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The Coroner

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"Unlike the living, when the dead speak, they do not lie."

As coroner, I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her
And she's not only merely dead,
She's really most sincerely dead!
The Munchkin Coroner, The Wizard of Oz

A staple of the Police Procedural. Also known as the Medical Examiner or ME, he or she tells the detectives how the victim died and hands them any interesting trace evidence. Typically, this professional is the detectives' first stop depicted after examining the crime scene such as in Law & Order.

The coroner is typically depicted in crime shows as a middle-aged, dryly sardonic male whose daily handling of corpses has left him thoroughly desensitized to even the most horrible of deaths. This is usually played for comic effect, such as having the coroner eat a sandwich while working, or reacting calmly to a murder so gruesome it even freaks out the heroes. Many have a tendency to speak to the deceased, either in jokes or sympathy over a particularly violent death. This tends to be Truth in Television. May or may not be involved in dismissing violent murders as suicides or accidents; the role can also be filled by another member of law enforcement.


Note that in Real Life the position of coroner may or may not be held by a medical doctor. In some jurisdictions both positions are held by the same person, but in others the coroner is a lawyer or paralegal who handles the paperwork, conducts inquiries, etc., while the medical examiner is a forensic pathologist who conducts the autopsies. In some areas the coroner is an elected official like The Sheriff (indeed, in the United States this is very common), and a few US counties even combine the two offices. In some areas, too, there aren't enough suspicious deaths to justify the cost of a full-time forensic pathologist; in these areas, a local surgeon or GP usually handles less suspicious cases while obvious murders are farmed out to freelance forensic pathologists. Also, in Real Life most deaths reported to the coroner or medical examiner aren't investigated, since most deaths that have to be reported aren't suspicious deaths.


Interestingly, most forensic pathology residents these days are women; in twenty years, it's estimated that almost all medical examiners will be female.

Compare to the Creepy Mortician and the Undertaker character in Westerns.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Runessa Magnus from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, a teenager and Teana's temporary partner for the Mariage case in StrikerS Sound Stage X. Handles autopsies and verification, she usually works behind the scenes.
  • Dr. Harashaw of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence Notable for being a cybernetic pathologist - she's called in by Section 9 to look at "dead" cyber-bodies and determine how they, er, terminally malfunctioned.
  • The rather depressed Dr. Knox of Fullmetal Alchemist averts the usual attitude of this trope. A former surgeon, he was forced to perform horrific medical experiments on Ishbalans during the war and chose to become a coroner after the war out of shame. Though he would never admit it, he is grateful that he gets to save Lan Fan and May Chang.
  • Though not officially a Coroner, Sakurako of Beautiful Bones: Sakurako's Investigation effectively serves this role. In the first episode, she is able to determine that a couple found dead on the beach were, in fact, murder victims and not a double suicide as the police had initially suspected. In another episode, she comforts a young woman by pointing out that her grandmother's death was an unfortunate accident, and not a suicide (Sakurako was the one to discover the skeleton). And in another episode, she quickly determines that a man's "accident" was actually a suicide attempt.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Starlight Over Detrot, due to the general lack of homicides within Equestria - as well as the fact that it's quite a distasteful task - the job of forensic pathologist is very difficult to fill. In fact, Detrot only has one coroner (plus or minus an oversized hamster): Slip Stitch, a pony who starts out on the strange side, then jumps right off that slippery slope. Add to that the fact that he occupies the Detrot Morgue and Ice Cream Parlor, and, well...
    Hardy: Have you been into the embalming fluid again?
    Slip Stitch: Oh! Yes, I have. Goes down smooth, gives a heady rush.
  • In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, the Bosnian Edith Saric fills this role... though she gets in trouble early on for trying to break out of it by going intrepid.
  • Troll Cops has Dr. Kanaya Maryam, Medical Examiner for the Alternia City Police Department, who also serves as The Mole in the APD for S.E.E.R.
  • In the Central Shadow Realm universe, the coroners for the Central Shadow Realm Police Department are Injection Fairy Lilies. They're known for two things: sarcasm and chain-smoking.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film Men in Black, Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino).
  • Taken to ridiculous extremes in the German comedy movie The Vexxer by the grossly incompetent medical examiner, Dr. Bedpan, who is having a children's birthday party in his morgue.
    Dr. Bedpan: We've got painters in the flat. It's my son's eighth birthday, so we've moved the party here.
    Inspector Even Longer: Why here? Where's your wife, then?
    Dr. Bedpan: Over there, slab 207.
  • In Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Van Helsing, played by Mel Brooks, manages to make interns faint out of pure disgust as he works on a body... and keeps SCORE of the interns that fainted!!!
  • The Wizard of Oz: "As coroner, I must aver, I've thoroughly examined her...and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead!"
  • In the spoof movie Loaded Weapon 1, Dr. Joyce Brothers is the coroner investigating York's killing. In an amusing twist, she's portrayed as surly and insensitive:
    Coroner: All right. This loser has taken the chicken shit way out and punched her own ticket.
  • In V for Vendetta, Dr. Delia Surridge informs the police that V's victims were killed with commonly available poisons which are therefore untraceable. It turns out that she worked at Lark Hill an Evil Scientist, experimenting on the prisoners. She is killed painlessly by V in her sleep for her later remorse.
  • Jim from Mystery Road may look and act like a quirky Frontier Doctor, but he is sharp as a tack and nothing escapes his forensic examination.
  • Whittington (Gregory Hines) fulfills this role in Wolfen, as well as being half of Those Two Guys with his friend Ferguson (Tom Noonan). Together, they're the ones who figure out that the attacks are being carried out by wolves.

