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Projectile Trauma

- distinctive wounding characteristics

- divided into handguns, rifles, and

Basics of Ammunition and Firearms
- three main aspects of these devices are size, construction, and

- size of a projectile and/or weapon barrel is measured
in terms of caliber, gauge, or number
- caliber: refers tot he diameter of a bullet and/or
barrel of a handgun or rifle
- size usually given in hundredths of an inch
- actual size sometimes is different than that
- gauge: refers to the maximum weight of a lead ball
that would fit down the barrel of a weapon
- 10 gauge shotgun--- ball weighing one tenth
of a pound
- 12 gauge --- one twelfth
- pellets: solid balls made of lead and, in some cases,
- birdshot or buckshot number
- relation between birdshot and pellet size is
- relation between pellet size and buckshot
number is not
- generally shotguns are designed to expel
one ounce of pellets

Bullet Construction
- refers to profile, internal composition, and jacketing
- there are three basic bullet profiles: sharp, blunt, and
hollow point
- sharp is commonly seen in rifle ammo
- blunt and hollow points (bullets with
indentations on their tips)are more common
in handguns
- blunt and hollow point cause larger exit
- internal composition is of two types
- most cases: the bullet is made of solid lead
- round or flat bullets that fragment upon
- jacket: thin copper (or other metal) coating on the
- can cover entire projectile (FMJ)
- or can cover part (semijacket)
- jacketed bullets tend to pass through tissue
without deforming

Projectile Velocity
- has the greatest effect on wounding power
- doubling the velocity quadruples the energy
- rifles produce higher velocity bullets than regular
- magnum powered handguns have velocities at the
low range of rifles

Basics of Bullet Travel
- spinal grooves (called rifling) cut into the internal surface of
barrels and impart a spin so the bullet will travel straighter for
a longer period of time
- poorly maintained weapons may cause a bullet to tumble,
causing non-circular wounds
- when the weapon is not oriented at a right angle to the target,
a non-circular wound may result
- when a bullet enters a target it causes a penetrating (entry)
- if it has enough energy, it will also cause an exit wound
- bullet may fragment and cause splintering in soft tissue or
cause chipping of hard tissue (bone)

Effects of Bullets on Bone
1) Wound formed in and sometimes through the bone
2) Fracture lines radiate out from, and in some case encircle,
the point of impact
3) bone can fracture so severely as to shatter into a number of
small pieces, presenting the appearance of having exploded

Wound Beveling
- hole where the bullet exits is larger (wound has a
funnel shape)
- this funneling is referred to as beveling
- can be inward, outward, or reverse
- inward beveling: seen in bone wounds at the site of
a bullets entry into the body
- hole viewed from the outside is smaller than
hole viewed from the inside (Fig. 12.2)
- outward beveling: seen in wounds at the site of a
bullets exit from the body
- in contrast, the inner hole is smaller than the
outer hole (Fig. 12.3)
- reverse beveling: beveling in opposite direction of
the entrance or exit wounds already described
- fairly typical; is usually considerably
smaller than the beveling it opposes

Wound Shape
- round and oval wounds are circular and elliptical in
outline, respectively
- keyhole wounds: circular on one end and triangular
on the other
- irregular wounds: those that do not show any
general pattern
- depends on 1) construction 2) angle of trajectory 3)
angle of axis 4) type of wound that it forms
- round wounds occur when the the angle of trajectory
and the angle of axis are perpendicular to the bones
- more likely seen in entry rather than exit
- more likely no be caused by non-deforming
jacketed projectiles
- oval shapes occur when the angle of trajectory is not
perpendicular or when the bullet is tumbling
- net effect is that the angle of impact is < 90
- more likely to occur in entry wounds
- jacketed projectiles can display oval entry
and exit wounds, any bullet construction can
display an oval entry wound
- keyhole wounds usually caused by bullets that graze
bone with little penetration
- constitute both entry and exit wounds
- fairly rounded entrance with inward
- triangular exit with out ward beveling
- irregular wounds are often displayed in exit wounds
and when bone is shattered (common with soft-
tipped bullets)

