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Graveyard Shift … 0246 hours

Thanksgiving Eve.

Weather … clear/full moon

Location … Abandoned factory Hwy 666

Victim … Unknown/TBD

Suspect … Unknown/TBD

“Caller reports seeing light, possibly flashlights, inside the abandoned factory on Hwy 666.”

“10-4. I’ll check it out.”

Radio crackles.

“I’m close, 2012. I’ll meet you there.”

“10-4, 2027.”

Cracked asphalt drive.

Tall weeds pushing through jagged openings.

Brick consumed by vegetation.

Still air.

Owl hoots in distance.

Rats scurry through honeysuckle.

Lopsided door. One rusty hinge.

Concrete floor.

Broken glass.

Fallen wood and metal.

Office.

More glass. Shattered.

A hallway to the right.

Breakroom.

Spider webs.

A painted sign.

SHIPPING and RECEIVING

Double doors on left.

Machinery.

Tall, and short.

Fat, and skinny.

Steel dinosaurs.

Rust and oil stains.

Mouse on metal table.

Roaches, the size of gumdrops.

Flashlight in the distance, beneath a closed door.

Quiet.

Eerie.

Guns pointed.

Slowly.

Shards of glass.

Crunching and cracking beneath shiny shoes.

Stop.

Listening.

Light, unmoving.

Ease forward.

Water drips from above.

Plop … plop … plop.

Owl hoots.

Flashlight, closer.

Heart, pounding.

Sweat on forehead.

Open doorway.

Storeroom.

I to the right.

He to the left.

“Police!”

Nothing.

Owl hoots.

Closer.

Light, a yellow triangle across floor.

“Police!”

Silence.

Water dripping. Rats scurrying. Owl hooting.

Heart, beating like a drum.

Far away train whistle.

A man.

Overturned chair.

Dirt floor.

Dress shirt.

Jeans.

Tennis shoes.

Flashlight.

Paper.

“I love you, dear wife. ”

“I’m sorry I failed you and our beautiful little girls.”

“Tell them I love them too.”

“This is the only way.”

“Always remember the good days.”

0342 hours.

Cause of death … possible suicide.

Weapon … shotgun.

Victim … unknown due to extent of injuries.

Next of kin … a wife and daughters … somewhere.

Owl hoots.


*Images by Maryland photographer Sunday Kaminski.

old shed

Front door askew.

Hanging by a single rusted hinge.

Open slightly.

Sunlight painted a narrow wedge of yellow on dusty plank flooring.

“I heard a shot but I was too scared to look,” she said. “Is Daddy in there?”

“Stay back, please.”

Standing to side of doorway.

Pistol in hand.

Breathing heavy.

Push door.

Won’t budge.

“Frank?”

No answer.

Sweat trickles from lower back into waistband.

Heart pounding.

“Frank. I’m here to help. You okay?”

Silence.

Flies buzzing, darting in and out.

Deep breath.

Quick peek.

Blood spatter. Lots of it.

Tissue on ceiling.

Frank, sitting on floor.

Shotgun in lap, upright.

“Frank, you okay?”

Useless words.

“Is Daddy all right?”

“Go back in the house. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Hand over mouth, sobbing. “Okay.”

Squeeze through entrance.

Flashlight aimed toward ceiling. Dim light throughout.

Holster weapon. Not needed.

Friends since high school.

Twenty years, or more.

No face.

“Why, Frank? Great kids. Great wife. Nice house. Good job. Wonderful life.”

Silence.

Radio crackles. “Send M.E. and paramedics. No particular order.”

Doesn’t matter.

But …

Chest moves.

A wet breath, from somewhere.

Finger twitches, slightly.

“Frank?”

Another jerky, unbelievable breath.

“Hold on, Frank. Help’s on the way!”

Frantically grab radio.

“Tell paramedics to hurry. Victim is alive. Repeat. Victim is alive.”

Sit on floor, holding Frank’s hand.

Sirens getting closer.

“Hey, Frank, remember when we … ”

 

 

Before I begin, please know that this post is not an op-ed article. I’m merely presenting facts surrounding suicide investigations involving the book “Final Exit.”

Those of you who attended homicide Detective Jeff Locklear’s presentations last week at Virtual MurderCon heard him speak about sometimes finding copies this book at suicide scenes.

Final Exit, the book

In the early 1990s, Derek Humphry published Final Exit. The book is a “how-to” guide for people seeking to commit a successful suicide.

In the book, Humphries highlighted four types of suicide—passive euthanasia, self-deliverance, assisted suicide, and active euthanasia.

  • Passive euthanasia – the disconnection of life support systems and/or equipment.
  • Self-deliverance – the taking of ones own life.
  • Assisted suicide – a person ingests a deadly dose of medication supplied by a physician.
  • Active euthanasia – death brought about by a physician who personally injects a lethal drug into a person’s bloodstream.

The author encourages people to doctor-shop until they find one who shares the view that suicide could be the proper course of action. He suggests that people considering assisted suicide conduct a bit of surveillance by examining a doctor’s waiting room to see if “magazines are current and that the staff is friendly and helpful,” signs that the doctor could be sympathetic and compassionate, and not simply “running a business.”

Readers of “Final Exit” learn that it’s a good idea to underline or highlight passages in the book, and even to sign their names inside. Then they’re instructed to place the book nearby when they commit the act. This is to show police that the suicide was an act of euthanasia and not a homicide. However, those who do assist may still be held criminally responsible if they supplied the drug, the plastic bag that covered the head of the victim, or the firearm that killed. By the way, Humphry mentions the use of the plastic bag combined with medication as a highly favored means of suicide.

