We've all been busy with a variety of jobs, mostly serious jobs. There's been a strange increase in the number of dead people recently. We blamed it on the full moon at first, then the snow.
I'm going to share my experience of a suicide by hanging.
Most forces insist on CSIs attending all suicides. There's two reasons, the first is that we can ensure that it is suicide. The second is that the scene needs to be recorded for the coroner.
If an inquest is held into the death then the scene will be an important aspect, as it is in any criminal investigation.
We have a new van at work at the moment. Just the one. Its on trial. If we like it then we'll have some more. The van that I share with my colleague is on it's last legs so I took the new van out.
I had a list of burglaries to go to, we call them BDH's and BOB's. Burglary Dwelling House and Burglary Other Building. I had printed the logs out and was on the way to my first job.
I got a call over the radio to ask me to attend a hanging. This would be my first hanging on my own. I'm not sure if excited is the right word, but my professional curiosity was certainly peaked.
I happily accepted the job. I stopped the van and opened the back doors. It was a new van and I was unsure as to what kit was in the back. I had a good rummage and checked I had everything I needed for a suicide.
I changed the destination in my Sat Nav. Twenty three minutes. Driving through the City is a nightmare at anytime of the day. I like to watch other drivers and silently criticise their driving. Every now and then I'll inhale deeply and say "Ooo" whilst exhaling.
Brief details were given over the radio by attending officers. I knew that the deceased person was male and had been found by a relative.
The correct procedure for any incident of suicide is that officers should secure the scene and request attendance of CSI. Sometimes, CID will attend or at the very least, a supervisor from uniform will attend.
Its very important to go to any incident of suicide with an open mind. I will listen to the views and opinions of attending officers, but it's vital to interpret the scene myself. It would be a very embarrassing error to decide a death is a suicide to later find out it is a murder. It'd also probably mean the loss of a lot of evidence.
There was something in the news recently whereby someone has confessed to murdering his estranged wife and police officer partner some 20 years ago. It appears that the scene presented itself as a suicide by carbon monoxide in a car. The offender in fact gassed both victims, dressed them and transported them to the 'scene' in the boot of a car. Have a look here for more information.
As I approached the garden path I could see there was a police officer stood at the front door. The relative had been taken away to be spoken to further.
An Ambulance Crew had been to confirm the male was deceased. The term often used is 'Life Extinct'. I don't like this, I think it's cold. I try never to refer the deceased person as a 'body' either. If I know their name, I'll use it. Its polite and it's respectful.
As I walked onto the path, I could smell the distinct smell of decomposition. The front door was slightly ajar.
The police officer appeared to be on his own. He held a scene log in his hand. Officers in my force are pretty good at securing a scene when a body is found. They'll start a scene log too. This is where everything that happens at the scene is recorded. Who has gone in, who has gone out and more importantly why.
Some higher ranking officers have a liking in my force to believe a scene is theirs and they can come and go as often as they like, touching, sniffing and pondering. I have no idea why, especially the sniffing.
I did have a warmed (as opposed to a heated) discussion with a Police Inspector a few weeks back. It was also a suicide. There were a few unanswered questions about some injuries on the deceased's body. The scene had to be preserved in case there was foul play.
The Inspector wanted to go 'have a look'. I politely declined his offer. It wasn't an offer, it clearly wasn't an offer. He knew that, I knew that. He wanted to know why he couldn't go in. I explained he needed to wear a white suit. "I've got gloves on." he said. I passed him a suit and explained he wasn't going into the room unless he was wearing that. Ten minutes later he joined me inside, fully suited.
I spoke to the Police Officer at the door who explained what had occurred at the property prior to my arrival. He gave me a run down whilst I put on a protective suit and overshoes. I wear two pairs of gloves at jobs with deceased bodies. An experienced CSI told me why. If I need to move or touch anything with bodily fluids on, and then go back to my camera, I can take the outer pair of gloves off and still have a pair on. It works well. Body bits don't mix with a Nikon.
A relative had found the deceased male after visiting him and getting no answer at the door. This is one of the common ways of suicides being found.
