Radiologic contributions to the investigation and prosecution of cases of fatal infant abuse

N Engl J Med. 1989 Feb 23;320(8):507-11. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198902233200807.


In 1984 we started a two-year program in Worcester (Mass.) and Boston to provide additional radiologic data for the medical investigation of suspected fatal infant abuse. During that period the investigation of 12 cases of unexplained infant death included the review of complete radiographic skeletal surveys by a pediatric radiologist. Autopsies were supplemented with resection, high-detail radiography, and histologic study of all non-cranial sites of suspected osseous injury. Thirty-four bony injuries were noted, including 12 acute and 16 healing fractures of the long-bone metaphyses and posterior-rib arcs in patterns indicative of infant abuse. The investigations determined that there were eight cases of abuse, two accidental deaths, and two natural deaths (sudden infant death syndrome). At this writing, the radiologic and osseous histologic studies appear to have influenced the determination of the manner of death in six of the eight cases of abuse and the criminal prosecution in four of the five convictions. These findings suggest that a thorough postmortem radiologic evaluation followed by selected histologic studies can have an impact on the investigation and prosecution of cases of fatal infant abuse.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy
  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging*
  • Boston
  • Cause of Death*
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone / pathology
  • Homicide
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Massachusetts
  • Radiography
  • Sudden Infant Death