Humphry instructs those who assist to not touch the dying person. However, if they do he says to lie about it if questioned by authorities, and that you gave absolutely no encouragement. He also went on the say that the person who’s present at the time of the suicide should NOT call 911. The latter instruction is to prevent EMS from initiating lifesaving procedures.

The Police Investigation

The presence of “Final Exit” at the scene should be properly documented by noting its position in the home, by photograph and/or video, as well as in the detective’s written notes.

Homicide Detective Jeff Locklear

As discussed by Detective Locklear during his MurderCon presentations, the mere presence of the book could be an important factor and should be treated as evidence. The book could contain the fingerprints and/or DNA of someone other than the victim, such as a person who assisted in the death.

As previously mentioned, there may be notations or underlined passages within the book. Therefore, officers should thoroughly examine it page by page for comparison to the manner of death and to the instructions found highlighted.

The book recommends that the suicidal person leave a signed note. Officers should search, as always, for written messages that may provide answers about the death.

Notes should always be examined for finger and palm prints and for handwriting comparison(s).

For comparison, fingerprints and palm prints should also be collected from friends and family members who’re close to the victim. Plastic bags and prescription bottles and medications should be collected. Fingerprint examinations should be conducted on the bags and bottles. Lifted prints are compared to those of the victim and to the prints of potential suspects. Remember, it is equally as important that police rule out potential suspects as it is for them to include someone as a possible perpetrator of a crime.

In all cases where copies of “Final Exit” are found, well, there’s the possibility that someone assisted in the death. And, that assistance could be illegal.


*If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Last weekend, August 1-4, 2019, coroner Graham Hetrick, the star and host of the TV series, THE CORONER: I SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, served as special guest speaker at MurderCon in Raleigh, N.C.

During his talks, Hetrick detailed low-hanging suicides committed by a victim who ties a rope, cloth, twisted garbage bag, shoestring, belt, or other material, to a doorknob, bed post, etc., and then places the other end—a loop—around the neck. The victim then, with practically unbelievable willpower, simply leans forward to tighten the “noose” around the neck thereby shutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. The end result is, of course, death. All without the body dropping from a platform, chair, ceiling beam, etc.

In this type of suicide by hanging, the person committing the act must overcome the body’s forceful urges to live. They must resist ripping the ligature from their body in order to take another breath—to ignore the begging and pleading of the lungs, demanding that the brain immediately intervene.

These people often have a very strong desire to die, and they do. Maybe not on the first attempt, but kill themselves they do, eventually. Somehow, someway. Others, however, use a suicide attempt to escape intense emotional pain, not necessarily to die.

Was it possible that Hetrick had some sort of premonition? After all, he’s quite the insightful man.

Whatever brought the coroner to discuss this sort of suicide tactic remains to be seen but, ironically, it was a mere few days later when 66-year-old Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in the protective housing unit, 9 South, at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federal prison in Lower Manhattan, And he did so in the precise manner detailed by Hetrick.

Back in the day, during my time as a state corrections officer, when working in the segregation units we were required to make rounds every 30 minutes, 15 if the prisoner was on suicide watch. We took that a step further by stationing an officer outside the suicide watch cells.

During the course of those 30 minute rounds in segregation it was mandatory to sign and timestamp a logbook positioned at each block of cells. The log station was in a location where each cell was clearly visible to the officer. The logbook was attached to a podium and could only be removed by a watch commander.

We were required to make verbal contact with each inmate. In return, they were to respond to the officers questions. We were required to see and make note of signs of life, meaning the inmate must move, sit, stand (speak) or, if asleep, we were to observe the chest rise and fall normally. If not, we were to wake the inmate. They were not permitted to sleep with blankets covering their heads.

Things Could Go South in a Hurry!

One night, while making my rounds in the segregation unit, I found a young inmate hanging by the neck from a bedsheet attached to a steel bedrail that was no more than three or four feet from the concrete floor. He’d simply tied the sheet around the steel rail and leaned forward until his airway became constricted.

I saw him the moment I rounded the corner. His facial skin was beginning to turn a slight grayish hue. His eyes were open and and slightly bulging and his tongue protruded from between his lips just a bit, much like a thirsty dog’s tongue. It had only been 15 minutes or so when I last passed by his cell. We’d even exchanged a few words of small talk on my last round. He’d seemed fine.

I used my radio to call for help and for control to unlock the cell door. I managed to raise the man’s body to the bed and then released the sheet from his neck. Medical staff arrived and took control. The inmate survived the suicide attempt. All of this took place within minutes. Mere minutes.

Suicide attempts in jails and prisons across the U.S. are not uncommon and those who try often succeed.

In one U.S. jail alone, the county lockup in Traverse County, Mi., there were 51 attempted suicides and two suicides during the years between 2011 and 2018. Marilyn Lucille Palmer and Alan Bradley Halloway hanged themselves in the shower sections of their cells. They accomplished the task by attaching nooses to small openings in the steel walls. These two deaths occurred nearly ten years apart, to the day.

Bedsheets are a common instrument used in inmate hangings. So much so that jail officials in Cleveland, Ohio have eliminated bedsheets from all cells housing inmates at risk of suicide. In lieu of sheets they’re issued an extra blanket. The decision to replace sheets with the thicker and tougher-to-tear blankets came after five prisoners committed suicide, including Nicholas Colbert, who hanged himself in the military veteran’s pod section of the jail.

