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South African Dental Journal

versão On-line ISSN 0375-1562
versão impressa ISSN 0011-8516

S. Afr. dent. j. vol.74 no.9 Johannesburg Out. 2019 



Forensic dental identification of a burnt murder victim



VM Phillips

BDS, MChD, Dip Max-Facial Radiology, FC Path SA (Oral Path), PhD, DSc., Emeritus Professor, Department Oral and Maxillo-Facial Pathology and Forensic Science. Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Western Cape, South Africa. ORCID Number: 0000-0003-1432-6274





I was requested by the Victim Identification Centre in Cape Town and Dr MW of the Forensic Pathology Services to examine the burnt remains of a murdered victim who was found in the boot of a motor vehicle that had been torched.

The deceased was an adult male and had severely burnt facial features making visual recognition impossible. The police suspected that the victim was the owner of the vehicle. The examination of the victim took place at the Salt River Forensic Pathology Services Laboratory.

An oral autopsy was performed to gain access to the jaws and teeth and to facilitate dental radio-graphic images of all the teeth in the upper and lower jaws (Figure 1). These radiographs together with the macroscopic examination of the teeth were used to compile a Post Mortem Dental Record (Figure 2).



During the oral examination, fractures of the left maxilla and zygoma were noted as well as the left mandibular condyle and ramus that were due to perimortem trauma.

Ante mortem dental data consisting of two dental radiographs were sent by e-mail by the father of DW and consisted of a periapical and bitewing images of the right posterior teeth (Figure 3).



These radiographs were used to compile an Ante Mortem Dental Record for a patient DW (Figure 4). No written data was obtained for this patient.



Dental comparison

The post mortem and ante mortem dental data were compared in a Comparison Chart with highlights of the concordant features (Yelow).




The dental identification process requires 12 concordant features to make a positive identification of an individual. However, it has been shown that the radiographic images of dental restorations may be sufficient to facilitate identification and require less characteristics.

The ante mortem dental data revealed Ave significant concordant features i.e. the dental restorations and absent 47 tooth. This did not result in 100% identification, but there was a high degree of probability that the burnt victim was Mr DW. Subsequent DNA analysis confirmed the identification.

This case once more shows the essential role that forensic dentistry has in the identification of human remains. Despite the paucity of concordant features between the ante mortem and post mortem dental records the dental characteristics were sufficient to provide a possible identification.

The radiographic images were essential in providing comparable features and stresses the major role well documented dental records are in the forensic identification process.


No conflict of interest declared.



1. Phillips VM. Identification by means of the teeth. Journal of the South African Dental Association 2001; 56 Feb. 79-80.         [ Links ]

2. Phillips VM. Death at Wolfgat Nature Reserve. Journal of the South African Dental Association 2004; 59 April. 112 & 118.         [ Links ]

3. Phillips, VM. The identification of a "necklace" murder victim The Journal of Forensic Odonto-Stomatology 1988. 6, 55-66.         [ Links ]

4. Phillips, VM. The uniqueness of amalgam fillings in identification.         [ Links ]

5. The Journal of Forensic Odonto-Stomatology 1983. 1, 33-38.         [ Links ]

6. De Villiers,CJ & Phillips VM. Person identification by means of a single unique dental feature. The Journal of Forensic Odonto-Stomatology 1998, 16.1. 7-21.         [ Links ]

7. Phillips VM & Stuhlinger ME. The discrimination potential of amalgam restorations for identification: Part 1. J Forensic Odonto-Stomatology. 2009.27.1: 17-22.         [ Links ]

8. Phillips VM & Stuhlinger ME. The discrimination potential of amalgam restorations for identification: Part 2. J Forensic Odonto-Stomatology. 2009.27.1. 23-26.         [ Links ]

9. Zondagh H & Phillips VM. The discrimination potential of radio-opaque composite restorations for identification: Part 3. J Forensic Odonto-Stomatology. 2009.27.1. 27-32.         [ Links ]



Vincent M Phillips
Department Oral and Maxillo-Facial Pathology and Forensic Science
Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Western Cape

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