Tuesday, March 1, 2011

RESEARCH: The Mortis Family: Livor, Algor, and Rigor

Well, this is the real meat of the research I've been doing into crime scene research as my fantasy novels aren't set in a world advanced enough for Medical Examiners. It is advanced enough to have microbes devouring corpses and since murder, wars, famines, plagues, and other really messy stuff are common enough in fantasy worlds, it's certainly worth taking a look at what happens to bodies after we die. Forgive me because I'm ill and tired so I'm going to write this using metaphors and silliness. I lack the brain power for seriousness.

Firstly, the Mortis Family. Livor Mortis is the eldest son, steadfast and noticeable but nobody really talks about him all that much because they're focused on the youngest child, Rigor Mortis, and like to throw his name around. Livor Mortis involves the blood collecting in the lower parts of the body. After about 6 - 8 hours (again dependent on variables such as ambient temperature), it is fixed in place and if the body is moved the Algor Mortis will still be visible in the original spots.

Algor Mortis is the middle son, easily noticed but he rarely gets any attention. He represents the cooling of the body (about 1.5 degrees per hour until reaching ambient temperature in an adult body) and he allows the dramatic moment when the protagonist discovers someone seemingly asleep in a chair and grasps their cold hand. Of course, extremities cool before the core of the body, it depends on how hot / cold the surrounding area is, and the size of the body so you have a bit of leeway as an author with Algor Mortis.

Rigor Mortis is the youngest son and the one everyone pays attention to and he's the gradual stiffening of the muscles that is first noticed in the small muscles of the face and then spreads out to the larger muscles. Generally, after 12 hours the muscles are so rigid the joints won't bend. When Rigor Mortis goes away, it starts disappearing from the bottom of the body and starts moving upwards. After about 36 hours, the body is flexible once more. Rigor Mortis works quicker in the heat and in smaller bodies.

And there's a brief summary of the Mortis family. Hope you enjoyed it!


  1. Very informative, if a bit disturbing. I took a lot of forensics classes in college, so brushing up on things like lividity markers is always fun. I love finding out what other writers happen to be researching. The treasure trove of factoids we hold is amazing.

  2. Tell me about it. It also helps me to blog about it so I can always re-trace my steps and find the information again. The beautiful thing about the internet ... it remembers. Unlike my portable hard drive which crashed. :(

  3. Oh my gosh! I hope you had it backed up. I would hate to lose all my work, so I do both a backup, external hardrive and online cloud storage. The idea of all my writing going *poof* scares the crap out of me.

  4. It turns out I had back up in the archives of Critique Circle's private queues so ... yay!

  5. As an avid attendee of Renaissance Faires, I stumbled upon this article while looking up an act in the New England area that is called The Mortis Family.
    Its a group of 4 people who put on an improv comedy act and each of the characters are pun names of the stages of death. The only one I remember offhand is "Riktor Mortis".
    Anyway, just thought I'd share. They are online at www.facebook.com/themortisfamily