History

In medieval England, the task of death investigation initially fell to the Sheriffs who were resident in every county, or “Shreve.” As was the custom of the day, these local officials enriched themselves by confiscating personal property and real estate belonging to deceased individuals.

During the reign of Richard, Coeur de Lion (Lionheart), at the latter end of the 12th century, this practice was changed as the King realized he was not getting his due, in large part because of the greed of the Sheriffs. He needed to refill his depleted coffers after drawing them down to finance his participation in the Crusades.

King Richard appointed Hubert Walter as Chief Justiciar, and it was he who established the precedent for what became known as the “Crown’s Man,” or “Crowner.” He appointed middle-class Knights to the position, in the perhaps overly optimistic belief that these appointments of affluent gentlemen would reduce any temptation for them to follow the Sheriffs' habit of embezzlement - the assumption being that they were in no need of further wealth.

Over time, the qualification of being a Knight and of a certain affluence vanished. However the dishonesty and greed that was apparently inherent to the office continued to be an issue, albeit not quite to the degree it was under the Sheriffs.

Eventually, the position of “crowner” or “coroner” (from the Latin "custos placitorum coronas") became an elected position. The practice of the Coroner being an investigator of unusual, suspicious and traumatic deaths was imported to the British colonies as they were developed, and ultimately adopted as a standard by the newly-formed United States, where it continues in a more judicious form to the present day.