Thursday, July 22, 2004

Crime Scene Investigation - Asphyxiation (hanging)

Hanging is asphyxiation by strangulation using a line of rope, cord, or similar material to work against the hanging weight of the body. Hanging is most often suicidal. But sometimes it is accidental. It is seldom homicidal, except in cases of lynchings.

A person does not have to be fully suspended to be hung. Hanging may occur if a victim jumps or is pushed from a height while tied by a line to a rafter or a tree limb. If the height is more than just a few feet, the victim's neck may break. But the neck is seldom broken in suicidal or accidental hangings.

At the scene of crime, one must check the beam or rafter over which the line is laid for marks showing the direction of travel of the line. One may want to remove the line for inspection. The hanging line must be checked in a laboratory to learn if it pulled against the weight of the body. The scene must be inspected for signs of a fight and signs of defensive marks or rope burns. However, an unconscious victim may convulse, and in the process knocking over items in the immediate area.

When the body is taken down, the knots must not be untied. The type of knot may give the investigator a lead to follow. One must remove the hanging line from the victim's neck by cutting the line on the side opposite to the knot. Then, a careful inspection of the groove must be make around the neck. A close look at the edges of the groove will often show black and blue marks from minute bleeding. Ruptured blood vessels in the skin mean the victim was alive at the time of the hanging. But the lack of these marks does not necessarily mean the victim was dead at the time of hanging. This, combined with other conditions, could however raise suspicions.

In addition, One must also note the position of the groove as it relates to the location of the knot. The mark of the ligature should agree with the location of the knot. For example, if the knot is in front of the face, the deepest part of the groove should be on the nape of the neck. Anything different suggests homicide.

When a fixed knot is used in hanging, the groove will form an inverted V on the side of the knot. The bruise on the skin in the groove is greatest opposite the knot. It tapers off as it reaches the knot. If a slip knot is used, the groove may be uniform around the neck.

If the victim is nude, suspended before a mirror, or suspended in an unusual manner, or if any of these conditions are combined, one may suspect an accidental hanging from sexual activity. Accidental deaths may occur from autoerotic sexual acts that uses restraints like ropes, cords, chains, and handcuffs. The victim, in trying to reach sexual contentment, uses these items to restrain his or her hands, arms, legs, and neck. When strain on the neck causes unconsciousness or when the victim loses balance during the act, accidents occur. The victims are unable to release themselves because of the binding on their hands, arms, and legs. They may end by hanging themselves. Sometimes, when they use binding material or plastic bags on their faces, they suffocate. A notable feature of this type of death is the presence of female attire and articles on or near a male body. And erotic material is often present. In the past, these deaths were often incorrectly labeled suicides. But they are accidental and they. must be listed as such.

Other accidental hangings differ from autoerotic deaths in the lack of female attire, erotic material, or constrained hands or feet. And accidental hangings often involve infants and young children. Infants can get caught in restraining devices. They can get their clothing caught on things, or they can get their heads caught between crib or fence slots. If they are unable to get themselves free, they may strangle. For no known reason, young children, especially boys, will put nooses around their necks. They too may be strangle to death.

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