In North Carolina, a record 12 inmates died by suicide, in 2018, while in state custody. This is compared to six inmate suicides in 2017 and seven in 2016. To help tackle the problem of inmate suicides, the state is recruiting prisoners who will watch over other inmates who are considered suicide risks. Each the selected prisoners will receive specialized training and take notes every 15 minutes during their assigned shifts. If trouble should arise they’ll hen call for staff members. The same policy is already in place at the federal level (see below).

Epstein’s Death Was More Than Likely Just As It Seems, a Suicide

As much as folks from all spectrums of the conspiracy theory trail would like to believe, prison suicides occur far more often than the public generally hears about. They’re not reported by the media because they don’t involve high-profile prisoners, like Jeffrey Epstein. Nor do those suicide cases come at a time when the death conveniently saves the day for a lot of high-profile politicians, businesspeople, etc. (Please, I’m begging you to not turn this into a political discussion or debate. I’m merely reporting fact, not opinion).

Unfortunately for Epstein and his family, and for the victims who wanted to face him in a court of law and to see him rot in a prison cell for life, it seems that the corrections facility staff dropped the ball due to staffing shortages, rules that weren’t followed, unreliable and unprofessional officers, and a perfect storm of other issues that could’ve gone unnoticed during a typical day in prison, if the deceased had not been connected to high-profile folks.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center’s website issues an Admission and Orientation manual for pre-trial inmates. Jeffrey Epstein was one of those pre-trial prisoners. The first paragraph of page five of the manual is dedicated to inmate suicide prevention. It reads:

“It is not uncommon for people to experience depression and hopelessness while in jail or prison, particularly if they are newly incarcerated, are serving a long sentence, are experiencing family problems or problems getting along with other inmates, or receive bad news. Sometimes, inmates consider committing suicide due to all of the pressure they are under. Staff are trained to monitor inmates for signs of suicide, and are trained to refer all concerns to the Psychology Department. However, staff do not always see what inmates see. Ifyou are personally experiencing any ofthe problems noted above, or you or another inmate are showing signs of depression (sadness, tearfulness, lack ofenjoyment in usual activities), withdrawal (staying away from others, reducing phone calls and/or visits), or hopelessness (giving away possessions, stating that “there is nothing to live for”), PLEASE alert a staff member right away. Your input can save a life.”

Finally, in case you’d like to learn more about the BOP’s policies on suicide watches …

From the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)

OPI: CPD/PSBNUMBER: P5324.08DATE: 4/5/2007

SUBJECT: Suicide Prevention Program

RULES EFFECTIVE: 3/15/2007

SUICIDE WATCH

  1. Housing. Each institution must have one or more rooms designated specifically for housing an inmate on suicide watch. The designated room must allow staff to maintain adequate control of the inmate without compromising the ability to observe and protect the inmate.
  • The primary concern in designating a room for suicide watch must be the ability to observe, protect, and maintain adequate control of the inmate.
  • The room must permit easy access, privacy, and unobstructed vision of the inmate at all times.
  • The suicide prevention room may not have fixtures or architectural features that would easily allow self-injury.
  • Inmates on watch will be placed in the institution’s designated
  • suicide prevention room, a non-administrative
  • detention/segregation cell ordinarily located in the health
  • services area.  Despite the cell’s location, the inmate will not
  • be admitted as an in-patient unless there are medical indications
  • that would necessitate immediate hospitalization.
  • Placement of a suicide watch room in a different area may be
  • warranted given the unique features of some institutions.

However, designating a room for suicide watch outside of the Health Services area requires written approval of the Regional Director.  Such rooms must meet all of the requirements identified above.

Administrative detention and disciplinary segregation cells will not be designated or approved as suicide watch cells. Under emergency conditions a suicidal inmate may be placed temporarily on suicide watch in a cell other than the institution’s designated watch room. The inmate must be moved to a designated suicide watch room as soon as one becomes available.

  1. Conditions of Confinement. While on suicide watch, the inmate’s conditions of confinement will be the least restrictive available to ensure control and safety. The inmate on watch will ordinarily be seen by the Program Coordinator on at least a daily basis. Unit staff will have frequent contact with the inmate while he/she is on watch. Ordinarily, the Program Coordinator or designee will interview or monitor each inmate on suicide watch at least daily and record clinical notes following each visit.

The Program Coordinator or designee will specify the type of personal property, bedding, clothing, magazines, that may be allowed.

  • If approved by the Warden, restraints may be applied if necessary to obtain greater control, but their use must be clearly documented and supported.
  • Any deviations from prescribed suicide watch conditions may be made only with the Program Coordinator’s concurrence.
  • The Program Coordinator will develop local procedures to ensure timely notification to the inmate’s Unit Manager when a suicide watch is initiated and terminated. Correctional Services staff, in consultation with the Program Coordinator or designee, will be responsible for the inmate’s daily custodial care, cell, and routine activities.
  • Unit Management staff in consultation with the Program Coordinator will continue to be responsive to routine needs while the inmate is on suicide watch.
  1. Observation. For all suicide watches:
    • Any visual observation techniques used to monitor the suicide companion program will focus on the inmate companion and/or the inmate on suicide watch only.
    • The observer and the suicidal inmate will not be in the same room/cell and will have a locked door between them.
    • The person performing the suicide watch must have a means to summon help immediately (e.g., phone, radio) if the inmate displays any suicidal or unusual behavior.
    • The Program Coordinator will establish procedures for documenting observations of the inmate’s behavior in a Suicide Watch log book, which will be maintained as a secure document. Staff and inmate observers will document in separate log books. Post Orders will provide direction to staff on requirements for documentation.
  • Staff Observers. The suicide watch may be conducted using staff observers. Staff assigned to a suicide watch must have received training (Introduction to Correctional Techniques or in AT) and must review and sign the Post Orders before starting the watch. The Program Coordinator will review the Post Orders annually to ensure their accuracy.
  • Inmate Observers. Only the Warden may authorize the use of inmate observers (inmate companion program). The authorization for the use of inmate companions is to be made by the Warden on a case-by-case basis. If the Warden authorizes a companion program, the Program Coordinator will be responsible for the selection, training, assignment, and removal of individual companions. Inmates selected as companions are considered to be on an institution work assignment when they are on their scheduled shift and shall receive performance pay for time spent monitoring a potentially suicidal inmate.
  1. Watch Termination and Post-Watch Report. Based upon clinical findings, the Program Coordinator or designee will:

