Here are a number of (mostly) true, actual cases involving three types of deaths:
I’ve outlined the cases and you can play detective: decide which of the aforementioned solves the case before you read the summary.
Case Number One – The Man in the Sewage Drain
A young man in his early 20’s was found in a large hole in the ground near the middle of a field that was used for sewage drainage. He was hanging by the neck with a minute timer placed on a ladder, that presumably, he had stood upon before his death. His face and neck are congested with blood and are dark red. The bruise from the rope is in a v-shape, indicating that he was not manually strangled in another position and posed in the drainage hole. It was determined during autopsy that he had expired during daylight hours. The possibilities were:
(i) accident– the victim deliberately placed himself below ground using the ladder and hung himself intentionally, without meaning to kill himself
(ii) suicide – the victim deliberately placed himself below ground using the ladder and hung himself intentionally, meaning to kill himself
(iii) murder – the victim was forced to descend the ladder below ground, was forcibly hung against his will and left to die.
Summary: (i) suicide was ruled out – in order to kill himself the young man had no reason to go to such trouble as to walk across a field carrying a ladder, rope and minute timer, climb down inside a drainage hole, and hang himself.
(ii) murder – was ruled out – in order to murder the victim, the killer would have to force the victim to walk across the open field in daylight while carrying a ladder, rope and a minute timer. The killer would also have to have reason for using the minute timer.
(iii) accident – by autoerotic asphyxiation syndrome. The victim practiced autoerotic asphyxiation syndrome, a means of sexual stimulation whereby a male (this is not known to be practiced by females) hangs himself with a cord around his neck,ties his genitals with the same cord, ties the other end of the cord to a doorknob or other immobile anchor, masturbates and loses consciousness. resulting in a more pleasurable orgasm than normal. AES is typically practiced by people with a masochistic streak, and frequently genital mutilation is found on the corpse. In order to regain consciousness, the male uses a minute timer bell to regain consciousness. In spite of the name asphyxiation, when death occurs, it’s usually because of pressure on a part of the neck called the carotid body, located near the fork of the carotid artery. Pressure on the carotid body slows down the heart and makes a person pass out, causing them to go limp, tightening the choke and decreasing circulation through the neck arteries, and causing asphyxiation. It’s the lack of blood flow to the brain that causes death. Autoerotic syndrome may be a practice of individuals who fall in love with themselves (narcissism). It is usually practiced by people who are homosexual and repress their desires. The actor David Carridine, best known for his role as half–Chinese, half–Caucasian Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine, on the ABC hit TV series Kung Fu is said to have accidentally killed himself through AES. Rock star Michael Hutchence also died from AES. In the aforementioned case either the minute timer malfunctioned, or the victim was unable to regain balance on the ladder. Talk about choking the chicken…
Case Number Twenty-One – Ramon Novarro
Novarro was a drop-dead (pun) gorgeous movie star during the silent era. After the death of Rudolph Valentino, his international chic made him Hollywood’s newest sex symbol. Of course, while women were swooning over Novarro, he was a homosexual. Novarro had been deeply troubled all his life regarding the conflict between his Roman Catholic teachings and his sexual orientation. In 1934, Novarro was a victim of the “witch hunt” for “reds” (communists) in Hollywood. After decades of reclusiveness, on Halloween morning, October 31, 1968, the 69-year-old Navarro re-appeared in headlines when he was found decidedly dead in his home, tied up to a chair, with a dildo deep inside his throat. Ick. Possibilities included:
(ii) suicide – helluva sexy way to go…mind you, the prisoner in Case Number Fourteen managed to kill himself with a bible.
(iii) murder – someone convinced Novarro to open his hotel door, then tied him up and gagged him with the sex toy.
(ii) accident – was quickly ruled out since there were signs of a struggle on the body, and the depth of the dildo made it unlikely a partner would have shoved the thing that far down his esophagus.
