Psychological Autopsy in the Investigation of Serial Neonaticides


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Steve Burton, M.Sc.
Behavioral Science Unit
Calgary Police Service
5050 40th Street N.E.
Calgary, AB T3J 4P8


Abstract:  While the use of psychological autopsies has at least a 50-year history in the investigation of equivocal deaths and suicides, we report a case where, after the discovery of a woman who died of natural causes, a subsequent search of her home found three deceased newborn infants. The infants were born on three separate occasions; the most recent was delivered approximately 2 weeks before the death of the mother. Using her own diaries and interviews with family and friends along with the physical autopsy and scene investigation data, we built a psychological autopsy that addressed the mother’s mental state over the period of time when the infants’ deaths took place. While the use of the psychological autopsy was not employed to distinguish the manner of death of the mother, it did provide explanatory power over circumstances of the crime scene and the behavioral disturbance of the mother.