1) Remove the inmate from suicide watch when the inmate is no longer at imminent risk for suicide, or

2) Arrange for the inmate’s transfer to a medical referral center or contract health care facility.

Once an inmate has been placed on watch, the watch may not be terminated, under any circumstance, without the Program Coordinator or designee performing a face-to-face evaluation. Only the Program Coordinator will have the authority to remove an inmate from suicide watch. Generally, the post-watch report should be completed in PDS prior to terminating the watch, or as soon as possible following watch termination, to ensure appropriate continuity of care. Copies of the report will be forwarded to the central file, medical record, psychology file, and the Warden. There should be a clear description of the resolution of the crisis and guidelines for follow-up care.

At a minimum, the post-watch report will include:

  • risk factors assessed,
  • changes in risk factors since the onset of watch,
  • reasons for removal from watch, and
  • follow-up recommendations.
  1. INMATE OBSERVERS – INMATE COMPANION PROGRAM.
  2. Selection of Inmate Observers. Because of the very sensitive nature of such assignments, the selection of inmate observers requires considerable care. To provide round-the-clock observation of potentially suicidal inmates, a sufficient number of observers should be trained, and alternate candidates should be available.

Observers will be selected based upon their ability to perform the specific task but also for their reputation within the institution. In the Program Coordinator’s judgement, they must be mature, reliable individuals who have credibility with both staff and inmates. They must be able, in the Program Coordinator’s judgement, to protect the suicidal inmate’s privacy from other inmates, while being accepted in the role by staff. Finally, in the Program Coordinator’s judgement, they must be able to perform their duties with minimal need for direct supervision.

In addition, any inmate who is selected as a companion must not:

  • Be in pre-trial status or a contractual boarder;
  • Have been found to have committed a 100-level prohibited act within the last three years; or
  • Be in FRP, GED, or Drug Ed Refuse status.
  1. Inmate Observer Shifts. Observers ordinarily will work a four-hour shift. Except under unusual circumstances, observers will not work longer than one five-hour shift in any 24-hour period. Inmate observers will receive performance pay for time on watch.
  2. Training Inmate Observers. Each observer will receive at least four hours of initial training before being assigned to a suicide watch observer shift. Each observer will also receive at least four hours of training semiannually. Each training session will review policy requirements and instruct the inmates on their duties and responsibilities during a suicide watch, including:
  • the location of suicide watch areas;
  • summoning staff during all shifts;
  • recognizing behavioral signs of stress or agitation; and
  • recording observations in the suicide watch log.
  1. Meetings with Program Coordinator. Observers will meet at least quarterly with the Program Coordinator or designee to review procedures, discuss issues, and supplement training. After inmates have served as observers, the Program Coordinator or designee will debrief them, individually or in groups, to discuss their experiences and make program changes, if necessary.
  2. Records. The Program Coordinator will maintain a file containing:
  • An agreement of understanding and expectations signed by each inmate observer;
  • Documentation of attendance and topics discussed at training meetings;
  • Lists of inmates available to serve as observers, which will be available to Correctional Services personnel during non-regular working hours; and
  • Verification of pay for those who have performed watches.
  1. Supervision of Inmate Observer During a Suicide Watch. Although observers will be selected on the basis of their emotional stability, maturity, and responsibility, they still require some level of staff supervision while performing a suicide watch.
  • This supervision will be provided by staff who are in the immediate area of the suicide watch room or who have continuous video observation of the inmate observer.
  • In all cases, when an inmate observer alerts staff to an emergency situation, staff must immediately respond to the suicide watch room and take necessary action to prevent the inmate on watch from incurring debilitating injury or death. In no case will an inmate observer be assigned to a watch without adequate provisions for staff supervision or without the ability to obtain immediate staff assistance.
  •           THE DECISION TO USE INMATE OBSERVERS MUST BE PREDICATED
  •           ON THE FACT THAT IT TAKES ONLY THREE TO FOUR MINUTES
  •           FOR MANY SUICIDE DEATHS TO OCCUR.

Supervision must consist of at least 60-minute checks conducted in-person. Staff will initial the chronological log upon conducting checks.


Again, please, I’m begging you to not turn this into a political discussion or debate. I’m merely reporting fact, not opinion. Thank you.

Front door,

Hanging askew.

Dangling,

By one rusted hinge.

 

Open slightly,

A wedge of yellow sunlight.

Like a strip of carpet,

On dusty plank flooring.

 

Gun in hand,

Flashlight in the other.

The unknown,

It’s always the worst.

 

Push and shove,

Door won’t budge.

“I heard a shot,

but I was too scared to look.”

 

Is he in there?”

“Stay back, please.”

Another shove,

and it opens.

 

Standing to side,

Chest heaving, sweat trickling.