  • Subverted in the book The Westing Game. The dead man isn't really dead—in fact, the "corpse" is a wax dummy—and the coroner is in on the whole thing.
  • Dr. Kay Scarpetta, of the series by Patricia Cornwell. Before the series degenerated into total Writer on Board, she served as the Chief M.E. of Virginia, and had the MD/JD to back it up.
  • The coroner, Doctor Hugel, in Jed Rubenfield´s Interpretation of Murder, has been given the nickname 'The Ghoul' for the eagerness with which he performs his post mortems. He also gets this line:
    "Altogether a fine female chest. The heart and lungs - the perfect example of healthy asphyxiated tissue. Why - it was a pleasure to hold them in one´s hands!"
  • Dr. Ito in the Sano Ichiro series, a position that is especially tricky in Edo-period Japan as performing autopsies violates Shinto practices of the time. In addition, he uses forbidden Western medicine knowledge and techniques to do them, an issue which has already gotten him "exiled" to Edo Jail.
  • Dr Waldo Butters from the Dresden Files series is a medical examiner (mostly on the night shift because of an incident when he filed a bunch of vampire corpses as "humanoid, but not human"). He gives Harry (and sometimes Murphy) information on suspicious or just plain weird cases that end up in the morgue. He can do surgery if he wants when Harry can't go to the hospital because of those pesky mandatory reporter laws and the fact that he's a Walking Tech Bane thanks to his magic, though unlike some examples of this trope, he hates operating on living people. He has a thing for polka, and as of Skin Game, is a Knight of the Cross.
  • In Athyra, the village physician Master Wag teaches young Savn how to examine a dead body to determine how it got that way.
  • Acatl, High Priest of the Dead in the Obsidian & Blood Trilogy. As High Priest of the Dead, part of his job is to examine the bodies of people dead under unusual circumstances for probable cause, then help figure out who did it. Granted, he does the figuring out using Blood Magic, but still.
  • Polina, the young pathologist from Martin Cruz Smith's Red Square. She is hardworking and honest, which is a rarity in the Moscow militia (police forces), and jaded and cynical far beyond her years, which is not. As the novel is set in the last few months of the Soviet Union, the militia have to make do with dwindling resources. Case in point, she arrives at a theory that the victim of the book was killed by an incendiary device of copper sulfate and red sodium separated by a permeable barrier like paper or cheesecloth; when the sodium soaks through and comes in contact with the copper sulfate the device ignites. So to test her theory, she invites the lead investigator to come with her to the car junkyard, where her test equipment consists of a stopwatch, a paintboard and brush, various membranes to be tested, and a bucket each of red sodium and copper sulfate. (When the investigator points out, rather gingerly, that they have militia technicians with body armor, bunkers, and very long brushes for this, she answers that she's quicker and better—and she is.)
  • The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds: Liza from Skin Deep. In her late fifties, she works as the city coroner, although she prefers to be called "medical examiner". According to Stephen Leeds she spends most of the time playing internet games and prefers the dead to the living - but then again, he might be a little biased.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Quincy, eponymous main character of Quincy, M.E., is an example where the coroner is the star of the show. Every week a dead body and a mystery that the cops alone cannot solve.
  • Al Robbins (played by Robert David Hall) on the original (Las Vegas) CSI. Also David 'Superdave' Philips, assistant coroner (played by former real life coroner David Berman)
    • Doc Robbins one complained about a predecessor whom he described as eating chili dogs over the corpses he examined.
  • Alexx Woods (played by Khandi Alexander) on CSI: Miami, although she was eventually Put on a Bus.
    • Later replaced by Tara Price, who was later replaced by the fairly goofy Tom Loman after getting busted for drug addiction.
      • Shannon Higgins, who actually replaced Alexx...only to take one right between the eyes shortly after her debut. Ouch. Tara wound up replacing her shortly thereafter.
  • Dr. Sheldon Hawkes in the first season of CSI: NY, replaced in season 2 by Dr. Sid Hammerback when Hawkes decides to become a CSI himself. Hammerback has cool glasses. There's also been Dr. Evan Zao (who disappeared with no trace), Dr. Peyton Driscoll (who got Put on a Bus) and Dr. Marty Pino (who showed up twice in season 2 before showing up again in season 5, having been fired from the coroner's office, become a gambling addict, and making the money for his gambling debts by make drugs out of dead drug users and selling it. He also happens to get his wife killed in that episode and ends up in jail by the end of it.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street had several. Most memorable were the stereotypical crusty sardonic old man Dr. Lausanne, and the very unstereotypical Dr. Julianna Cox.
  • Most of the cast on Crossing Jordan.
  • In an episode of Night Court, a storm causes the cast to take refuge in the morgue; the elderly coroner there is so used to his job that he can eat his lunch while doing an autopsy. (Sure, that would be a pretty serious safety violation in reality, but anything to make it funny, supposedly.)