Wound Size
- most important contributors are wound type and
bullet characteristics
- exit wounds generally larger
- larger caliber = larger wounds
- soft tipped and hollow point = larger wounds
- there is a weird exception... 0.22 has on average a
larger wound than 0.25 because:
- 0.25 tends to be jacketed
- greater flattening of 0.22 b/c of smaller size
when impacting thick bones of cranial vault
- there is considerable overlap between wounds caused
by all calibers
- larger-then-caliber entrance wounds seem to
be related to bone thickness
- the thicker the bone, the more
deformation, the larger the hole
- smaller-than-caliber entrance wounds have a
variety of reasons
- young people have more flexible
- ricochet might fragment bullet
- passing through a suture or pre-
existing fracture line

Fracture Lines
- more powerful weapons cause more extensive
- radiating fracture lines: originate from the site of
impact where they move outward in any direction
(especially in entry wounds)
- follow the lines of weakness in the vault
- dissipate when they reach a foramen or
other fracture line
- upon reaching a suture line, they can stop,
or travel along the suture before continuing
their original direction
- concentric fracturing: appear as part (or all) of a
circle whose center is at the point f impact
- caused by intracranial pressure as the bullet
passes through skull and compresses soft
- occur later in the fracturing sequence
- more likely caused by more powerful
- externally beveled
- occurs from inner table to outer
table angling away from point of
- butterfly fractures: occur around the site of bullet
impact on diaphyses
- if bullet hits the center, the fracture is
- if it strikes away from the center, it may
only be unilateral
- when a bullet exits long bones, it usually causes
shattering (irregular wound shape)

Bullet Wound Analysis
- description of wound, estimations of caliber, bullet
construction, velocity, direction of fire, and sequence of

Description of Wounds
- placement size, shape, fracture lines, and other
- bone should be named and side should be indicated
- where the injury occurs should be noted
- size should be measured (especially when circular or
oval entry wounds are present)
- description of shape of the wound and any fracture
- any presence of beveling

Estimation of Caliber
- only necessary when bullet cannot be found
- entrance wound can indicate caliber
- small caliber are indicated by holes less than 0.34
inches, while large caliber is indicated by holes
greater than 0.43 inches
- remember also that holes can be larger or smaller
than the indicated caliber

Estimation of Bullet Construction
- no studies linking bone wound characteristics and
bullet construction
- blunt and hollow-point ammo is likely to cause
shattering of bone upon exit
- high powered weapons are more likely to cause

Estimation of Velocity
- low velocity --> regular handguns
- rifles and handguns using magnum ammo --> high
- high velocity cause exit wounds
- high velocity cause radiating and concentric fractures
as well as catastrophic shattering

Estimation of Direction of Fire
- round wounds... right angle
- round part of keyhole points towards placement of
weapon when firing
- careful examination of both skeleton and bullet
should be made for ricochet marks

Estimation of Sequence
- locate defects and distinguish from entry and exit
- distinguish radiating and concentric fracture lines
- follow fracture lines to origin; if origin is another
fracture line, then you know that it was formed later

Miscellaneous Estimations
- a wound located near the top of the skull would
indicate that the weapon and therefore assailant were
above the victim
- standing on an elevated area
- forcing the victim to kneel
- supine position of victim
- alignment of entry and exit wound may give clue to
- almost half of suicides by firearms present fractures
occurring in the midline
- some of these qualities depend on the circumstance

Pellet Wound Analysis
- direction of fire and range of fire
- retrieval of pellets is likely given the number expelled
- pellet indentations often result (can tell where the assailant
- the spread of pellets generally correlates with distance
Miscellaneous Projectiles
- things like tear gas containers or crossbows
- arrows either have field tips or broadheads
- field tips have results similar to low velocity, jacketed bullets
- broadheads can cause radial fracturing (depending on how
many vanes)
- extensive shattering not likely with arrows

Determining Cause and Manner of Death
- location and severity of wounds
- absence of bone trauma does not rule out death by projectile
- small wound is not likely to cause death, nor a wound to
something like the hand
- gunshot wounds to non-vital areas could
- suicide can usually be ruled out based on location (someone
wont shoot themselves in the back)
- the presence of a weapon does not always mean suicide
- multiple possibilities cannot be ruled out in these scenarios

Goals of Ballistics
- the nature of trauma may provide evidence as to:
- type of firearm (handgun, rifle, shotty, other)
- characteristics of the projectile (size and
- position of shooter relative to victim (distance,
- sequence of wounds (number, sequence)