“Frank?”

No answer.

 

Only silence,

And my own pounding heart.

“Frank …

I’m here to help. You okay?”

 

Flies buzzing, darting in and out.

Deep breath.

Quick peek,

A minimum target.

 

Blood spatter,

Lots of it.

Tissue on ceiling,

On wall too.

 

Sitting on floor,

With shotgun in lap,

“Frank, you okay?”

Useless words.

 

“Is Daddy all right?”

“Go back in the house.

Please,

I’ll be there soon.”

 

Hand over her mouth,

Sobbing.

“Okay,”

But hurry.”

 

Squeeze through door,

Holster weapon.

Not needed,

Not this time.

 

Friends since high school,

Twenty years, or more.

No face,

No sign of life.

 

Why, Frank?

Great kids.

Great wife,

Nice house.

 

Good job,

Wonderful life.

Silence.

Radio crackles.

 

“Send M.E.,

and paramedics.

No particular order.”

Doesn’t matter.

 

Chest moves,

A wet breath.

A bubble,

From somewhere.

 

Finger twitches,

Slightly.

“Frank?”

Another breath.

 

“Hold on Frank.

Help’s on the way!”

Frantically,

Grab radio.

 

“Hurry,

Victim is alive.

Repeat,

Victim is alive.”

 

Siting on floor,

Holding Frank’s hand.

Sirens drawing closer.

“Hey Frank. Remember when we …”


This incident was the first time I’d responded to an attempted suicide call. Sadly, it would not be the last.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.

1-800-273-8255

Hangings have been a staple in mysteries for as long as we can remember. The Wild West featured them at high noon. The United States government used them as a means of execution, the last being a fellow from the state of Delaware named Bill Bailey, which finally answers the never-ending question. He’s not coming home, so feel free to stop singing about him.

Dr. John Lofland, Professor of Sociology Emeritus Department of Sociology University of California, Davis, detailed state executions in his original commentary titled, The Dramaturgy of State Executions. He’s an expert on the subject.

Dr. John Lofland is an expert on the subject of executions. He’s also a renowned American sociologist and professor who’s best and widely known for his studies of the peace movement. He’s also a multi-published author (see below), and I have close ties to him because, well, he’s my cousin and, ironically, I sort of loosely stumbled onto his path having witnessed an execution by electrocution/electric chair.

I’ve used bits and pieces of information from Dr. Lofland’s commentary to assist you with understanding hangings and strangulations, the topic of this post.

The History

Hangings got their start in Persia (now Iran) approximately 2,500 years ago. So it’s use as a method of putting the condemned to death is not new. American settlers brought the practice with them from England and continued it’s use to deter bad people from doing bad things, such as murder and rape. Sodomy, practicing witchcraft (or even being suspected of it), and even canceling the birth of a child, such as one born out of wedlock, were also “hanging offenses.”

Hangings “back in the day” were sometimes festive occasions where hundreds and sometimes thousands of people gathered to join the celebration of putting a criminal to death. In 1860, for example, a hanging on New York’s Bedloe’s Island attracted massive crowds of people in the streets. So many that others opted to arrive by boat, including oyster boats, yachts, and large steamers carrying such a large number of people it was thought the ships might sink. Food venders set up tents in the streets. It was the hoedown of all hoedowns, and the tradition continued on for a number of years.

It wasn’t uncommon to hears loud and happy cheers while the condemned person dangled from the rope while kicking their feet and convulsing. The cheers grew even louder when the executioner cut the rope to allow the newly dead to drop to the ground.

At one point in time, it was customary for the executioner to cut off the heads of traitors (post hanging) and then hold them up for the crowd to see.

Sometimes sheriffs cut the hanging rope into small pieces and sold them as souvenirs. If the dying man wasn’t dying fast enough, someone would pull down on his legs to help make for a speedier death.

Condemned men have displayed various reactions when finally arriving at the point of their hangings, such as attempting to dance around the trap door, quickly straddle the opening as the door opened, kicking the executioner, etc. Others, having come to terms with their demise, embraced the moment by gently kissing the rope, delivered a flowery speech, or released a black handkerchief, allowing it float gently to the gallows floor, the symbol to drop the hatch.

Writing a Hanging or Strangulation Scene

Most writers who’ve penned death by rope or other “twisted” cord have never seen a victim of strangulation, or hanging (sometimes they’re the same). And that, of course, makes the task a little more difficult, having to rely on books, TV, film, and the word of experts. So before we look at an actual photo straight from the morgue (I snapped the image), let’s take a moment to discuss why and how something as small as a shoelace has the ability to end a human life.

While looking firm and sturdy perched on a set of nicely toned shoulders, the neck is actually quite vulnerable to life-threatening injury.

After all, there’s a lot of important stuff packed into a fairly small space—spinal cord, airway, and major blood vessels. And there’s not a lot of protection surrounding those vital body parts. There’s no bony encasement, such as our ribs, that circle around the interior of the neck. Nope, it’s basically just a little muscle and skin that separates the spinal cord, airway, and major blood vessels from harm.

Did you know that hanging is actually a form of strangulation? Well, sometimes hangings may include some spinal cord or bone injury, but basically the death is by strangulation.

Hangings are either complete (the entire weight of the body is suspended by the neck), or incomplete, where a portion of the body is touching the ground/floor.

A judicial hanging (execution) is normally a death by internal decapitation, where the weight of the body combined with the fall causes the neck to break, disconnecting the head (internally) from the body.

A separation at C2 is the classic hangman fracture.