  • During its 13 year run, Inspector Morse went through a number of coroners and pathologists, with varying degrees of desensitisation. Series 1 and 2 had Max Debryn (who also appears in the prequel series Endeavour). In series 3, the pathologist is Grayling Russell, and Laura Hobson, who goes on to appear in Lewis, is the pathologist in the specials. Series 4-7 have various one-off pathologists.
  • Inspector Rex
    • In Vienna, Leo Graf is the elderly forensic doctor who helps the Criminal Police.
    • In the Italian seasons (at least the six earlier ones) Katia Martelli does both chemical studies and forensic medicine. After Fabbri's death, she appears less frequently and other women also take her role. Giorgio Gaiba, who has a similar role to that of Leo Graf, also works in that aspect.
    • In the latest seasons, Giorgio Vettori and Sonia Randalli are the ones who analyze the bodies.
  • Dr Pasquano from Italian crime series Il Commissario Montalbano is always at odds with the titular detective. He takes every opportunity to drily snark and snipe at the poor detective who just wants details on the victim.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid's fourth Rider, Kiriya Kujo, is a medical examiner. Though, given that he seems to show up whenever needed and also whenever he wants, he's probably off duty most of the time. Not surprisingly, given that a forensic pathologist may not have as much to do as a surgeon or a pediatrician. Also, he's officially dead for most of the series, so he probably ended up working fulltime with CR after that.
  • The unfortunately-named Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum), NCIS. Also, his protégé, Jimmy Palmer, who recently earned his degree and can take over in Autopsy whenever Ducky's not available. And now that Ducky has retired from his medical duties, Jimmy is officially the NCIS Medical Examiner.
    • His counterpart in NCIS: New Orleans is Dr. Loretta Wade (C.C.H. Pounder). She loves the city and the surrounding area at least as much as Pride. In the NCIS Backdoor Pilot, she explains that she originally came with a round-trip ticket and still has the return ticket from all those years ago.
  • The ever-cheerful George Bullard in Midsomer Murders (except for a brief spell when the ME was snarky replacement Dan Peterson). Bullard later retires and is replaced by Dr. Kate Wilding, who herself ends up leaving and being replaced by Dr. Kam Karimore.
  • On Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Elizabeth Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix). On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie).
  • NUMB3RS has a few (some recurring, others who only appeared once), but the most notable is Claudia Gomez, who is also David Sinclair's love interest for a while.
    • One episode also had a corrupt coroner using his job to hide the body of a victim.
  • On The X-Files, Dr. Dana Scully's specialty certification is in pathology; prior to and occasionally during her tenure in the eponymous unit, she taught forensic path at the FBI Academy in Quantico.
  • Non-standard personality type: Doug Murphy of Scrubs. Despite being a pathologist, or at least working in the morgue, he retains a very odd mix of loser and cloudcuckoolander. In fact, the reason he was shifted to the morgue is that he is a horrible doctor, having killed nearly all of his patients. This is what leads him to being such a great pathologist: he has seen nearly every way someone can die, because he probably caused it at one time or another. Still, he is seen forgetting where he left bodies, tagging patients before they've died, and playing Texas Hold'Em with a group of corpses.
  • Pushing Daisies has an (unnamed) coroner who lets the main characters into the morgue in every episode, complete with an incredibly dry wit and the tendency to be skeptical about any excuse he's given for needing to see the bodies. Word of God say he lets them in because he has a crush on Emerson.
  • On Tru Calling, Davis is completely desensitized to anything dead, but extremely squicked out by working on anyone living.
  • The Reality Show Doctor G, Medical Examiner, which bounces between the various Discovery Channel networks.
  • Dr. Lanie Parish in Castle.
    • Also Dr. Sidney Perlmutter - one of the MEs who eats his lunch in the morgue. Thanks to the industrial-strength disinfectants, it's the cleanest place in the city.
  • Natalie Lambert from Forever Knight was a city medical examiner, although her work was only occasionally relevant to the plot.
  • Dr. Maura Isles of Rizzoli & Isles; also gets points for an amusing tendency not to notice which of the morgue refrigerators is for staff use.
    "Is this from the good fridge or the dead-people fridge?"
  • Gordy the Ghoul from Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Ran a lottery based on the corpses time of death. Often bribed by Kolchak into giving him information.
  • Psych plays with the trope. Woody looks like the typical coroner... except he's full out a Cloud Cuckoolander . He's predicted how Shawn and Gus will die, offered to hold organs in the freezer overnight (not for medical reasons), and when he woke up from a drunken stupor surrounded by a white powder he assumes his cocaine problem returned. But his autopsies are usually right, at least.
  • In Supernatural, a different one appears in many episodes (since the Winchesters are moving all over the country working on cases) to explain to the Winchesters how the latest Victim of the Week met his or her gruesome end.