People who commit suicide can be very resourceful when they have an idea in their mind. I've seen some very inventive methods since this one. I've also been to some rather strange ones.
I gave my details to the Police Officer at the front door. The door had been opened from the inside by the Paramedics to allow easy entry. The deceased male was against the hallway door. It was difficult to get through from the back.
As soon as I approached the door, I could smell it. I hadn't smelt it like this before, it smelt like pickles. I like pickles.
No, I liked pickles.
I opened the door, looking at the lock and frame for any signs of damage or forced entry. None.
I could see personal possessions about the room. Mobile, wallet, watch and an amount of cash. This male hadn't been robbed.
This male had hung himself from the top of the living room door using a belt. The belt and buckle was around his neck at one end. The other end had a knot in it. The knotted end was passed over the top of the door and the door closed. The belt was thin enough to pass over the closed door, the knot stopping it from pulling through.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be off the ground to hang yourself. Partial hanging is just as common as complete hanging. Hanging is the constriction of the neck by a ligature, tightened by the weight of the body. This can be achieved in a number of ways.
One thing any investigator may note when attending the scene of a complete hanging is the victim's tongue may be protruding. Due to the weight of the body, and sometimes the force applied in the 'fall' of a hanging, the constriction around the neck can force the tongue out of the mouth. Once decomposition begins, and the tongue is exposed to the environment for a period of time, the tongue becomes discoloured. Often it is black.
This male's tongue was big and black and sticking out of his mouth.
After a thorough visual examination, I came to the conclusion that he had jumped from furniture (which was underneath him) with the belt around his neck. This provided to force to make the tongue stick out. Then over a matter of days, the weight on the belt and the door was enough to make it slip. The knot pulled through the top of the door.
The heating was on in the house and it was hot. I had my normal uniform on, plus a protective suit. The suit, by design, has no ventilation. I'm not unhealthy, but I was sweating. I had to wipe my forehead a few times.
I took photographs of the scene, showing every room in the house. There were tablet and prescriptions in one room. I took photos of these. At this stage I can't tell if the male had taken tablet prior to hanging himself. There weren't many missing however. There was a receipt from a local pharmacy, it was only four days old.
The male had decomposed quicker than normal. It's likely the heat in the house was the main contributing factor to this.
I had to ensure that the male had no injuries about his body. I also needed to check pockets for personal belongings.
I had to straighten him out slightly, he was in an awkward position. I took hold of his arms at his wrists. I tried to pull his torso towards me, almost into a sitting position. The skin on his arms moved, his arms didn't.
I was going to need assistance.
I opened the front door and the bobby looked at me, I said "Are you busy?" I caught him unaware, he looked around, desperately trying to find an excuse. He couldn't.
"Can you just give me a quick hand in here?"
"Uuu, erm, yea, sure"
This is my job, I 'enjoy' working out what has happened and how this male has ended up this way. It's not the bobby's job. He likes chasing bad guys and locking up criminals. I explained what I needed him to do, and asked if he was OK with it. I explained that if he wanted to stop at any point, then just say.
I gave him the key to the van and told him where to find the suits. He got to the van "Are there any extra larges?" He said. "Top shelf, in blue" I replied.
We straightened the deceased male out, rolled him onto his left side. The bobby held him there whilst I checked his pockets and lifted his clothing to check for injuries. None. Onto the other side and the same again. None.
The bobby stayed in the suit for a while, watching me whilst I finished with some close up photos. He asked a few questions. Decent questions, not "Do you do Weddings?"
I don't mind dead bodies. In the short time I've been a CSI, I have lost count already as to how many I have encountered. I will try to recall each and see if I can come up with a number, another time. I don't mind the smell of most things; decomp, blood, urine or faeces. I have however found that I'm not too fond of vomit.I was looking at some Journals the other day at work, and discovered interestingly that the UK has a low Suicide rate. The most recent figures I could source were from the Office of National Statistics and were dated 2008. Per 100,000 of population, The UK had a suicide rate of 6.1, Lithuania had a rate of 28.4 (the highest) and Cyprus had a rate of 2.2 (the lowest).
Now, back to that list of BDHs and BOBs I had at the start of the shift.