Rarely, as I’ve often read in novels, does a complete, external decapitation occur. However, it is possible to see an external decapitation (the head completely separates from the body—two individual pieces) in cases where the drop is much further than the length of the victim’s body. For example, the victim is 6-feet tall and is dropped from a height of 30 feet or more before the rope tightens.

The muscles of the neck, such as the sternocleidomastoid muscle, remain intact during an incomplete decapitation.

Strangulation by ligature, tool, or mechanism is a little different, however. Death in these instances is normally caused by obstruction of blood flow to the brain, which causes loss of consciousness followed by a loss of muscle tone and finally arterial and airway obstruction. Naturally, other things occur during the time of strangulation, but those listed are probably of the most concern for writers.

However, pressure applied to the neck for mere moments doesn’t always cause death. Martial arts strangle/choke holds often involve a compression of the major neck arteries, causing a temporary unconsciousness. The trachea (windpipe) is not compromised during the application of these techniques.

This post-autopsy photo below (note the stitching of the “Y” incision) shows a deep ligature mark on the neck (upper left).

The murder weapon was an extension cord, the typical cord found in many homes.

Thanging autopsyo help orient – the head is to the left, just outside the upper edge of the photo. The Y-stitching begins at the bottom left  (upper right shoulder area) and continues to the mid chest area where it’s met by a like incision that began at the upper left shoulder area (upper area of the image) and continued to the chest center. The incision continued down to the area below the navel (bypassing the bellybutton).

This post-autopsy photo (note the stitching of the “Y” incision) shows a deep ligature mark on the neck (upper left).

The above image is not of the mysterious Bill Bailey. No, he’s still missing. Perhaps “Frankie and Johnny” know of his whereabouts. Ah, how many of you know what the heck I’m referring to in this half-baked riddle?

*This particular autopsy was conducted in the state of Ohio, where procedure may vary from the area where your story is set.

Suicidal Hangings

As a police detective, I’ve seen a few suicides and suicide attempts. They’re not a pretty sight, and there’s a different and noticeable “feel” at those scenes than what’s experienced when stepping into a location where someone was murdered. They’re both emotional, nearly palpable experiences. But suicides … there’s the intense sensation of the misery, sorrow, sadness, and extreme loneliness—what the victim was going through at the time they ended their time on this planet. For a moment, a brief flutter deep in the gut, you sometimes feel as if you’re standing there in their shoes.

It’s especially bad when the suicide is that of a child. Here’s post where I describe one of those scenes. It was a tough one.

Unlike state executions where death is practically instant due to the breaking of the neck as a result of the sudden fall, suicide hangings typically take approximately 8-10 minutes before the deed is all said and done, and the death is typically caused by asphyxiation due  to compression of the airway and major blood vessels of neck (see image above).

Should the victim change their mind and halt the process mid-act, or if they’re rescued by someone, here’s what they could expect to happen to their bodies immediately thereafter.

  • Respiratory distress
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • Convulsions
  • Elevated intra cranial pressure
  • Unconsciousness

Post hanging attempts require adequate oxygenation and restoration of an adequate blood flow to the brain (hyperventilation sometimes helps the process).

Tracheal intubation and/or mechanical ventilation are often needed to maintain oxygen supply. Patients may require aggressive oxygen therapy and must be monitored closely because pulmonary edema could occur even after few hours following the suicide attempt. Merely because they’ve started breathing on their own and appear to be “coming around” does not mean that all is well. Nor does it mean the victim(s) in your stories are completely out of the woods at that point.

Hey, when you need that touch of added tension to “breathe life” into an otherwise somewhat dull scene, well, here you go …


Dr. John Lofland is the author and coauthor of various works detailing social movements, social psychology, and research methods. Some of his writings include, Symbolic Sit-ins, Doing Social Life Deviance and Identity, Analyzing Social Settings, and Protest: Studies of Collective Behaviour and Social Movements.

According to Wikipedia and a bit of our family history, John’s book, Doomsday Cult, “is considered to be one of the most important and widely cited studies of the process of religious conversion, and one of the first modern sociological studies of a new religious movement.”

Dr. John Lofland and I both are related to another Dr. John Lofland.

The early Dr. Lofland was the first official poet for the State of Delaware and authored The Poetical and Prose Writings of Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard. I have a copy.

In 1830 John Lofland accepted a challenge from Edgar Allan Poe at the Stars and Stripes Tavern on Water St. in Baltimore Md. The challenge was to see which of the two could write the greater number of verses. Poe lost to Lofland in the marathon contest and was obligated to pay for dinner and drinks for his good friend. This is proof a Lofland received the first ever Edgar Award, dinner and drinks from Poe himself!


Thoughts

by Dr. John Lofland, The Milford Bard

 

Oh! Liberty, how lovely are thy charms,

Thus to call forth embattling bands to arms!

T’ avenge his country’s wrongs, her rights to save,

To win a glorious garland, or a grave;

To rend the chains of cheerless slavery,

To give unborn millions liberty;

To dash the sceptre from the despot’s hand,

Heroes have nobly bled, and patriots plann’d…

Oh! War, what horrors follow in thy train,

What scenes of grief, of dark despair and pain?

Methinks I see the dying and the dead,

Adown this hill, upon their grassy bed;

I hear the cry of wounded men, in vain,

Calling on wives and children, o’er the main;

Calling on wives and children, they no more

Shall see on life’s now fast receding shore;

I see forms of those who died, that we

Might live and long enjoy liberty.

