What the Crime Scene Photographs Show

Previously, on both Undisclosed and our blogs, Colin, Rabia, and I have discussed the significance of the medical examiner’s findings concerning livor mortis. To recap, Dr. Korell’s autopsy report concluded that Hae’s body had fixed anterior (frontal) lividity, and that she had been buried on her right side. She testified to these same facts at trial:

CG: So that, that would tell you that the body was face down when the livor was fixed.
Dr. Korell: Right.
CG: Would it not?
Dr. Korell: Yes.
CG: Okay. Because that would mean the blood would pool on the front of the body .
Dr. Korell: Correct.
CG: And that wouldn’t happen if the body post-death were on its side.
Dr. Korell: Correct. (2/02/00 Tr. 79-80.)

Of course, there’s a problem here. If the body were buried on its right side sometime during the 7:00pm hour, this would preclude the anterior lividity described by Dr. Korell, which means that Jay’s story is dramatically and provably false with respect to the events of January 13, 1999.

Although the 7:00pm burial story would be disproven if looking solely at the autopsy report, two critical questions remained about the report’s validity.

First, was Dr. Korell correct about the anterior lividity? The autopsy photographs were in black and white, which is far from ideal, but multiple forensic pathologists were able to conclude,  after reviewing the photographs and autopsy report together, that Dr. Korell was correct in finding anterior lividity. All found that the lividity was anterior and even on both sides, meaning that the body was laid out flat, not leaned to one side or the other, at the time lividity fixed.

Second, was Dr. Korell correct that the body had been buried on its right side? The autopsy report concluded that it was, but because the State had never permitted the defense to obtain copies of the crime scene photos, we could not independently confirm this. However, there is no reason to think that this part of the report was in error. The autopsy was performed by two pathologists: Dr. Korell and Dr. Aquino.

1 - Aquino

And, although Dr. Korell had not been present at the crime scene, Dr. Aquino was:

2 - Crime Scene Report

(Progress Report, 6/10/99)

As one of the pathologists conducting the autopsy had personally observed the body at the Leakin Park crime scene, he was able to personally assess and report the positioning of the body. His conclusion that the “[t]he body was on her right side” was based on his own observations, not second-hand information from investigators. But did Dr. Aquino somehow make a huge blunder in his autopsy report, writing that Hae had been found on her right side, when really she had been laid out on her front?

In theory, this question should have been trivial to answer. In theory, there should have been crime scene photographs, body diagrams, and reports by crime scene technicians and the forensic anthropologists who performed the excavation, which would have described in detail the positioning of the body and other key facts about the crime scene. In theory, these basic facts should have been part of the record from Day One of the investigation.

In practice, however, there was nothing. No diagrams, no notes, no photos. Aside from the autopsy report, the position in which Hae’s body was found was a black hole as far as the case files for both the police and the defense were concerned. It was not until nine months after the incongruent findings in the lividity had first been noticed that the crime scene photographs were finally obtained by MSNBC, in connection with The Docket’s latest Serial special.

Before explaining what the photographs show, however, let’s review the failures that resulted in a situation in which the defense was denied access to any evidence concerning how Hae had been positioned at the burial site, and why it has taken so long to get conclusive answers to what should have been some of the most basic facts about the case.

The Investigatory Record

It is notable that not a single document in the police record describes the position in which Hae’s body was found. In fact, not one of the reports provided anything beyond the most generalized descriptions of the crime scene. The following is the entirety of available record that was produced to the defense before trial:

4 - 6-10 Report

(Progress Report, 6/10/99)

5 - 2-09 Report

(Crime Scene Narrative, 2/09/99)

(Progress Report, 2/16/99)

(Progress Report, 2/16/99)

(Police Report, 2/09/99)

(Police Report, 2/09/99)

(Surveyor's Map)

(Surveyor’s Map)

(Evidence Diagram)

(Evidence Diagram)

There’s not a single word in any of them which describes how the body was positioned in relation to the ground. Based on these reports, the only facts discernible at all as to how the body was found at the crime scene are that it was:

  1. Partially buried;
  2. Behind a 40′ log;
  3. Approximately 15′ from the west end of the log;
  4. With the head pointing towards the south, and feet pointing towards the north; and
  5. Located either 127′ or 114′ north of N. Franklintown Road (depending on which map you’re using).

Later, on August 2, 1999, the prosecution produced the following memo to the defense, which was described as the “oral report of Dr. Rodriguez,” the forensic anthropologist who disinterred the body:

Oral report of Dr. Rodriguez

Oral report of Dr. Rodriguez

This brief, triple-hearsay memo was the only report ever provided to the defense concerning the forensic findings at the crime scene. It is a prosecutor’s summary of another prosecutor’s notes of a conversation that she had with the forensic anthropologist five months previously. This document exists because in February 1999, prosecutor Vicki Wash spoke to Dr. Rodriguez, and she took notes of what he said. In July, prosecutor Kathleen Murphy wrote a summary of Wash’s notes, and then gave that to the defense.

