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Guest Post: Disposal of Human Corpses Part Two

 Disposal of Human Corpses Part Two

 by Harry

See Part One HERE.

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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10 comments to Guest Post: Disposal of Human Corpses Part Two

  • D.

    Harry:
    Definately a thorough and detailed examination of disposal, but I have to wonder to what end. A plethora of information here, much of it of little or no practicle use in a WROL situation given the lack of time and resources.

    Having dealt with the dead, in war time, in the past, a smell that will forever remain with me, this problem has crossed my thoughts.

    What is of interest to me and I feel you have not adequetly addressed are:

    The effects of ambiant temperature on the corpse. Tropical climes demand emediate disposal, or you are going to need breathing apparatus and a hazmat suit to do it in a short time. Whereas in a winter setting you may have to stack them like cordwood until a better time presents itself.

    What is an adequet distance/location from a water source/ river etc. to insure no contamination of the local water supplies? How would run-off affect the location and subsequent contamination?

    How would you address the mass causualties we would surely see in a widespread event?

    I am happy to see that your example family was lucky enough to encounter a group of stupid intruders. If they had been vaugely competant, they would have reconned the area, probed and triggered the defenses, and easily flanked and overcome the single effective shooter. Thus putting the intruders in the position of body disposal.
    All in all an interesting article, particlularly if it got this many words out of me, as I am lurking as of late. Good job, lets see some research on other subjects! Regards, D.

  • Harry

    D,
    Thanks for the response (I’m glad I was able to elicit some feedback from the peanut gallery), let me see if I can provide my personal insight into your comments.

    I too have put a few corpses into body bags, unfortunately, some of them were friends. Sometimes I’ll be sitting someplace doing something completely ordinary and the smell will come back to me as if I was sitting right next to the bodies.

    All things being equal, I would recommend disposal of a corpse as soon as practical. There may be a number of considerations involved in that decision, for instance: security and ongoing conflict, weather (digging a grave in a monsoon or through frozen ground is a real pain), or lack of available manpower to address a large number of corpses. I didn’t address timing simply because it has an enormous number of variables and would require another 10 or 12 posts to deal with the most obvious possibilities.

    Distance between a gravesite and a water supply is going to directly depend on the type of soil. Water will migrate through the ground both vertically and horizontally taking various contaminants with it. Water will move very slowly and within a very limited radius through heavy clay soils. On the other hand, sands and gravels will provide little or no resistance to water movement. I am a Civil Engineer and tend to use that background to answer a lot of questions (fall back on what you know when all else fails). The EPA requires a 3-foot thick blanket of bentonite clay under and around most toxic waste landfills. If you have a really thick, sticky, playdo kind of clay you could probably plant the body fairly close to a water source and have minimal contamination issues. Here in Texas the state regulations for locating a water well dictate that it be at least 150-feet away from petroleum storage tanks, septic fields, feed lots, and cemeteries. There is no restriction based on soil type, simply a minimum distance. If you don’t have playdo for soil I would recommend using that as a safe minimum distance.

    The mass casualties issue is potentially a significant concern. Again, you pose a question which is difficult to answer without defining the circumstances in a bit more detail. Am I alone, are the bodies on my property, am I bound under some authority to assist with their disposal, can I simply relocate, are we discussing 10 bodies or hundreds, and on, and on? My initial response would be to leave them in place if they posed no immediate threat to me and mine or create a large bonfire and cremate them if I simply had to deal with them. Does that address the security issues associated with attracting vast numbers of scavengers or creating a smoke pall visible for miles around? Unfortunately, this issue has no simple answer.

    Isn’t fiction wonderful – one can create whatever circumstances (however unlikely) and pen them for others to enjoy or lambast as they will? I sincerely hope Brandon and family (loosely based on my middle son by the way) would have the forethought to plan out other situations and deal with them in an appropriate manner. Given a family of 4 (such as I used in the intro) with the need to provide security, hunting, gathering, farming or gardening, basic maintenance, and other daily chores in a down society there is a limited amount of responses available to an armed incursion. Certainly a team of 5 or 6 former operators would have little trouble overcoming a 14 year old sitting in a tree house in a suburban environment. However, if the situation arose I would hope that those types of folks would have the smarts to pillage more lucrative sites than a simple house in the woods. No plan ever survives contact with the enemy, but training and esprit de corps will often win the day given a little luck and a good sight picture.

