Aarhus University Seal

A centurion with an important social task

The state-appointed forensic pathologist in Jutland, better known as the Department of Forensic Medicine at Aarhus University, can celebrate its centenary on 1 April.

On 1 April 1916, “prosector” (as a medical doctor who carried out autopsies was known in those days) Frederik Gregersen took up the position of consultant at the newly opened Department of Histopathology at Aarhus Municipal Hospital, and was also appointed State-Appointed Forensic Pathologist for Northern Jutland.

The date and year mark the beginning of state-appointed forensic pathology for Northern Jutland and thus a new epoch in the history of forensic medicine in Jutland.

Autopsies were far from unknown previously. Autopsies have been carried out for as long as there have been doctors to clarify disease and the cause of death. Before 1910 a specially appointed local health inspector carried out autopsies together with the district medical officer or surgeon.

In step with reforms of the police and judiciary for the benefit of citizens' legal rights, the need for an independent public sector to investigate suspicious and explicable deaths increased. This led to the establishment of the state-appointed forensic pathologists in Denmark.

Biker war had many victims

During the hundred years of state-appointed forensic pathology in Jutland, the busiest decade so far has been the 1980s with around 500 forensic autopsies per year. The decade was characterised by a war between rival biker gangs, while deaths from drug overdoses also filled the statistics for cause of death. On top of these were many autopsies ordered by the National Board of Industrial Industries in Denmark in connection with clarification of insurance cases. On 8 September 1989 the state-appointed forensic pathologists received their largest task so far when a Norwegian airplane with 55 passengers crashed 18 km north of Hirtshals. 

Today the annual number of forensic autopsies is less than 350, a figure that has been declining in recent years. Part of the reason for this is that the individual police districts have sole responsibility for ordering and paying for forensic autopsies.

The state-appointed forensic pathologists also have the task of examining living persons – victims and perpetrators – with a view to identifying and securing biological traces that can contribute to solving crimes.

In 2014 there were 451 person examinations and 347 forensic autopsies. 


The very first autopsies

  • The first autopsy under the auspices of the state forensic pathologist in Jutland took place at Varde Hospital on 17 April 1916.

    The deceased was 52-year-old railway worker Niels Andersen, who had been found dead in a barracks in the city. Together with a friend he had drank a mixture of methylated spirits and beer. In his drunkenness he had apparently fallen and severely injured his face. In the autopsy report the prosector Frederik Gregersen wrote the following:

    'Death is attributed to the seepage of blood into the trachea and further into the lung alveoli – in connection with his undoubted intoxication which has meant that he was not been able to free himself from the seeping blood.'
  • The first autopsy in connection with a murder was carried out in Odder on 6 October 1916 in a case where a mother had strangled her newborn child.


Explore the modern autopsy room - the section room

During the first seventy-eighty years of state-appointed forensic pathology, many autopsies were carried out in the vicinity of the location where the body was found, preferably at the local hospital or a nearby vicarage. Today all forensic autopsies are performed at one of the Department of Forensic Medicine’s three section rooms in the basement of the department, which is adjacent to Aarhus University Hospital in Skejby.

Section room anno 2016 


Find out more about the state-appointed forensic pathologist’s 100 years.

The historical data has been compiled by MD, PhD Professor and former State-Appointed Forensic Pathologist and Department Head (1990-2005) Markil Gregersen.



Department Head Christian Lindholst
D: (+45) 8716 8331
M: (+45) 2093 9223