So whatever Dr. Rodriguez found in his examination of the crime scene, his analysis was filtered through two different prosecutors before Adnan’s attorneys ever got a chance to see it. There is no way to know if Wash’s note were accurate and included everything of importance, and no way to know what Murphy’s “summary” of those notes left out. As a result, we have no idea if the oddities in this short report are truly things Dr. Rodriguez said, or if they are merely the result of a mistaken transcription by either Wash or Murphy in their various iterations of the report. Green plant material underneath — does plant material remain green if buried underground for a month? Orange fiber found on body, blue fiber found beneath body — but wait, why did the trace analysis unit conclude that there was a red fiber, a colorless fiber, and a pink-orange fiber found on the body? Is Rodriguez’s orange fiber near the shoulder Van Gelder’s red fiber near the head, or was it Van Gelder’s pink-orange fiber from a root? And what about the blue fiber, should we just assume it’s the colorless fiber that testing was done on?

Van Gelder's Trace Analysis Report

Van Gelder’s Trace Analysis Report

Prior to trial, the only other evidence of what the crime scene looked like that was handed over to the defense came from Mr. S’s police interviews. On the night of February 9, 1999, one of the detectives wrote down the following based on what Mr. S had said:

Mr. S's Police Statement

Mr. S’s Police Statement

Mr. S also provided the following sketch:

Mr. S's Sketch

Mr. S’s Sketch

And that’s it. Nothing whatsoever concerning whether the body was on its side, back, or front. Almost nothing concerning how it was buried. And inconsistent information concerning even the location of where the body was found.


From the beginning, the prosecution was playing games with what information it turned over concerning the burial site. Although initial discovery was (eventually) handed over by Urick on July 2nd, that discovery was decidedly lacking. Five days later, Gutierrez wrote to Judge Quarles outlining the numerous deficiencies in the State’s production:

  1. Any and all sketches, diagrams, and photographs of the crime scene, to include the victim as welI as any evidence collected.
  1. A legible crime scene log. The log provided was cut-off.

. . .

  1. All police reports, only incomplete reports were provided.
  1. A copy of Det. Bradshaw’s follow-up investigation report. The report in the materials provided is cut-off.

. . .

  1. A copy of any report or documents prepared by Dr. Rodriguez, the forensic scientist at the crime scene.

. . .

  1. Autopsy photographs. The photocopies provided are not legible.

. . .

16. The Medical Examiner’s log with any and all notes made by any personnel concerning the collection of the body.

In addition to the materials that were simply not produced at all, crime scene logs and reports were only partially produced, and the quality of the autopsy photos was so horrible that they showed nothing beyond a rough outline of the body.

The State’s response denied that any further records concerning the crime scene existed:

14 - Amended States Disclosure

In other words, information concerning the burial site had simply never been recorded by anyone. The prosecution’s position was that no one had, at any time, made any diagrams or took any notes of how the body was found at the burial site. Dr. Rodriguez and his team, who had been specially brought in from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., in order to assist the BPD with the recovery of the body, had failed to document any aspects of the crime scene.

It is worth noting that this is absolutely insane. No investigation should ever, under any circumstances, be conducted this way. There are two possibilities here: either the prosecution falsely represented to the defense (and to the court) that no such documents existed, or else Dr. Rodriguez and his team neglected the most basic aspects of a proper forensic investigation and failed to document any of their activities. See, e.g., Hutchins v. State, 339 Md. 466, 475, 663 A.2d 1281, 1286 (1995) (“The State [ ] ha[s] an obligation to disclose [ ] any written reports or statements and the substance of any oral reports and conclusions of [any ‘experts consulted by the State’] regardless of whether or not the State expected to call [those experts] to the stand to testify.”).

The only further information provided concerning Dr. Rodriguez’s (or Dr. Korell’s) findings consisted of the following disclosure on October 1st:

15 - Amended State's Disclosure

Nothing else was ever produced about the crime scene. No diagrams, no analysis, no notes, no reports. According to the prosecution, Dr. Rodriguez was brought in from Washington to conduct a forensic recovery that BPD was unequipped to handle, but failed to write down a single thing concerning his work.

Obtaining the Crime Scene Photographs

Without any documentation of the crime scene, the only remaining way to determine how the body was positioned is through the crime scene photographs. That catch was that the defense did not have any crime scene photos; Urick had refused to ever provide copies, and instead only permitted the defense to briefly view the photographs prior to trial.