Case Number Two – The Man at the Bottom of the Stairs
A quiet university student, a loner who kept to himself, aged 20, was found dead at the bottom of a steep concrete staircase inside of a apartment complex. His arms were close to his body, with one arm wrapped around his rib cage. His death was the result of severe head injuries sustained during a fall down the stairs. The possibilities were:
(1) accident – the victim tripped
(2) suicide – the victim deliberately fell down the stairs to kill himself
(3) murder – someone pushed the victim
Summary (i) accidental -was ruled out. The victim would have put out his hands and struggled against the fall, most likely saving his life.
(ii) murder – was ruled out. The victim had no known enemies and no one had reason to kill him.
(iii) suicide – was the official ruling. The victim’s severe head injuries and the position of his arms revealed that he must have deliberately hurled himself over the stairs, folding his arms around his torso so he was unable to prevent himself from breaking his fall.
Case Number Three – The Girl in the Park
A girl in her late teens was discovered dead, lying on her back, in a public park near her residence. There are no signs of violence or struggle. She died some time during the daylight hours. Lividity, where blood in a corpse pools to the lowest place of gravity, was evident in her back. Autopsy revealed she died of a drug overdose of sleeping pills. The possibilities were:
(i) accident – the girl used sleeping pills on a regular basis and over-estimated her ability to take as many as she did. However, this leaves the question of why she was found in the park.
(ii) suicide – the girl committed suicide in the park with sleeping pills. However this leaves the question of why she would commit suicide in a park, rather than at her residence, which was only minutes away.
(iii) murder – the girl was murdered by an unknown person and left in the park, suggesting her body had been moved. However, this leaves the question as to how the killer was able to force the girl to take an overdose of sleeping pills.
Summary: (1) accident – was ruled out. The girl had to deliberately ingest a minimum of 35 – 40 sleeping pills in order to kill herself.
(ii) murder – was ruled out. It would be nearly impossible to force a person to commit suicide via drug overdose and there are easier methods of murder.
(iii) suicide – by drug overdose. The mystery as to why the girl killed herself in the park remains unknown. She had been depressed for a number of days, telliing people she was considering suicide. It is possible she killed herself in a public place hoping someone would discover her and call police before she died.
Case Number Four – The Woman, the Opthamologist and the Insulin Overdose
A middle-aged woman was found dead in her bathroom in her luxurious home in an affluent part of a city. She was a heavy drinker and a diabetic, who took daily insulin doses. Her husband, a successful opthamologist, who made a very high salary, discovered her in the early hours of the evening on a week day after returning home from a business trip. Suspicion against her husband was initially ruled out after it was proven he was out of town most of that day, however he had not attended a business trip, but instead had gone to visit his mistress in another city. It was revealed he was planning to leave his wife and marry his mistress. Examination of the dead woman’s right heart revealed a very high overdose of insulin, most likely resulting in her death. In support of this, the woman’s pupils were dilated. Possibilities included:
(i) accident – the woman, while drinking, accidentally gave herself a massive overdose of insulin and died on the bathroom floor.
(ii) suicide – the woman knew about her husband’s mistress and killed herself in distress.
(iii) murder – the husband didn’t want to divorce his wife due to the expense in legal fees and alimony, and instead, he gave his wife the lethal injection. It’s first use as a murder weapon was recorded in 1957, and there has been 50 cases globally of insulin being used either to kill, or to try to kill – mainly by medical staff who find the drug easier to obtain.
Summary: (i) accident – was ruled out. The woman was not known to inject herself with insulin while she was heavily intoxicated.
(ii) murder – initially this was the police suspicion and the ophthalmologist was named as her potential murderer, especially since he was a doctor and had easier access to insulin than most people. However, autopsy revealed that in spite of the massive amount of insulin in her system, this alone didn’t kill the woman. Murder by insulin is very rare since it is very difficult to do. It is not a very good weapon and it is easy to kill babies and old people with insulin, but not adults.
(iii) suicide – was the official conclusion. The woman died of a combination of alcohol poisoning and massive insulin injection. Since she normally didn’t inject herself during a drinking binge, it was determined the woman drank until she became heavily intoxicated, then injected herself with the prepared syringe of insulin. Autopsy revealed significant brain damage due to alcohol poisoning that had accumulated over several years. The woman possibly knew of her husband’s affair and intention to divorce her, and killed herself.
