Principles of Death Investigation


Principles of Death Investigation is an introductory course designed to discuss the fundamentals of death investigation. The course is written using the NIJ guidelines, 'Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator'. In addition, information has been included from death investigation texts, handbooks, and other resources. The content primarily focuses on scene procedures, collection of information, and the various causes, mechanisms, and manners of death. The course is especially written for medicolegal death investigators, crime scene investigators, and law enforcement personnel.

Cost: $150.00. This course takes 20 hours to complete, on average.


Upon completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Identify death scene personnel and their responsibilities
  • Define documentation, photography, and the concept of, “chain of custody” as they relate to death investigation
  • Explain information that should be collected and documented concerning the decedent
  • Identify the fundamentals of body evaluation and examination
  • Demonstrate knowledge of scene responsibilities
  • Define natural and trauma related deaths
  • Identify scene exit procedures
  • Explain the death investigator’s role in the autopsy

Course Structure and Schedule

This is a non-credit course offering 3.46 ILUs. (What is ILU?) Average completion time for the course is 20 hours. The course cost is $150.00 per registration. A certificate of completion will be issued to students successfully meeting course requirements.

Table of Contents

Unit 1: Death Investigation: An Introduction

Unit 2: Arrival at the Scene

Unit 3: Entering the Death Scene

Unit 4: Obtaining a Profile of the Decedent

Unit 5: Body Evaluation and Examination

Unit 6: Classification and Time of Death

Unit 7: Natural Disease and Death

Unit 8: Trauma: I

Unit 9: Trauma: II

Unit 10:  Pediatric and Child Death

Unit 11:  Alcohol and Drug Related Deaths

Unit 12: Completing the Scene Investigation

Unit 13: Autopsy – The Role of the DI


Registrations must be approved by the instructor. Please fill out and submit the Instructor Approval Form, you will be notified when you are approved for registration. Registration without pre-approval may not be accepted. Forensic professionals may be required to provide a brief justification of how the course relates to their daily work.

A printable version of the course content is available in PDF format in the course library for future reference. Course readings are also available in PDF format.

Frequently Asked Questions

I had 7 points awarded on an 8 question quiz. Did I pass?

Answer: All quizzes in this course have a total ten point value. If there are 8 questions, it simply means there are questions with a value higher than one point. Seven points out of eight questions would equate to 7 out of 10 points. This does not meet the 80% minimum.


Computer Requirements

  • Mozilla Firefox (recommended) or Internet Explorer
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • QuickTime
  • Macromedia Flash Player
  • Java

(Free software plug-ins are available in the Getting Started area of the course.)

Basic computer skills required (i.e. turning on your computer, navigating to websites, etc.). The course is user-friendly but support is available if needed.

All Students: Using Internet Explorer (IE) 10? Read info on eCampus Main Page

Instructor Information

Kelly Ayers is an instructional coordinator with Forensic & Investigative Science Outreach. Prior to coming to WVU, Kelly was employed as a forensic services technician with the Asheville, NC Police Department. While there, she was qualified as an expert in forensic identification in North Carolina Superior Court and was published in the Journal of Forensic Identification. She has an undergraduate degree with a double major in Philosophy and Biology from Frostburg (Maryland) State University and was the first graduate of the West Virginia University Forensic Identification Program. Since joining FSI, Kelly has become an IAI Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst and received her Master of Science in Forensic Science Administration from Oklahoma State University. She is responsible for instructing several continuing education courses, courses in the Forensic & Investigative Science Minor, and crime scene related on site courses. Contact:  304-293-0323

Robin Bowen is the Assistant Director for the Forensic Science Initiative, a program that develops scientific resources, outreach opportunities, and professional training for forensic scientists and related professionals. Her primary responsibilities include coordination of continuing education programs, management of grant funded projects, and correspondence of progress to the National Institute of Justice. Bowen is the author of Ethics and the Practice of Forensic Science. She is a former advisory member of the Outreach and Communication Interagency Working Group (IWG) under the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee (NSTC) on Forensic Science. She is also on the Editorial Advisory Board for the revised edition of Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. Bowen is the primary developer of the Forensic Educational Alliance, an initiative to offer a variety of forensic science continuing education courses online. She has an undergraduate degree in Forensic and Investigative Sciences and a graduate degree in Secondary Science Education. Robin is the online course instructor for Ethics in Forensic Science, Fibers and Textiles for Forensic Science, and Transition to Leadership. Contact:, 304-293-6214

Registration Information 

Click on the "Register Now" button at the top to register online through our secure server. You will be receiving email with your online course access information within five working days. Please check your spam or junk folder in case the confirmation email was misplaced there. Call 1-800-253-2762, or email if you have any questions. Major credit cards are accepted.

Check our FAQ page for refund policy and class access information.

Group Discount

We offer discounts for groups over 10. All individuals in the group need to register for the same course to take advantage of the discount. Discount rates vary by group size as follows:

  • 10-20 people 10% off
  • 21-30 people 15% off
  • 31-40 people 20% off
  • Above 40, contact for special pricing

Interested in a group discount?  Please contact the Continuing & Professional Education office at (304) 293-7570 or email us at for a coupon code.

Check our FAQ and Refund Policy for refund and class access information.


Robert Hebert

“By way of introduction, I am Robert Hebert, a 16-year veteran with the Port of Lake Charles (La.) Harbor Police Department; I also served some years as a Navy Master-at-Arms.

It's delightful and encouraging to find WVU Professional Development courses in time when budget restrictions are so tough on departments' training. The courses are simple to follow and accessible at the most convenient times. They are in-depth and focus on the particulars that a lab specialist, crime scene evidence collection specialist, investigator or first response officer need to know.

I've completed Forensic Questioned Documents and Bloodstain Pattern Analysis; I'm currently enrolled in Death Investigation and Shooting reconstruction.

All of these things, a first responder officer needs to know. In a larger department, this information would help the first responder prepare the scene for chief investigators, and make those officers (first responders) more valuable in the event they might be needed to help collect evidence (as would be the case with fragile evidence). In a small department, often the first responder is the chief investigator. So, that in itself says it all: we never know when we might be thrust into a position whereby we must collect the evidence, and all the particular follow-ups.

I'm so appreciative of WVU's contribution to the law enforcement and forensics community. The information is invaluable and most timely. I've encouraged my fellow officers to explore these great courses. Keep up the great work!

Michael Kouris

"All the classes that I have enrolled in have been great. The courses have so much information. I am very confident that any situation I come in contact with will aid me.

I want to thank all the teachers and staff of West Virginia University for the service they provide to law enforcment and other public service employees.

Great Courses."

Kenneth RatcliffI did enjoy both classes that I signed up for - Perspectives in Expert Testimony and Principles of Death Investigation. Upon completion of the courses I emailed both Kelly Ayers and Samantha Neal to thank them for their enthusiasm, insight, and comprehensive coverage of the subject matter. In most areas of Law Enforcement a person with my years of service (30 years) is considered a "dinosaur or relic" and past the point of being interested or teachable in most if not all matters concerning the various aspects of Law Enforcement. While this belief has certainly been true with me as of late, I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to both Kelly Ayers and Samantha Neal as well as to WVU for providing courses related to my current assignment and for re-kindling my interest. I found both courses informative and challenging, and I believe that I took away valuable information that will be of use to me as I continue on the path that I started on three decades ago. While participating in both courses I realized that for the first time in 2-4 years that I will miss my job when I'm forced to retire in a little over 15 months. I again want to thank all involved for reaffirming that the career choice I made so many years ago, was the right one.