Gutierrez, to her credit, relentlessly and repeatedly sought the photographs, such as in the following letters to Urick:

Defense Letter to the State, 8/5/99

Defense Letter to the State, 8/5/99

Defense Letter to the State, 9/7/99

Defense Letter to the State, 9/7/99

Defense Letter to the State, 1/6/00

Defense Letter to the State, 1/6/00

But it didn’t work. Other than the brief two-hour viewing that Urick permitted prior to trial, and during the trial itself, the defense never had access to these photos.

However, at trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence a series of eight photographs of the burial site, which Dr. Rodriguez described in his testimony. These photographs were acquired from the court last month, and, finally, we were able to definitively confirm what we have known for months: the lividity findings combined with the burial position preclude the possibility of a 7:00pm burial.

These photos were shown to Dr. Hlavaty, who was interviewed in Episode 5 of Undisclosed. After reviewing the newly obtained images, she was able to confirm that the body was positioned on its right side. Because the photos were in color, she was also able to confirm, once and for all, the presence of lividity on the anterior surface of the torso.

In addition to the lividity findings, though, it is worth noting that these findings are also highly significant in terms of what they show about the crime scene. In particular, the body was not at all concealed to the degree that I had expected, based on the trial testimony and police reports that I have been reviewing since Serial ended. The majority of the body is above the level of the forest floor, and is concealed primarily by a pile of loose soil and dead leaves that have been thrown into a pile on top of it. Much more of the body was exposed than I had expected, as well.

My reaction to the photographs was, in fact, much the same as Mr. S’s reaction was to the crime scene. The first thing you notice is that the earth has been disturbed; it is blatant and would be hard to miss. A pile of leaves and dirt have been thrown into a pile, and the forest floor surrounding the pile is bare dirt, as if someone had scooped up all the leaves in arms’ reach to add to the pile. After looking at the dirt and leaf pile, the most striking features are the glossy black hair, and below that the white of Hae’s jacket collar, as well as the completely exposed foot sticking out from the pile of leaves. Large portions of the left knee and hip are also exposed, although the color and texture of the taupe stockings allow those portions to blend in better with the surrounding brown and tan leaves.

The Pressure Marks

The photographs also provide confirmation that Hae’s body was laid out frontally after death because of what they show concerning the pressure marks. Lividity causes discoloration in the areas of the body where the blood has settled due to the effect of gravity, but in addition to the areas of discoloration this process also leaves pressure marks that appear as white patches on the skin. Pressure causes compression of the blood vessels, which results in blood being unable to settle in those areas, and therefore no discoloration occurs, even in a location that is otherwise the lowest area of the body.

In this case, the pressure marks found on Hae’s body provide further evidence that Hae had been buried after lividity had become fixed. First, there are the marks found on Hae’s shoulders: a series of three are similar-sized pressure marks, two on the right and one on the left, at roughly the same level of the body and roughly the same shape. I have made a diagram depicting theses marks’ approximate location:

The areas marked in white are pressure marks with unambiguous and distinct borders. The areas marked in beige are also pressure marks, but their shape is less clear from photos.

The areas marked in white are pressure marks with unambiguous and distinct borders. The areas marked in beige are approximate representations of the pressure marks, but their shape is less clear from photos; the beige should be interpreted to show location and general shape, rather than exact appearance.

The pressure mark on the farthest right of Hae’s shoulders was the most distinct, with clear, straight borders, and its shape is that of a distinct double-diamond pattern:

The dimensions are very precise. Based on the ruler provided for scale, the double diamond mark is:

  • 2 1/2″ inches from top to bottom
  • 1 1/8″ across at widest
  • 5/8″ across at narrowest

The two diamonds on the right shoulder are 2″ apart from point to point, and 1″ apart from the fattest part of the diamonds.

There is also a divot in the center of the rightmost diamond. Its placement makes it appear artificial, as if it were part of the construction of the item. This is especially so when combined with how symmetrical and straight the edges are; whatever it is, I do not think it’s organic.

There is no way to determine if this pressure mark was due to contact with an object in that shape, or if, for example, the object was bar-shaped and the double-diamond pattern is simply a result of greater pressure against the clavicle and shoulder and lesser pressure in-between. The other two marks (one other on the right shoulder, closer to the neck, and a third one on the far left shoulder) do appear roughly similar in shape and size, but their shape is not as distinct as is the one on the far right, as the borders are not as defined and they are not as clearly depicted in available photographs.

Dr. Hlavaty could not identify a possible source based on the marks, but she did confirm that they were pressure points that demonstrated anterior lividity. Although others have suggested that the marks may be caused by bra straps, the pressure marks do not line up with how the bra was on the body, and do not seem to be consistent with pressure marks that would have been caused by that. Whatever their source may be, there was nothing found at the Leakin Park crime scene that could account for the existence of these marks, and the body’s position did not cause these areas to be exposed to any greater pressure than the surrounding areas were subjected to.