Case Number Five – The Boy in the Box – America’s Unknown Child
This case hearkens back to the Fox Chase area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1957. The little boy, whose identity remains unknown, was discovered
- nude, freshly bathed,
- covered with severe bruises, some fresh, others faded,
- inside a J C Penney bassinet box,
- wrapped in a plaid, coarse blanket,
- hair was crudely cut with pieces of it clinging to his body
- suggesting it was cut post-mortem, possibly to disguise his identity
His body was left at a dump site on Susquehannah Road, a small, dirt, side road where the Good Shepherd Home for Wayward Girls was located. There were no other residences in the area. The boy’s body was found to have been left outside for at least 2 days prior to it being reported by a young man who was looking for his muskrat traps. The boy was battered to death. He was not drowned or this would have been discovered during autopsy.
The prime suspect was:
(i) The Nicolettis – Arthur Nicoletti and his teenaged stepdaughter, Anna Marie Nagle, whom police suspected had a baby out of wedlock, lived in the Good Shepherd Home that was run by Nicoletti. Police theorized that Nagle had been hiding her son inside the home for 4 – 6 years, while abusing and starving him. Nicoletti later wed the girl. Eventually DNA collected from the boy’s exhumed body exonerated the Niciolettis.
A secondary suspect was:
(ii) Mary – a woman who claimed to be the boy’s foster sister, identifying him as Jonathan. She claimed her mother threw him on the floor for vomiting in the bathtub, killing him. There has been no evidence uncovered to support her theory, and it has been suggested that Mary suffered from a mental illness.
A tertiary suspect was:
(ii) The Dudley’s – Kenneth and Adelle Dudley starved, neglected and exposed their 7-year-old daughter to the elements to such a degree that she died. The couple admitted to murdering six of their own children in that manner. Eventually the gruesome pair were eliminated from the suspect list.
The question about this murder is not howdunnit but whodunnit and who is the boy? Decades after his death, different investigators, including the Vidoq Society, are still researching the case, without success.
Case Number Six – The Drowned Woman
A teenaged African-American girl drowned after her boyfriend pushed her off the Morgan Park Bridge in Arcadiathe bridge in Florida over Peace Bridge. 28-year-old Mark Allan Huntley deliberately pushed her into the river even though he knew she couldn’t swim. The two men jumped into the river when the girl didn’t resurface but they were unable to find her. When police were notified, they gathered up her possessions and left the area. Huntley claimed he was playing around with his girlfriend and didn’t intend for her to drown. Possibilities:
(i) accident – the men were playing a game and didn’t mean to kill her
(ii) involuntary manslaughter – Unintentional murder, without malice aforethought and no intention to kill the victim .
(iii) murder – unlawful killling with malice aforethought.
Summary: (i) accident – was ruled out. The men knew the girl couldn’t swim but pushed her anyway.
(ii) involuntary manslaughter – was ruled out for Huntley and was the charge against Skevington, because he helped Huntley flee the scene after the girl drowned.This may have been because Skevington, who had a criminal record, made a plea bargain with the prosecution for a reduced sentence.
(ii) murder – Huntley was charged with murder involving malice aforethought.
- He knew his girlfriend couldn’t swim
- He knew the odds of saving her were slim
- He encouraged his friend to assist him
- He left the scene without notifying police or emergency personnel.
(ii) suicide: was this an attempt at a murder-suicide, or an attempt at murder that nearly became a murder-accident?
(iii) murder – was the cranky neighbour pathological and therefore angry at the Carrs over minor issues such as loud music and barking dogs?
(ii) murder-suicide/accident – was ruled out. Peggy’s new husband, Parearlyn Carr, was first on the suspect list. The couple had been squabbling and Peggy thought he was having an affair, but the thallium was found in his blood and suspicions faded.
(iii) murder – was the official ruling – Trepal’s perfect murder contained a fatal flaw: a note that was sent to the Carr family warned them to leave Florida or they “would all die,” linking Trepal to the letter due to comments he made during a police interview. Although Trepal claimed to work with his wife every day, he usually stayed home or went to his own office. Trepal and his wife had moved to a different community when the Carrs received the threatening letter. Officers went to Trepal’s empty house and examined his cellar where they discovered a bottle containing thalllium. Trepal was sentenced to death on March 6, 1991.
