The torso in the Thames case In September 2001, the headless, limbless torso of a 4 6 – year – old

The torso in the Thames case In September 2001, the headless, limbless torso of a 4 6 – year – old boy was recovered from the banks of the River Thames, sparking one of the most detailed forensic investigations in recent years and one in which plant evidence has proved of crucial importance in guiding the investigation. In the absence of any identifying features, detectives christened the boy Adam which helped those working on the case and kept the victim s international media profi le high. A combination of stable isotope analysis and DNA studies indicated that the boy probably

The torso in the Thames case In September 2001, the headless, limbless torso of a 4 6 – year – old boy was recovered from the banks of the River Thames, sparking one of the most detailed forensic investigations in recent years and one in which plant evidence has proved of crucial importance in guiding the investigation. In the absence of any identifying features, detectives christened the boy Adam which helped those working on the case and kept the victim s international media profi le high. A combination of stable isotope analysis and DNA studies indicated that the boy probably originated from a region of Nigeria. The next fact to be determined was whether the boy was dead before he reached the UK and if not, how long he remained alive once he got here. The child s stomach and upper intestines were empty, indicating that he had not eaten for some days before he was killed. However, it was possible to extract pollen grains from his lower intestine and these included those of plants typical of the UK and North West Europe, such as Alder, suggesting that he had been alive in the UK and therefore breathing the pollen in before he was killed. Similar pollen could not be extracted from supermarket foods indicating that the pollen was breathed in rather than consumed in the food. It takes about 72 hours for food to pass completely through the gut, so the presence of food (and pollen) in the lower intestine suggested that the boy had been alive here for about 48 72 hours. Also present in the lower intestine were fragments of the outer seed layers of the Calabar Bean ( Physostigma venenosum). The beans of this plant are extremely toxic as they contain physostigmine (eserine) that is a potent inhibitor of cholinergic nervous transmission; a single ripe bean is capable of killing a man. It is thought that the bean(s) may have been administered to the boy to sedate him before he was killed. Calabar beans used to be employed in West African rituals in which a person suspected of a crime was forced to eat the bean: if the person died he was considered guilty, if he vomited the bean he was innocent. The case has not yet been solved and one line of investigation is the possibility that Adam was the victim of a muti killing in which humans are sacrificed to propitiate spirits and to bring good luck.

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