Types of Projectiles
- any number of projectiles can cause significant bodily trauma
- although bullets are the most common, shotgun pellets,
arrows, spears, or any other number of flying objects can be
considered projectiles
- note: absence of evidence of projectile trauma on bone does
not eliminate possibility of projectile trauma to an individual

- firearms are the preferred method of killing due to their
- firearms can be grouped into three basic types:
- handguns (single projectile) GSW
- rifles (single projectile) GSW
- shotguns (Multiple projectiles) SGW

Ammunition and Firearms Basics
- there are a wide variety of sizes and powers available, each
with noticeable wounding characteristics
- there are three main aspects that determine effects on bone
- size, construction, velocity

- described as the diameter of a projectile and/or barrel of a
- measured in caliber for handguns and rifles and gauge and
number for shotguns
- caliber: diameter of bullet or barrel of handgun or rifle usually
measured in hundredths of an inch
- gauge: the maximum weight of a lead ball that would fit down
the barrel of the weapon
- a 12-gauge shotgun would allow a lead ball weighing
1/12 of a pound down its barrel. A 16-gauge shotgun,
1/16 pound
- number refers to pellet size, either birdshot or buckshot
- birdshot number and pellet size is linear
- buckshot number and pellet size is not
- shotgun ammo is designed to expel 1 ounce of pellets
independent of size

- bullet construction refers to profile, internal composition, and
- three basic bullet profiles
- sharp (rifle), blunt (handgun), hollow pt (handgun)
- two basic internal compositions
- solid lead or fragmenting
- fragmenting bullets explode on impact. Contain pellets that
scatter when bullet hits and the casing ruptures
- jacketing refers to the presence or absence of a thin copper
coating on the bullet
- a full-metal-jacket completely surrounds the bullet, while a
semijacket covers only part
- jacketing reduces deformation and fragmentation during
passage through body. Therefore, a nonjacketed bullet is most
likely to deform during passage

Bullets and Bone - Tissue Destruction
- wound severity relates directly to amount of kinetic energy
transferred from bullet to tissue - this may be less than the
total amount of kinetic energy of the bullet, unless the bullet
does not exit the body, in which case all energy is expended in

- after penetration, further internal damage is directly
proportional to square of velocity and mass of bullet
- double the mass = double the KE
- double the speed = 4x the KE
- velocity has the greatest effect on wounding power (since KE
is proportional to the square of velocity)
- devastating wounds are more indicative of higher velocities.
This provides important insight as to the type of weapon
- rifles generally produce higher velocities than regular

Bullet Travel
- rifling gives the bullet a spin which increases the accuracy of
the shot
- if deflected (contacts something prior to target), the bullet will
begin to tumble on its axis, striking the target on an angle, not
- tumbling creates an oval entry wound

Effects of Bullets on Bone
- there are four major categories used to describe the features of
bullet wound in bone
- wound beveling, shape, size, fracture lines

- when a projectile perforates osteological material, it deforms,
causing the hole in which the bullet exits to be larger than the
hole in which it enters
- three types of beveling: inward, outward, reverse
- inward beveling: occurs in bone wounds at the entry site into
the body. The outer hole on the bone surface is smaller than
the inner hole
- outward beveling: occurs at the exit site of the body. Here, the
inner hole is smaller than the outer
- reverse beveling occurs when the characteristics of inward
and outward beveling are reversed

Wound Shape
- four shapes
- round, oval, keyhole, irregular
- the shape that a bullet produces depends on four main factors
- construction, angle of trajectory, angle of axis, type
of wound (entry or exit)
- round wound: shapes most likely occur when both trajectory
angle and bullet axis are perpendicular to the bone surface
- in addition, they are more likely to be entry wounds
created by jacketed bullets
- oval wounds likely occur when the trajectory angle
deviates from the perpendicular or the bullet axis is
tumbling (indicative of deflection)
- most likely found as entry wounds made by
jacketed bullets
- keyhole wounds: are usually caused by tangential bullet path.
Fracture lines radiate in front of point of impact, bone
fragment is lifted off outer table, leaving external keyhole
pattern beveling
- most often found in cranial vault originating from
any construction of bullet
- irregular wounds encompass the remainder of wound shapes.
They are usually found as exit wounds, giving the appearance
that bone has exploded
- unjacketed, blunt, semijacketed or hollow point
bullets are more likely because of their greater
propensity to deform during passage