(ii) suicide – the groom and the bride put poison into the wine and died together a la Romeo and Julie, knowing that some day the bride’s tumours would kill her
(iii) murder – the bride’s mother, didn’t approve of her daughter’s choice for a husband and she poisoned the wine the couple was drinking.Summary: (i) suicide– the couple hadn’t poisoned themselves or else a winter wedding wouldn’t have been planned.
(i) murder was ruled out. There was no poison found in the couple’s wine.
(ii) accident – was the official ruling. The couple were a distinct orange colour by the time the bride’s mother found them. Orange skin is a side effect of carbon monoxide poisoning. The wood burning stove produced the carbon monoxide poisoning as the room lacked adequate ventilation, which was unknown to the bride’s mother. Most carbon monoxide poisonings from wood burning stoves occur between November and February, the coldest months of the year in a northern state, due to faulty fossil fuel and wood burning appliances.
Case Number Nine – The Headless Driver
A man in his early 30’s was found dead in his convertible car, which had smashed into a tree. This however was not the cause of death. The man had been decapitated and his head was found several metres from the scene. Where his head had once been was torn and lacerated tissue. Police found a large, long chain behind the convertible on the road, that seemed to have been attached to the man’s neck in order to decapitate him. The other end of the chain was tied tightly around a steel post. It was determined during autopsy that the man had been very intoxicated.
(i) accident – obviously not.
(ii) suicide – a bizarre way to kill himself, if that was the case.
(iii) murder – someone convinced the man to drink to the point of intoxication, then after he climbed behind the wheel of his car, attached the chain around his neck, and allowed the man to speed off.
Summary: (i) murder – a definitely complicated means of killing a person. Not many killers would devise a scheme to decapitate a person in such a manner. Usually, a decapitation takes place after a murder in order to disguise the identity of the victim.
(ii) suicide – was the official ruling. The man wanted to ensure his own death, drank up his courage, then fixed the chain into place around his own neck and sped forward in his car. The chain happened to be the right length to hit the tree the car crashed into.
Case Number Ten – The Suicide Jumper Who was Murdered by Shotgun
This is also a true case, although hard to believe. An elderly couple lived in the same apartment complex as their middle-aged son, Ronald Opus, on the ninth floor. The son’s was on a higher floor than that of his parents. The couple fought frequently and on occasion, the elderly man took his unloaded hunting rifle out of a closet, aimed it at his wife and pulled the trigger. After a spat with her son, the elderly woman cut off Ronald’s financial support. As a result, Ronald loaded his father’s rifle, hoping his father would kill his mother during an argument. Due to his increasing depression, Ronald decided to commit suicide by jumping from his balcony. On the same evening, the elderly couple had another fight, the man pointed his gun at his wife and pulled the trigger. The bullet missed his wife, went through a window, and through miraculous timing, shot his son in the chest as he fell from his balcony and passed in front of the ninth floor window. The DA determined that due to the fact that the son was killed before he hit the ground his death was by:
(i) accident – this was debated for some time, since the man had no intention of killing his son and was unaware that the gun was loaded.
(ii) suicide – the son was going to kill himself anyway, regardless of being shot.
(iii) murder – the elderly man was guilty of murder since technically he shot his son before he hit the ground.
Summary: (i) accident – was ruled out. It was a bullet that killed the son, not his fall.
(ii) suicide – was ruled out. Although the son’s death was inevitable, he was dead before he hit the ground.
(iii) murder – was the official ruling. Well, manslaughter, to be precise since the man aimed a loaded rifle at his wife. What The elderly couple swore they didn’t know the firearm was loaded. Nonetheless, the father was charged in his son’s murder. Betcha didn’t see that one coming….
River Running (shoe) Red
Case Number Eleven – The Severed Feet
Two severed feet, one of which was lodged in a shoe, washed up on a beach in British Columbia. The left foot was found four months after the right. Police were able to identify the man who formerly owned them. The three possibilities included:
(ii) suicide: the typical murder-suicide scene for tragic, undiscovered reasons.
