After deputies found a young woman dead in her van with a trash bag over her head, the Jackson County, Mo., Medical Examiner's Office called the death a suicide. Ten days later, a man confessed to killing her, says the Kansas City Star. After bicyclists spotted a woman's half-naked, bleach-covered body along a road with a red mark across her neck, the medical examiner's office ruled the death an overdose. Sixteen months later, a budding serial killer confessed to strangling her with his hands and a belt.
Medical examiner officials continue to defend both death rulings as accurate — even though prosecutors and police consider both deaths to be murders. The cases illustrate deeper problems with protocols in the medical examiner's office, the Star found during a four-month investigation that included reviewing hundreds of pages of case files, analyzing autopsy statistics from more than a dozen jurisdictions and interviewing experts across the nation. The newspaper concluded that Jackson County's protocols create a system more likely to make mistakes, experts said. And the practices can leave killers on the street and allow evidence to be lost. Every medical examiner and coroner's office makes mistakes, experts say, but it's hard to know how many because most errors are buried along with the victims.