  • Dr. Ogden in Murdoch Mysteries is more sensitive than most examples, but her occasional mild jokes over the bodies are enough to make the straitlaced Murdoch uncomfortable. (And not for the usual reason being around Dr. Ogden makes Murdoch uncomfortable.) Her temporary replacement at the start of Season 4, Dr. Francis, maintains a constant stream of barbed sarcasm, apparently thinking Murdoch discovers murders just to annoy him. From Season 5, the coroner is Dr Emily Grace, who is essentially a younger Dr Ogden, although once Dr Ogden returns to Toronto, she also helps out occasionally.
  • Sherlock has the recurring character of Molly, a coroner who often ends up contributing useful information and even became close enough to him that she was one of the only people, along with Mycroft, who knew Holmes faked his suicide by jumping off a large building, though how she was involved is not stated.
  • There are a number of pathologists on the German police procedural series Tatort, the most famous and popular being Wagner-loving Professor Karl-Friedrich Boerne (Jan Josef Liefers) of Münster. In the episode Der doppelte Lott he even has a cross-over with his colleague from the Cologne "Tatort", Dr. Joseph Roth. (Joe Bausch, the man playing Dr. Roth is a doctor in real life.)
  • Mort, the opera-singing coroner on Due South.
  • Two Patients-of-the-Week on House were coroners/medical examiners: a woman who started hallucinating that her subjects had come to life and were attacking her, and an employee of PPTH who kept records on which doctors killed the most patients, and insisted on being diagnosed by House because he had the best record (not terribly surprising given that House is the chief of Diagnostic Medicine). The patient didn't think much of Chase as a diagnostician, but did insist on having his surgery done by Chase, as he apparently had the best surgical record.
  • Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan serves a similar role as a forensic anthropologist, but she only studies the skeletal remains. A full autopsy, flesh and all, usually falls to Dr. Camille Saroyan. They've been known to butt heads over who gets the body first - reasonably in the case of Saroyan, since Bones is only interested in the bones and tends to do things like dissolve the flesh off with acid in order to be able to see them better, which would destroy any soft tissue evidence.
  • Dr. Max Bergman of Hawaii Five-0 is the Asian and Nerdy medical examiner with an Ambiguous Disorder. He's about the same age as the main team, though, so he's a younger example, and his sense of humor tends to be more goofy than dark.
  • Dr. Henry Morgan in Forever. Having lived (and died) for centuries means he has a lot of experience with death, to the point where he can frequently figure out the cause of death without even opening up a body. It helps that he keeps a journal of all of his deaths, and the pilot even shows him testing how long a particular poison takes to kill on himself.
  • Dominic Da Vinci in Da Vinci's Inquest. He's a crusading coroner in Vancouver, once an undercover officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who now seeks justice in the cases he investigates.
  • Vera has the irreverent Dr. Billy Carstairs in seasons 1 - 3, who had numerous quirks (such as hiding car magazines in the ceiling of his office) and was probably a pathologist because no living patient could tolerate him. He is replaced in later seasons by Dr. Marcus Sumner, who is younger but more serious.
  • A Touch of Cloth: Like many crime drama tropes, parodied. Natasha is a female coroner whose every line dialogue consists of her aggressively flirting with Jack Cloth, she has an incredibly dry sense of humor related to death, and at one point dissected a cat because she thought it would be amusing.
  • John Sutherland, the central character of the 1970s BBC series Sutherland's Law played by Iain Cuthbertson, is the Procurator Fiscal of a fictional small Scottish town with a close resemblance to Oban. The procurator fiscal is a uniquely Scottish public official who has nothing to do with tax matters but combines the roles of District Attorney and Coroner.
  • The Closer and Major Crimes has the non-nonsense Dr. Fernando Morales, who generally appears in the operating room and gives the cause of death and other clues. He became a regular character on Major Crimes and after that was seen occasionally at crime scenes.
  • Coroner, the cases of a Canadian female coroner working in Toronto.
  • Pie in the Sky: The medical examiner in "Who Only Stand and Wait" is a good example of the type.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Common character in Delta Green, examples include Dr. Jean Qualls and Dr. Joseph Gutierrez. There are also several pre-made Player Character templates for M.E.
  • This is a pretty common character archetype in The World of Darkness gamelines (the other would be the detective), since one's first brush with the supernaturals is usually at the receiving end of their murderous power, or examining someone who were in such an unenviable position.
    Wagner eyed the four deep furrows running diagonally across the man's chest. They'd cut through tissue and bone as cleanly as a saw. Four guys couldn't have done that at the same time. No way.
    Not four assailants, Detective. Feingold raised his left hand to the light. Four fingers. These are claw marks.