    If you have a suggestion for future topics hit me up. I like a challenge.

  • Susan Massey

    “Adjust your catapult’s tension appropriately” – Too funny

    Engaging article and follow-up. Although you didn’t mention the option of eating the newly deceased…

  • D.

    Great reply Harry. I’m glad you were not offended by my comments, and addressed my questions. Thank you, useful info! If you’d care for other topics, you might wade through my list in “On protocols”and address one of those in detail. You’re research capabilities are obviously to the task (One of my favorite parts of writing). I have considered going back over the “bullet” points of some of my past articles, but the size of that list is rather daunting, and its Spring and I have many real tasks in front of me. Regards, D.

  • Harry, that was a great read… both entertaining and useful. While different than combat related deaths, I have discovered people in their homes who had passed away some days earlier. For strangers I would almost certainly opt for whatever method was expedient for “me” and pray that their souls understood. :) For family, well, I think we all would handle that differently.

  • D.

    Susan:
    I think some research would show you that there are so many toxicins present in the modern human body that it could not get a USDA rating as fit for human consumption. I came upon this info about ten years ago, so its probably worse now. Unless you can find a few organic vegans:) Regards, Dennis

  • Wyzyrd

    Yet another reason to be careful with the disposal of the recently-deceased – if you live in an area with a feral hog population, and that’s quickly getting to be the whole country, they’ll happily clean up the remains, but now, you, your family and crew all smell like a food source. NOT the best situation to find oneself in if you’re injured and the hog is hungry/annoyed.

  • Rourke

    Wyzyrd –

    Sounds like the makings of a great horror movie.

    Thanks for the nightmare tonight!

    Rourke

  • DHConner

    My 1st stepfather was running roofing company when the US Army asked him to go to the Aleutian Islands to oversee roofers as they covered the roofs of buildings for airplane hangers and other large buildings on Attu and Kiska. When he arrived it was so soon after the end of battle that most of the Japanese bodies were still laying where they fell, and some had been stacked in large piles. He said they did the simple and most obvious thing: bulldozers dug long 10 feet deep trenches and pushed the bodies in, and then placed dirt over them 4 feet thick and rollers compacted the soil. It ain’t that hard, folks-just get a backhoe, dig a trench, and dump ‘em in. God will not punish you for doing what you must to protect the living. But He will if you don’t. Survival after large scale combat or disease caused deaths is what He meant for you: to carry on as the living, and caring for the survivors. If He didn’t, you’d be dead too. No offense to all who contributed the various aspects of after death information, but there just isn’t time or resources for the niceties. Even now in Afghanistan the dogs are feeding on dead bodies, as they did in Iraq. I think that’s far more disrespectful that mass burials, untidy as they are.

    Respectfully

  • Harry

    Wyzyrd,

    I shot two of them last night after I found them rooting in my compost pile. They will also feed on whatever remains the coyotes leave behind – deer, calves, goats, etc. I don’t think they would need much encouragement to start feeding on Pablo and Jose should they find themselves dead in their journey into “America del Norte”.

    DHConner,
    Good advice if one a) has construction equipment handy, b) has appropriate fuel for the equipment, c) knows how to operate same, and d) has no other impending survival issues which preclude one from performing the mass burial you describe.

    Although I covered some information which would be applicable to large scale corpse disposal; my intent was more focused on what a small group of people using hand tools could achieve given the presence of three types of bodies – relatives or friends whose disposition was of moral or ethical concern, unknowns whose disposition may impose upon one’s morality or ethics, and enemy or potentially diseased corpses whose disposal one may feel significantly less compassion about.

    I sincerely think most folks would want to treat their Mom to a different form of body disposal than they would a dozen biker thugs who died trying to raid the homestead. In my neck of the woods, Mom gets a nice burial under one of our pecan trees with a covering of stones and some flowers while the biker thugs get fed to Wyzyrd’s piggies.