 

The job was fantastic. Everything you wanted and more. Excitement, fulfillment, serving mankind, and action that produces an adrenaline rush like no other. But, along with following your dreams sometimes comes a price. And sometimes that price is quite steep.

Yes, becoming a cop was everything you’d always wanted out of life. And, you’d lucked out when you married the perfect partner, had two beautiful children, purchased a nice home with a not-so-bad mortgage and two fairly new vehicles—a mini-van for hauling the kids to ballgames, scouting events, and family vacations, and a sporty little convertible for weekend fun.

Adding to the perfect lifestyle was an always-by-your-side speckled dog named Jake who the kids forced you to rescue from a local shelter. Work was going great, too, and you’d finally reached the five-year, unofficial, no-longer-a-rookie status. Along with that milestone came a permanent dayshift assignment.

No more graveyards. No more of the Sandman tugging at your eyelids while patrolling dark side streets and alleys. No more trying to sleep with bright sunlight burning its way into your bedroom.

Yes! More awake time at home with the family. Normal meals and meal times. No more Denny’s Lumberjack Slams with a side of hash browns at 4 a.m., or the cold, not-quite-finshed-because-of-the-shooting, three piece, once-extra crispy meals from the Colonel.

Things were definitely looking good.

Better still, you felt good. Well-rested. You’d finally watched your favorite TV show at its actual air time, not as a recording after everyone else has seen and talked about it for days.

You felt so good, actually, that you’d volunteered for extra-duty. Running a little radar on your off time would be an easy assignment, and the extra money would come in handy during the holidays. Besides, little Sally Sue needed braces and Jimmie Joe had already been dropping hints about attending a Boy Scout summer camp.

A few hours each week. How bad could it be?

Your supervisor liked what she saw. You’re a hard-worker. A real go-getter. She wrote a glowing letter recommending you for the Emergency Response Team (ERT). You interviewed and before you knew it you’re on the team. Training was only twice a week, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, your days off. Well, there’s the bi-monthly night training exercises, and the team competitions.

You didn’t get called out all that often—two, three times a month at the most? The last time, though, you were gone for two days, but that really wan’t too bad. Well, maybe you could’ve cut back on the radar assignment. But, the money was nice. After the holidays. Yes, that’s it. You’d promised to cut back after the holidays.

The hostage situation was a tense one. Took 14 hours before the sniper finally popped one in the guy’s T-Zone. That piece of crap never had a chance to think about pulling the trigger before his lights went out. At least his victim came out okay. She’d probably be scarred for life, but she’d live. Might spend a few days with a shrink, but she’d live.

Man, that sniper was good, huh? Blew that guy’s brains all over the wall. Sat him down in a hurry, too. Now that’s what a bloodstain pattern is supposed to look like. TV directors should see this stuff.

To celebrate a job well done the team went to a bar for a few drinks and to unwind. You made it home at 3 a.m., drunk. Your wife and kids were fast asleep. There’s a piece of cake on the counter. The chocolate frosting had dried and hardened just a bit around the edges.

Damn, you forgot your kid’s birthday party.

You couldn”t sleep. Brains and blood. That’s all you saw when you closed your eyes.

Brains and blood.

You knew she was awake and could smell the cheap whiskey, cigarette smoke, and drugstore perfume.

Hadn’t smoked in ten years. When had you started, again?

Whose perfume?

Didn’t matter.

Brains and blood … that’s what was on your mind.

You’d stared at the ceiling, knowing that in two hours the clock would ring. Would the Jack odor be gone by then?

Brains and blood, that’s what kept your eyes open and your mind spinning.

The buzzer sounded and you showered and dressed. Skipped breakfast because your gut felt sour and no matter how many times you brushed your teeth, you felt as if your breath reeked of dirty ashtrays and stale booze.

A domestic he-said-she-said, a lost kid, and an overnight B&E at a midtown mom and pop grocery store. Your head pounded. Pearl-size beads of sweat ran down your back, following your spine until they dipped below your waistband. You dreaded the overtime radar detail. Two more months. Only two more months and the holidays would be over.

A drug raid at 10 p.m. A good bust, too. Two kilos and some stolen guns. What’s a couple of beers to unwind? Sure, you’d go.

It was 3 a.m., again, a few hours after switching from beer to hard liquor, when you’d fumbled with your keys, trying to find the lock on the front door. This, after parking your car askew in the driveway with the driver’s side tire on the lawn and leaving the car door wide open, an act you’d very much regret when trying to start the car the next day.

Passed out on the couch. Late for work, again. Forty-minutes late, actually, due to a head-splitting hangover and a dead car battery. A written warning.

A week later you’re late again, but this time the sergeant smelled the alcohol on your breath. Suspended. Ten days.

Your wife went shopping with her friends. You stayed home with the kids. She came home late. Really late. The stores closed hours ago. No shopping bags and you could’ve sworn she’d been wearing panty hose when she left.

Back at work. Another shooting. This time you fired a few rounds at the guy. He ran. You chased. He turned and fired, so you popped off a couple of rounds in return. He dropped, bleeding and twitching on the pavement.

The kid died. He’d turned thirteen just four days before you killed him.

Suspended pending an investigation.

The department shrink prescribed a couple of meds to help you sleep.

The media hounded you relentlessly. Published your name and address along with a photo of your home.

Another paper published your department and academy records, including the one where your  scores on the firing range were darn near perfect. You’d meant to kill him, they’d said. Your skills were that good. Sure, you knew better, but …

Brains and blood.

Pills helped, some.

And Jack Daniels.

She was out shopping, again. This time she wore her “going out” makeup and the tight skirt and top she once wore on the night of an anniversary. The one she called her “you can’t resist this” outfit. She was right, too, because those legs went on for days.

