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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, the Coroner 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 several states, the coroner also has the power to arrest the sheriff and serve as the acting sheriff, taking interim charge of the county jail. 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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Other examples:

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    Anime & 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 2: 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 Ishvalans 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 Works 
  • 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 
  • Dr. Laurel Weaver from Men in Black.
  • Taken to ridiculous extremes in the German comedy movie The Vexxer by the grossly incompetent Dr. Bedpan, who's 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:
    Dr. Brothers: 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 fulfills this role in Wolfen, as well as being half of Those Two Guys with his friend Ferguson. Together, they're the ones who figure out that the attacks are being carried out by wolves.
  • Saw:
    • The first seven films have Dr. Adam Heffner of the Metropolitan Police Department. While he first appeared in Saw IV and doesn't get much screentime to know his personality well, he was the one who examined the cause of death of all the victims in the Jigsaw killings found by the police from the first movie to Saw 3D (where he ends up getting killed by Hoffman).
    • Logan Nelson and Eleanor Bonneville are the two medical examiners who are involved in the case of the new Jigsaw killing spree in Jigsaw.

  • 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 postmortems. 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.
  • Unnatural Causes: a memoir by Dr Richard Shepherd. Shepherd is one of Britain's leading forensic pathologists, and in the book he talks about various cases he has been involved with, some famous, some lesser known but important to his career.
  • The Cemeteries of Amalo: Ulzhavar, the Master of the Mortuary, is a distant relative of an Impoverished Patrician and is often found conducting autopsies for investigative purposes and/or to instruct his new subordinates in how it's done. Thara consults him in multiple cases when he needs to exhume a body and determine if someone was poisoned. In an interesting coincidence, one of those victims turns out to be Ulzhavar's own great-aunt by marriage, and Ulzhavar's report helps catch her killer.* Discworld:
    • The Ankh-Morpork City Watch has Igor, who can not only tell you how someone died, but, on occasion, can fix it.
    • Mr Waynesbury in Thud! is Ham-on-Koom's coroner, as well as the magistrate. He spends his afternoons fly-fishing in the peaceful waters of the lower Koom River. Given the extremely treacherous nature of the upper Koom, and its attraction to treasure seekers, this often leads to discoveries that require him to go back to work.
  • Brother Cadfael:
    • The Welsh boatman Madog knows every inch of the Severn so well that he's the go-to person to advise investigators about when and where bodies have wound up in the river, or where they're likely to turn up after a drowning or water-dumping. He's also hauled so many corpses out of the river that he's widely known as "Madog of the Dead-Boat".
    • Cadfael himself, as the abbey herbalist, is the one to examine dead bodies and determine how they died. While he shares his findings with sheriff Hugh Beringar, he does most of the questioning.

    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.
  • GURPS Mysteries has templates for Medical Examiner and Forensic Specialist, noting that in different jurisdictions, either might be a coroner.

    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, Mikan Tsumiki helps out by examining the corpses of the murder victims, determining how they died, which often provides vital clues for the trials. When she reverts to her old self as a member of Ultimate Despair, 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.