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The disposal of human remains; what burns, what doesn’t and at what temperatures?
When a human body is legally incinerated at a crematorium, the body is placed in a casket (usually, but not always, made from a combustible material). Now there are many factors which determine how long it takes to completely incinerate a human body - height, weight, density, fat/muscle ratio – but the average cadaver usually takes roughly two hours at 1000 celcius to be totally destroyed. That said, the body isn’t just burned, it actually goes through a period of being chemically broken-down into its component parts.
First stage; the intense heat dries the body of its liquids (as the human body comprises of 60% fluid, with some parts like the brain and lungs as much as 90%), burning the hair and skin, which contracts and chars the muscles, it vaporises the soft tissue and converts the bone into a brittle dry powdered calcium. The bodies emit very obvious smells like charred flesh, boiled fat and the methane which a decomposing body expels, but there are no smells when it is burned in a crematorium as the flames and smoke destroy any gases and each crematorium has an exhaust system to remove any noxious vapours. (A bit of kit I could certainly do with). If the body isn’t completely destroyed after two to three hours, a secondary afterburner at a higher temperature is used to complete the task.
Hair will always burn first, as it is on the surface and is dry and brittle. The lungs, brain and other internal organs (which comprise mostly of water) dry up, shrivel and burn. Where-as bone won’t burn, as even after all of its fluid is depleted, the bone still remains in-tact, although it will be dry, brittle and can crumble into a dust. Likewise, teeth (which are the only external part of our skeleton) won’t burn, but they will become brittle, and will need assistance to be completely destroyed.
To aide this, the crematorium technician will remove and crush the skeletal remains with a long hoe-like rod, removing any foreign objects like nails, screws and hinges from the casket (using a magnet and a large seize), with any obvious objects like false teeth, prosthetics, implants, jewellery and any pacemakers (because the battery inside them will cause them to explode) being removed prior to cremation. Finally, the bone fragments are placed inside a cremulator which is a large mixer with metal balls which assist in crushing the bones into a fine pasty white ash.
After cremation, an average sized adult cadaver is usually reduced to between three to seven pounds of ash (which is kind of ironic given that many of us are seven pounds in weight when we are born). After cremation, no trace of DNA exists and no (current) identification can be made.
So, if you’re a murderer, you have a body to destroy and you don’t have access to a crematorium, sadly the average home oven only reaches temperatures of 250 degrees Celsius, which will destroy the body eventually, but it will take days, if not weeks… and it’ll stink to high heaven, a bit like pork scratchings. Yummy. Therefore I’d recommend making a bonfire, as temperatures vastly exceed 1000 degree Celsius, and - as you will see in my recent episode on Emily Beilby Kaye – a simple log-fire can completely destroy a thigh or a human head within a few hours. Nice.
Of course, I hate to be serious but please remember that murder is illegal, so if you are planning to kill your fat-headed tiny-penised or saggy-vulva’d boss, please… please… remember to do it in Soho (where I run Murder Mile Walks), or somewhere in the West End (where the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast is based) and make sure their death is sad and funny. Thank you.
If you found this interesting? Check out the Mini Mile episodes of the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast, or click on the link below to listen to an episode.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards 2018", and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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