Strangulation is a brutal and intimate way to murder someone. The murderer is usually facing the victim and sees the life drain from their eyes. Strangulation remain one of the most common methods of murder and are particularly prevalent in domestic violence cases and are usually unplanned and happen purely because of a fit of rage. Or the need or want to have the person be quite.
Before we continue to the four types of strangulation it is important to note that not all strangulation end in death. Many people are arrested each year for attempted strangulation.
Death by Asphyxiation is caused by the cutting off the air supply to the lungs. We see Asphyxiation in choking cases where people eat too quickly and where the Heimlich maneuver is needed to help them. In murder cases, it usually happens when the person is smothered with a cushion or other article. The most common cases of Asphyxiation are in domestic murders. It is not usually planned and the closest available article is used.
By applying the right amount of pressure to the arteries in the neck you can severely reduce or stop the blood flow to the brain which will render the victim of strangulation unconscious or dead.
When 9 pounds of pressure is applied to the Carotid arteries in the neck the person will most likely become incapacitated. When the amount of pressure is increased to 35 pounds the smaller deeper arteries in the neck will also be blocked off. This will cause death if held for an extended period of time due to the loss of oxygen to the brain.
3. Vagal Inhibition
The Vagus nerve connects the brain to the heart and abdomen and it detects the variations of blood pressure in the carotid artery. With the monitoring of the blood pressure comes the important task of regulating the beating of the heart to regulate blood supply.
The danger comes in when sudden pressure is applied to the Vagus nerve and it interprets the strangulation action as increased blood pressure (It is known that in some cases the pressure is up to 100 times higher than normal). To drop the massive increase of blood pressure the brain sends a signal to the heart to stop beating. The end result is a heart attack and not the preservation of life as the brain intended.
4. Separated Vertebrae
Vertebral separation is when a pull force is exerted om the neck and separates the vertebrae. When the vertebrae are separated two things happen:
- Blood vessels rupture
- The spinal cord is severed – When the spinal cord severs it kills the person instantaneously. This type of strangulation is used mostly in execution where people are hung. People who commit suicide also strive to do it this way.
The Signs of Strangulation Forensic Investigators Look For
Cyanosis, or referred to in layman’s terms as blue skin. Is when the oxygen in the blood above the point of blockage is used up and what is left is the de-oxygenated blood giving skin a blue color.
Petechiae are tiny hemorrhages that can be seen in areas where tissue is not well supported, for instance around the eyes. This happens when the walls of capillaries are weak because of under-oxygenated blood. Because the weak walls cannot support the building pressure it squirts out a little bit of blood into the surrounding tissue. They look like little pinpoints on the skin.
If both these signs are present on a victim’s body the pathologist will be more than 80% certain death is by asphyxiation. They will then continue to look further as to what caused the unfortunate death.
Marks Left on the body by the strangler also known as Ligature marks
Ligature marks can be left on the body of the victim by various items such as rope, wire, socks, silk and various other fabrics and materials. Usually, the pattern left by the murder weapon is well defined on the throat and neck because it requires a reasonable amount of force to incapacitate a person.
The marks themselves can hold more clues of how the person was strangled from the front or the back. Pathologists look for fingernail marks from the aggressor and the victim too. In many cases, there may be fibers in the wound that can help solve the crime.
Damaged structure to the neck is definitely something that is inspected while doing the autopsy.
A bone that is almost always broken during strangulation is the hyoid. The hyoid is horseshoe shaped and very delicate. Not all strangulation cause this bone to break.
Book: Real-Life CRIMES