    Video Games 
  • Membrillo from the game Grim Fandango is a traditional example, down to the dark sense of humor. Well, aside from the fact that since he works in the Land of the Dead, the "corpses" he deals with are those who've been "sprouted" and are thus Deader Than Dead...
    Membrillo: The secret to my happiness, Manuel, is I have the heart of a 12 year old child. I keep it in a jar over here. Would you like to see it?
    Manny: No.
    Membrillo: Sorry, old coroner joke.
    (Membrillo translates as "Quince" - surely a nod to Quincy?)
  • In a skit, Jade in Tales of the Abyss will mention that as a boy, he wanted to become a doctor... of pathology. As an adult, he joined the military instead, but still retained the coroner's unflappability and dark sense of humour.
  • Naomi Kirishima's specialty in Trauma Team.
  • John Dresden from Shadowrun Returns. Although his actual job is more like running a chop shop for humans, he gets subcontracted by Lone Star to do autopsies as well.
  • Kai Kalaba in Cause of Death. He's much younger than the usual (he isn't even 30!), and is also a near-impulsive nerd. And he's kind of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander on top of that.
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Tsumiki helps out by examining the corpses of the murder victims, determining how they died, which often provides vital clues for the trials. She uses her expertise to help cover up the times her own victims died.
  • Being a Crime game, the police department of Criminal Case has a coroner to autopsy the victim for every case. In Grimsborough, there is the nature-loving Nathan Pandit; while in Pacific Bay, the victim's corpses are handled by the witty Roxie Sparks who is absolutely thrilled to examine dead bodies and hardly ever misses the chance to make puns about the victims' cause of death.

  • The Wretched Ones has the coroner Jean and her sometimes assistant Mortimer have an entire conversation while she is performing an autopsy. Mortimer proceeds to take a nap in the morgue while Jean is examining a heart.

    Web Original 
  • On the "Chronik Fiction" channel, there is a French web-series called Le Coroner that is about a nameless coroner giving autopsies related to the dead of fictional characters such as Darth Vader, Private Pyle and Aerith. The coroner then explains to the viewers the impacts that these deaths had in the world of fiction and what secrets are behind each of these deaths. In some episodes, the actor playing the autopsy corpse looks like the fictional character whose death is being reviewed.

    Western Animation 
  • Hey Arnold!: Arnold and Gerald once met a coroner during their search for a document that'd save their neighborhood. One of them opened a drawer that contained a corpse. The coroner wasn't even slightly disgusted by it, of course (a coroner who's disgusted by corpses would be like a carpenter who's disgusted by wood).
  • Coroner Rick, on Stroker and Hoop, is a parodic version of this character.


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