More Jack Daniels and a pill or two or three. Lost count.

She came home drunk at 3 a.m., smelling of Jack Daniels, cigarette smoke, and cheap aftershave.

You’re awake, staring at the ceiling, knowing the clock is set to go off in three hours. She’s snoring gently. You smelled the Jack with each tiny exhale. The aftershave burned your nostrils.

Two more pills. No, make it four.

Then a trip to the garage, in your pajamas. Barefoot.

The concrete felt cool on the soles of your feet.

An owl hooted outside, somewhere far in the distance.

A cricket chirped from behind the old, rusty furnace.

Boxes filled with old clothing meant for Goodwill sat against the block wall where they’d been for a couple of years.

Moonlight wormed its way through a narrow window next to the ceiling. It painted a milky line that reached from the center of the floor to a tall stool next to a dusty table saw.

You slid the stool next to the workbench where you’d mended countless toys, appliances, and fixed the heels on her favorite shoes. You stood still for moment, taking in the surroundings—your tools, the kids’ old bikes, a couple of rickety sawhorses your father used when he was young, the water softener equipment, and a trunk filled with years of memories.

Then you sat on the wooden stool top, resting the balls of your feet on the bottom rung, and glanced down at the off-duty weapon in your hand, your favorite pistol. Never missed a single target with it.

You couldn’t remember taking out of the dresser drawer, though.

Didn’t matter now.

It would be over in a second.

You opened your mouth and placed the barrel inside, tasting bitter gun oil.

The metal was cool against your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Familiar. Comforting in a peculiar sort of way.

A lone tear trickled down your cheek.

Brains and blood …


In 2016, 108 police officers died as a result of suicide. That’s more than the total officers killed by gunfire and traffic accidents combined in the same year.

  • One officer completed suicide every 81 hours.
  • For every one police suicide, almost 1,000 officers continue to work while suffering the painful symptoms of PTSD.

*Source – Officer.com 


The blue line flag above was painted by author J.D. Allen and presented to me as a gift at the 2017 Writers’ Police Academy. For those of you who don’t know, JD was one of the organizers of the first Writers’ Police Academy held in North Carolina. Thank you, JD. You’re a wonderful friend.

You can learn more about JD Allen and her books by visiting her web page at JDAllenbooks.com

 

 

Front door,

Hanging askew.

One rusted hinge.

Wedge of sunlight,

Smeared across plank flooring.

Beretta in hand.

Push door with flashlight.

Won’t budge.

“I heard a shot but I was too scared to look. Is he in there?”

“Stay back, please.”

Standing to side of doorway.

Breathing heavy.

“Frank?”

Silence.

Sweat trickles from lower back into waistband.

Heart pounding.

“Frank. I’m here to help. You okay?”

Nothing.

Flies buzzing,

Darting in and out.

Deep breath.

Quick peek.

Maglight low.

Minimum target.

Blood spatter.

Lots of it.

Tissue on ceiling.

Sitting on floor.

Shotgun in lap, upright.

“Frank, you okay?”

Useless words.

“Is Daddy all right?”

“Go back in the house. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Hand over mouth, sobbing. “Okay.”

Squeeze through door.

Flashlight aimed toward ceiling,

Casts dim light throughout.

Holster weapon.

Not needed.

Friends since high school.

Twenty years, or more.

No face.

“Why, Frank? Great kids. Great wife. Nice house. Good job. Wonderful life.”

Deafening silence.

Radio crackles.

“Send M.E. and paramedics. No particular order.”

Doesn’t matter.

Chest moves.

A wet breath, from somewhere.

Finger twitches slightly.

“Frank?”

Another jerky, unbelievable breath.

“Hold on Frank. Help’s on the way!”

Frantically grab radio.

“Tell paramedics to hurry. Victim is alive. Repeat. Victim is alive.”

Sit in floor,

Holding Frank’s hand.

Sirens getting closer.

“Hey Frank. Remember when we …”


 

A time-battered shed.

Front door, askew.

One rusted hinge.

Open slightly.

Wedge of sunlight,

On plank flooring.

Beretta in hand.

“I heard a shot, but I was too scared to look. Is he in there?”

“Stay back, please.”

Standing to side of doorway. Breathing heavy.

“Frank?”

No answer.

Heart pounding.

“Frank. I’m here to help. You okay?”

Silence.

Flies buzzing, darting in and out.

Deep breath.

Quick peek.

Maglight low.

Head high.

Minimum target.

Blood spatter.

Lots of it.

Tissue on ceiling.

Sitting on floor.

Shotgun in lap, upright.

“Frank, you okay?”

Useless words.

“Is Daddy all right?”

“Go back in the house. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Hand over mouth, sobbing. “Okay.”

Squeeze through door.

Flashlight aimed toward ceiling.

Holster weapon.

Friends since high school.

Twenty years, or more.

No face.

“Why, Frank? Great kids. Great wife. Nice house. Good job. Wonderful life.”

Silence.

Key radio mic.

“Send M.E. and paramedics. No particular order.”

Doesn’t matter.

BUT …

Chest moves, slightly.

Then, a wet breath … from somewhere.

A finger twitches.

“Frank?”

Another jerky, unbelievable breath.

“Hold on Frank. Help’s on the way!”

Frantically grab radio.

“Tell paramedics to hurry. Victim is alive. Repeat. Victim is alive.”

Sit down.

Holding Frank’s hand.

Sirens getting closer.

“Hey Frank. Remember when we …”