- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mel Bishop’s expertise isn’t for the squeamish.

The longtime Charlottesville police officer has been studying entomology since 2001 and is pursuing a master’s degree in forensic entomology — the science of determining the time of death based on beetles and other insects inside inhabitable decomposing bodies.

Officer Bishop does consulting work and testifies in court cases nationwide. He soon will testify in a murder trial in which suspects confessed to killing a woman at a certain time — about the same time that Officer Bishop’s research suggests the victim died.

“It’s nice to get that type of feedback,” he said. “I always find it fascinating if we can testify in court and put the bad guy away.”

Officer Bishop, 55, rarely travels to crime scenes and mostly relies on photos and samples of maggots collected by investigators.

Entomologists bring a different knowledge set to crime investigations. For instance, Officer Bishop knows that many types of flies are attracted to death, with some sensing it from four miles away.

Entomologists also can determine how long a person has been dead by examining which kind of fly laid eggs. Some stages of decomposition attract certain types of flies, but repel others, Officer Bishop said.

“The body’s like a smorgasbord; it’s a food bar,” he explained. “The beetles come in to eat the maggots. The flies come in to lay their eggs and get a good protein meal.”

An entomologist also must consider how long it took the flies to get to a body. One that has been in a car trunk for three days, then dumped in the woods, usually would attract flies only after it was discarded outside.

Officer Bishop has been a forensic technician for the city police since 1995.

He started studying entomology under Dr. Jason Byrd, a forensic entomologist and director of operations for the Office of the Medical Examiner in Daytona Beach, Fla. In November 2003, Officer Bishop left the city police and moved to Daytona Beach to work for Dr. Byrd.

Officer Bishop investigated death scenes there for six months, then returned to Charlottesville for family reasons. He rejoined the city police as a nighttime patrol officer.

Officer Bishop is writing his thesis on the nocturnal behavior of blowflies under artificial lighting conditions for his master’s degree from the University of Nebraska’s Department of Entomology.

He hopes to earn his doctorate in forensic entomology and spend his retirement researching and consulting with Mr. Byrd in Florida.

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