A Forensic Pathologist Talks To CrimeFeed About Natalie Bollinger's Autopsy Report

March 07, 2018
By: Catherine Townsend

Natalie Bollinger

Photo by: Ted Bollinger / GoFundMe

Ted Bollinger / GoFundMe

Natalie Bollinger

A forensic pathologist has weighed in on some of the more confusing aspects of murdered teen Natalie Bollinger's autopsy report.

The 19-year-old's body was found on December 29, 2017, on land belonging to the McIntosh Dairy Farm in unincorporated Adams County, Colorado, the day after she was reported missing.

Excerpt from Natalie Bollinger’s autopsy report [screenshot]

Excerpt from Natalie Bollinger’s autopsy report [screenshot]

The autopsy was performed on January 2, 2018, by the Office of the Coroner for Adams & Broomfield Counties. According to the autopsy report obtained by CrimeFeed, Bollinger was pronounced dead at 1:58 P.M. on December 29.

Joseph Michael Lopez, a 22-year-old Domino's Pizza employee, was arrested and charged with her murder — but many of the events that took place in the 23 hours between the time that Bollinger was reported missing and the time her body was found remain a mystery. Lopez has claimed that Bollinger had placed an ad on CraigsList seeking a hitman to kill her. He stated that she "wanted to get on her knees and be executed from behind because she did not want to see the gun."

Joseph Michael Lopez

Photo by: Adams County Sheriff’s Department

Adams County Sheriff’s Department

Joseph Michael Lopez

Where did she die, and when? Was she shot on the property belonging to the dairy farm, or could the body have been moved?

According to the report, Bollinger died of a gunshot wound to the head, but also had a "potentially lethal" amount of heroin in her system at the time of death.

"The 'potentially lethal' amount of heroin is not the cause of death, because she was shot in the head. She'd be equally dead from the gunshot to the head in the absence of heroin. An experienced heroin user may be able to tolerate a 'potentially lethal' level," Dr. Judy Melinek, a board-certified forensic pathologist unaffiliated with the case, told CrimeFeed.

Dr. Melinek, who has written a blog post that is a helpful primer for journalists, helped CrimeFeed interpret the results.

CrimeFeed: Since there was no time of death listed, is there any way of determining time of death from the autopsy report?

Melinek: Time of death is never listed in a report. By convention, the time of death given is always when the body is declared dead, and many death certificates have a write-in section that says "date/time found." The reason this isn't done is because time-of-death estimation in cases where the death isn't witnessed are fraught with error.

Body temperature, lividity, and rigidity can give you only a "ballpark" estimate that is plus or minus several hours and may be influenced by ambient temperature. Without data on when she was last seen alive, when she was found dead, the location and temperature, and what the scene conditions were, you would create many problems for law enforcement and compromise an eventual prosecution if you gave such inexact estimations for time of death.

Working Stiff cover art

Photo by: Amazon


Working Stiff cover art

The report stated that "rigor mortis was mild in all extremities." Is there a way to tell if it was because full rigor mortis had not set in yet, or if the body had already progressed through rigor mortis and was beginning to relax again? She was reported missing approximately 23 hours before the body was found.

Taken in the context of the fact that she was reported missing 23 hours before, that the rigor is mild and the livor is fixed, then the rigor is probably passing, meaning that she may have died closer to the time that she was last seen alive and reported missing (assuming these were close in time to each other).

That said, I don't know if there was a delay in recognizing that she was missing, when her body was actually found, whether the autopsy was done right away or a few days after that, and whether her body was refrigerated right away. Those factors could throw things off considerably.

What would the fixed purple lividity in the posterior thighs, lateral right thigh, lower legs, and feet indicate in your experience?

Livor gets "fixed" usually after 48 hours in regular room temperature (60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit). It can get "fixed" a lot faster in a warm environment. It will get fixed based on the position she was in when she died if she wasn't moved. If she was moved from her initial resting position in under 48 hours and dumped somewhere else, the livor might redistribute and match the new location and body position.

In your professional opinion, would this indicate anything about the position that she was found in — could she have been kneeling?

Without the scene and autopsy photos, I cannot comment on the interpretation of the lividity pattern.

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