Wound Size
- wound type (exit or entry) and bullet characteristics (caliber,
construction, and velocity) are the main factors contributing to
wound size
- larger caliber bullets create larger wounds. However, there is a
significant overlap of possible wound size between all calibers
- entry wounds always smaller than exit wounds

Fracture Lines
- radiating fracture lines: originate from the site of impact and
move outward in any direction. They tend to be more
prominent in entrance wounds
- contact with suture may cause lines to stop or follow suture
line before continuing in original direction
- concentric fracture lines occur when bullet creates intracranial
pressure (due to cavitation), compressing the soft tissue, and
fracturing the skull at various intervals away from the wound
- as a general rule, the greater the KE, the greater the

- as bullet passes through body, it causes a series of pulsations
in tissue, leading to formation of a temporary cavity
- everything accelerates away from bullet path, blood vessels
rupture etc.
- foreign matter may be drawn into the wound because of the
vaccuum that is created

Fracture Lines Continued
- in long bones, fracture lines may be either butterfly or
- butterfly fractures occur at the site of impact on the diaphysis.
If the bullet strikes the center of the bone, fractures are
bilateral. If the bullet strikes away from the center, they are
- irregular fractures occur at the exit site, shattering the bone

- to explore a case involving analysis and inference of forensic
significance of two different types of trauma (projectile and
- to examine a case in which analysis of ballistic trajectories
was central to resolution

- skeletonized remains and rusted shotgun recovered by a
farmer along margin of field during plowing
- prior to analysis by FAs, remains identified by local
authorities as belonging to a 37 year old caucasian male, last
seen five years earlier (positive ID based on odontology)
- circumstances of the victims final days suggested suicide as a
probable MOD (had a bad business, lots of debt, etc.)
- two aspects of the skeleton and firearm were consistent with
- top of cranium was shattered
- empty shell casing remained in shotgun
- two aspects of the skeleton were not consistent with suicide
- lumbar vertebrae, ossa coxae and proximal femora
riddled with shotgun pellets
- cut marks and bone splintering suggested some sort
of sharp force trauma
- skeletal trauma consistent with COD = SGW (fractures lines
- since circumstances of victims final days also raised
possibility of homicide, and since multiple SGWs and sharp
force trauma inconsistent with suicide, remains given to Doug
Owsley (NMNH, SI) for analysis
- many of the bones were sun bleached and cracked (some had
soil staining), consistent with suicide (no known cases of
suicide victims burying themselves), but not inconsistent with
homicide (not all murder victims are buried)
- reassembly of skull revealed severe fracturing of mandible,
loss of most facial bones, and loss of a triangular wedge of
bone from the right parietal
- empty shell casing in shotgun was that of a rifled slug (note:
slug manufactured with rifling - shotgun bores are smooth)
often used in deer hunting
- damage to facial skeleton and cranialvault consistent with slug
fired from the shotgun barrel placed under chin (parietal
damage = exit)
- on radiographic examination recovered cranial fragments
revealed no bullet wipe, but such evidence might be
expected on missing facial and parietal fragments
- endocranial surface of frontal (above orbits) embedded with
plastics containing cellulose nitrate (gun cotton)(revealed by
IR), consistent with SGW from mandible upward
- one boot recovered untied, one boot recovered tied (consistent
with suicide)
- cut marks and bone splintering clearly postmortem (as
evidence by discoloration, nature of breaks) and consistent
with plow damage
- 71 pellet entry sites found in skeleton, consistent with #6
birdshot (as was also recovered from some of the holes)
- damage consistent with a single shot at moderate range (ca.
300 pellets dispersing at 1/1 [unchoked])
- pellet holes marked with straw markers revealing wildly
different trajectories
- pellet holes found in acetabulum wihtout corresponding holes
in femoral head and vice-versa
- radiating fractures around some pellet holes intersected
weathering cracks
- overall evidence indicative of SGW after long PMI (2-3 years)
- skeletal evidence consistent with death by suicide (single
SGW to head), subsequent decomposition and disarticulation
of remains over a period of several years, followed by bird
shot insult, then plow insult around time of discovery

Take Home Messages:
- consideration of ballistic trajectories and radiating fracture
lines revealed that SGWs to hip were postmortem, thus
allowing for a reconstruction of the sequence of shot gun
damage to the body
- sharp force trauma was easily recognizable as postmortem
- careful consideration of the evidence allowed for a reasonable
determination of MOD