are forced to become your group’s undertaker the above information will at least give you a starting point on what methodologies are available.  If you wish to plan ahead some portions of the above information will become part of your SOP and should the need arise you will simply have to refer to the proper plan of action and execute it accordingly.


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1 Comment

  1. Wait a minute, quick lime is often used to decrease odor of decomposition and was regularly used in the long drop. It retards bacterial growth and likewise retards decomposition. Clandestinely interred remains are sometimes laced with quick lime which investigators love as it acts as a preservative.

    Panhandle Rancher

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