(iii) murder- the perpetrator killed the victim then changed his mind about suicide and died due to smoke inhalation.
(ii) murder – only half the conclusion, since the perpetrator also died.
(iii) murder-accident – rather than murder-suicide, the perpetrator committed a murder-accident. He had no intention of killing himself, but when and sought escape through a window but was blocked by smoke. He sought refuge in a bathroom under a running shower. Murder-accident rather than murder-suicide is a more accurate designation.
(ii) suicide– Williams chose an unorthodox means of doing away with himself.
(iii) murder – someone killed Williams by violently shoving the bottlecap down his throat.
(ii) murder – pushing a bottlecap into Williams’ throat was a viable means of murder: it could look like a suicide without resorting to violence. However there were no signs of a struggle and no bruising around Williams’ mouth.
(iii) accident – was the official ruling. Williams was in the habit of holding the bottlecap between his teeth while he applied eyedrops with his head held far backward.
(ii) suicide – Brun deliberately shoved the bible into his own throat in order to kill himself
(iii) murder – another prisoner shoved the bible down Brun’s throat, killing him. The ME stated “the average person does not have such a will to persistently shove something of such a size, such a solidity, down his throat.” Summary: (i) murder – prison guards continually passed by Brun’s cell and determined no other prisoner had access to him
(ii) suicide – was the official ruling. Brun was determined not to go to trial for crime and the only weapon he had available to him, ironically, was the Gideon Bible.
(ii) – suicide – despondent after his wife threatened to leave him, the man deliberately activated the lever and collapsed the bed.
(iii) murder – the wife activated the bed’s lever before she left the apartment.Summary: (i) murder – entirely possible as the woman did indeed deliberately active the lever, yet incorrect.
(ii) suicide – helluva weird way to go (giggle).
(iii) accident – was the official ruling. Before she left the apartment, the irate wife kicked the bed’s lever and slammed her husband up against the wall. She intended to give him a hard bump and a bit of humiliation. As she left, she assumed he would be able to release the lever and let himself out. This proved incorrect since the man’s neck was broken. (And they say dying in bed is supposed to be peaceful.) You may ponder the accident theory thinking to yourself, “hmmm, the woman might have simply made her husband’s death appear to be an accident,” except when she returned home, the wife was horrified to discover her husband’s body still crammed up against the wall, and called the police herself, in utter hysterics. Personally I would have been in hysterics laughing. I found this one on a Weird News site, but now I can’t find the link. If you find it, send it on to me so I can link it to this blog. I swear I don’t make up this stuff.
(ii) suicide – riiiight.
(iii) murder – Martin was somehow murdered, without leaving a trace, and left in the building.
(ii) murder – The medical examiner determined through a toxicology report that little Martin hadn’t eaten any of the pills. It was discovered later that they were left behind by the previous tenants.It was concluded at the time that Martin Brown died due to the unsafe conditions inside the abandoned building. Finally, several months after Martin’s death, Mary Bell, the infamous 11-year-old child murdereress was arrested for Martin’s murder. She had strangled the little boy to death. Because of her young age, she was unable to use significant force during the strangulation; ergo, no bruises on his neck, no striations (broken blood vessels) in his eyes, leaving the cause of death undetermined.
(ii) suicide – obviously not
(iii) murder – the woman had murdered her mother for unknown reasons, and in a state of psychosis couldn’t remember disposing of her mother’s body.
(ii) accident – was the official ruling. The mother had indeed been in the hotel, but she had succumbed to a case of the bubonic plague, which she had contracted while in India. The hotel manager, after referring to the City, disposed of the body in case widespread alarm spread among tourists and locals. The entire room was redesigned by hotel staff while the woman was on the other side of the city, visiting the doctor. There was no evil intent, but the City and the hotel manager wouldn’t chance information about the mother’s disease reaching the public.
(ii) suicide – Marilyn deliberately killed herself via overdose for many reasons, a strong reason being the bipolar disorder (known then as manic-depression) that had plagued her most of her adult life. Marilyn often voice her fear that she would suffer the kind of breakdown as her mother Gladys, a schizophrenic, and also be committed into a mental hospital.
