Int J Legal Med. 2022 Jun 11. doi: 10.1007/s00414-022-02837-7. Online ahead of print.
Temperature-based methods are widely accepted as the gold standard for death time estimation. In the absence of any other information, the nomogram method generally assumes that a person died with a core body temperature of approximately 37.2 °C. Nevertheless, several external and internal factors may alter the body temperature during agony. A retrospective medical record analysis was carried out on in-hospital death cases from two consecutive years of surgical intensive care units to determine the effects of factors influencing the core body temperature at the point of death. Data from 103 case files were included in the statistical data evaluation. The body temperature fluctuated between and within individuals over time. No clear correlation to certain death groups was observed. Even primary cardiac deaths showed broad intervals of temperatures at the point of death. Men seem to die with higher body temperatures than women. The presented data highlight potential biases for death time estimations when generally assuming a core body temperature of 37.2 °C. In conclusion, the estimation of the time of death should include various methods, including a non-temperature-dependent method. Any uncertainties regarding the body temperature at point of death need to be resolved (e.g. by identifying fever constellations) and elucidated if elimination is not possible.