The second significant pressure mark is the one found on the far left anterior surface of the torso, starting at a point slightly above the navel and ending at a point slightly below it. Tracing over the pressure mark gives the following zigzag shape:

19 - Pressure Mark

This pressure mark falls at the same level as the waist of Hae’s pantyhose, which had been twisted about; the pressure mark resulted from the constriction of the pantyhose where the waist had bunched due to twisting.

The location of this mark is significant in that it confirms that, when lividity fixed, the lower left side of the body’s abdomen was flat against whatever surface the body was resting on, causing blood to pool there. If lividity had fixed while the body was in the position in which it was found, no lividity could have developed in the lower left anterior of the torso.

What the Newly Obtained Crime Scene Photographs Show

For obvious reasons, we will not make copies of the photographs available to the public, and it is my very deep hope that no one else takes it upon themselves to publish them. Hae’s family doesn’t deserve that, and there is no excuse for such an action. However, the information contained in the photographs is important for Adnan’s case, and a subject of legitimate interest. In order to provide access to this information, while not making sensitive and potentially upsetting photographs available to the public, I have created a model to show the positioning of Hae’s body at the crime scene, as well as the portions of the body that were exposed when it was discovered by Mr. S.

I have taken every effort to make the model as faithful to the photographs as possible, so that when viewed from the same angle the model’s position matches the positioning shown in the photographs. A few caveats are in order, however: (1) In order to show the visible collar, the area of the neck has been obscured; (2) the positioning of the left hand is not shown in the photographs, and could either be palm up or palm down; it is depicted here as palm down; and (3) although all of the hair is depicted in the model, only the top portion of it was actually exposed as the crime scene was initially found; the lower portions were not visible until later stages of excavation. Also note that currently displayed images have been updated slightly from their original depiction when this was first posted.Model 2

Areas of the model marked in blue show the portions of the body that were exposed to the air, and which were visible in photographs prior to any recovery work had been done: the right foot, the left knee, the left hip, a portion of the right wrist and hand, the collar of Hae’s jacket, and the back of her hair.

Orange has been used to mark two of the more prominent pressure marks that would be visible based on the positioning of the model: one on the left shoulder, and one on the left lower torso. The marks on the right shoulder would have been obscured.

Model 5Model 6Model 14Model 4Model 10Model 9Model 13 Model 12 Model 11

Not all of the body was placed below ground; some portions of the body rested on soil at the same level as all of the surrounding forest floor. However, a portion of the body — primarily the torso — rested in a recessed area. In order to depict these conditions, I have used wires to hold the clay up, although in the photographs, these limbs are supported by the soil at the edges of the recessed areas, or by the forest floor itself.

According to Detective MacGillivary, there was a “natural depression” near the log, which is what the body had been placed in.  Although Dr. Rodriguez’s triple-hearsay oral report describes the area as being “dug out,” he never makes this claim in his trial testimony, and simply describes that where she was placed was “very shallow.”

This shallow depression was longer than it was wide, and only large enough to fit parts of the torso. The right knee is resting directly on the forest floor; the exposed areas, mark in blue, show where dirt and leaves had fallen off the sides of her leg, exposing all of it to air except for the lowest inch or so, which is obscured by leaf litter. The left hip is similarly exposed, with the sides uncovered by dirt and leaves due to the effects of gravity, although debris often remained directly on top of the body part. The right foot was entirely exposed and jutted at an angle into the air. The left arm was covered in leaves and not visible; although it was the highest part of the body, the leaves and soil were piled deepest over that area. The right elbow was the lowest part of the body, but is bent sharply so that the hand reaches upwards towards the surface. There was only a single rock placed on any part of the body, and that is the rock referenced in Dr. Rodriguez’s report that was placed on top of the hand. The positioning of the right hand, which indicates that it may have been in rigor at the time of the burial, makes me suspect that the rock was placed in order to hold the hand down, as otherwise rigor would have caused it to stick up well above the forest floor. With the rock on it, only a sliver of the back of the hand, where it meets the wrist, is exposed.

Additionally, it should be noted that the body was not “against” the log as it has sometimes been described. These photos show the model’s position with reference to the log and the rock:
Crime Scene - With Log - Rear View
Crime Scene - With Log - Westward View

Based on the crime scene photographs, there is no possibility that Hae was buried in Leakin Park prior to the fixation of lividity. This puts the earliest estimates of her burial at no sooner than 8-12 hours after death, and quite possibly longer. This means that, if Hae was killed shortly after leaving school, the burial could not have taken place before approximately 10pm.