(iii) murder – either the Kennedy’s or the CIA were responsible for Marilyn’s murder. It has been debated that a dead Marilyn was more dangerous to the Kennedys than a live Marilyn. Jack and Robert were next door at Peter Lawford’s house attending a dinner party. And the widespread knowledge that Marilyn and the president had had an affair made it very dangerous for a Kennedy connection and her murder. In 1997, documents purporting to prove a coverup of a relationship between JFK and Monroe were discovered to be fraudulent.
(iv) accident – Marilyn deliberately swallowed 40 Nembutal (the drug that killed her), then contacted Peter Lawford, a Kennedy cousin, stating, “say goodbye to the President and say goodbye to you too, because you’re a nice guy“, the implication being she was committing suicide and wanted Lawford to hurry to her rescue.
(ii) suicide – unlikely since there was no weapon nearby and no note.
(iii) murder – was the immediate suspicion due to the extent of Holden’s injuries, the rumpled rug and the blood on the night table.
(ii) murder – a good supposition but incorrect.
(iii) accident – Holden was intoxicated at the time of his death. He tripped on the rug in his room, fell, hit his head on the night table, and bled to death. He may have lived for up to 30 minutes after his death, meaning Holden could have called for an ambulance but underestimated the extent of his injuries.
This one is truly in a class of its own. 55-year-old Alex Mitchell of Norfolk, Scotland, was found dead in his living room with a comedic sitcom, The Goodies, playing on the television. There seemed to be no signs of foul play initially, but there is no such thing as a case as easy as that. Possibilities included:
(ii) murder – was ruled out. THe medical examiner found no trauma to the brain, organs nor in the bloodstream. However she did find evidence of cardiac arrest.
On 9 March 2001, Bernd Jürgen Brandes met with a horrific end inside the Slaughter Room of one Armin Meiwes, in the small town of Rotenburg. Meiwes stabbed Brandes to death, hung him up with meat hooks, and tore chunks off his body and consumed them. Hang in there (pun). Prior to that stomach churning display of cannibalism, Meiwes severed Brandes’ penis and attempted to eat it. Meiwes fried it in a pan with spices and burned it so badly he fed it to his dogs. At this point, Brandes was still alive. He didn’t meet with his pathetic demise until after the severing of his genitals and his entry into the Slaughter Room. Meiwes ate the body over the next 10 months, storing body parts in his freezer under pizza boxes and consuming 44 lbs of the flesh. According to prosecutors, Meiwes committed the act for sexual enjoyment. Perhaps he should have stuck to Navarro’s dildo habit.Possibilities included:
(ii) suicide – Brandes deliberately met with Meiwes and participated in his own murder.
(iii) murder – Meiwes somehow lured the unfortunate Brandes into his home, a la Jeffrey Dahmer.
(ii) suicide – say what? Brandes found an ad on the internet on a site known as The Cannibal Cafe. Meiwes’s post stated that he was “looking for a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. He emphasized that this was reality and not fantasy. Believe it or not, several young men answered the ad then changed their minds. They commented at Meiwes’ trial that at no point did he try to force them into anything. Aw, what a swell guy. Brandes answered Meiwes’ ad and voluntarily attended his home to be slaughtered and eaten. He assisted Meiwes with the severing of his genitals and also attempted to eat his own penis (you can’t buy memories like that).Finally, as agreed, Meiwes stabbed Brandes in the throat and cannibalized him. Hannibal Lecter’s got nothin’ on him. Armin went into the other room to read Star Trek Adventures while waiting for his victim to die. Ten hours later, Brandes accommodated him via several more stabbings in the throat. On 30 January 2004, Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison. The prosecutors appealed the case stating that Meiwes should have been tried for murder. The conclusion of the retrial was a sentence of life imprisonment. I don’t know which way to go on this one. True Meiwes was both a murderer and a cannibal, but Brandes was his own freakshow and was quite happy to offer himself as a sacrifical lamb. There really is someone out there for everyone.