Terms such as ‘homicide’ and ‘suicide’ seem straightforward and self-explanatory to most people in modern society. They paint a picture of violence inflicted upon oneself or others, and the distinction between the implications is thought to be clear. However, deeper investigation suggests that not all crime scenes are as black-and-white as they appear due to potential discrepancies in the placement of the body in relation to its environment, and simple traits such as firearm and stab wounds can prove to be instrumental in the determination of the manner of death. The purpose of this research is to delve deeper into the world of Forensic Science to analyze the practices such as evidence collection and preservation used while investigating a crime scene. The aspects explored are the classifications of evidence, areas and articles of interest on the victim and at the scene, and any consistencies that may be predominant at particular sites.
In a world heavily influenced by media, social networks, and popular television dramas, the public perception of crime scene investigation is generally inaccurate. Realistically, ‘crime’ is a broad term that can refer to a variety of situations or events such as embezzlement or a car accident. A crime scene is defined as a “place where an offense has been committed and forensic evidence may be gathered” (Oxford Dictionaries) and can involve a wide array of individuals including but not limited to police, investigators, specialists, and analysists. Regardless of the crime, the first step in any case is generally to begin an investigation by conducting a thorough examination of the scene. Examining each area as efficiently as possible allows for investigators to uncover any physical evidence that may be present. Any evidence collected is preserved, packaged, and delivered to the laboratory where forensic scientists are able to analyze it and attempt to recreate the events from the scene. Forensics is defined as “the application of scientific techniques to crime investigation” (Oxford Dictionary), and therefore labels a forensic scientist as an individual who controls the techniques behind the evidence analysis.
Most commonly, the public associates crime scene investigation with violent crimes such as homicide or murder, both of which are defined as “the killing of one human by another” (Oxford Dictionary), are usually premeditated, and always unlawful. These kinds of cases can often seem rather open-and-shut, with the process simply involving questioning family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased, identifying an offender, and questioning any persons of interest that may have been identified. However, many cases are not always what they appear. There have been several instances in crime scene history in which an individual was murdered, and the surrounding scene was arranged to appear as a suicide. Bizarrely enough, there are counter situations in which the scene of a suicide—or “the action of killing oneself intentionally” (Oxford Dictionary)—are so violent or unusual that the initial presumption would be there was foul play involved, and the subject was murdered. In fact, Michael Cholbi published an article in 2007 titled “Self-Manslaughter and the Forensic Classification of Self-Inflicted Death” that considers the complicated science behind what is considered an accidental death, and what could be considered self-manslaughter. This type of analysis delves deeper into the original intention behind the fatal action, and how a different classification of death could potentially be beneficial to the law enforcement community. Because the inspection and science behind these types of investigations are so unique and specialized, this paper has been purposed to focus on what type of techniques may be involved, and if there are certain aspects of these scenes that are particular to their focus—i.e. homicide or suicide-specific characteristics.
As previously defined homicide is considered “the killing of one human by another” (Oxford Dictionary), and can actually fall into a broader spectrum than most would not expect or realize. For example, the concept of homicide can be connected to four different definitions that each tailor to a specific situation. The first of these classifications would be perhaps the most well-known affiliation: murder. First-degree murder is usually deliberate, planned, and the most serious criminal activity. These labels can apply to the murder of the original intended target, or any other individual that may be unfortunate enough to cross the offender’s path. A homicide that occurs suddenly with no premeditation is considered a second-degree murder (Findlaw). The next classification falls close to the definition of second-degree murder and can be used interchangeably depending on the laws defined in the offender’s current state of residence. Manslaughter refers to the (usually) accidental killing of another human that occurred through potentially reckless behavior, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causing an accident. Manslaughter can be further broken down into voluntary and involuntary (Findlaw). These titles are assigned based on whether or not the killing was intentional. The final classification is lesser known—yet commonly used—and is perhaps a bit confusing when first learned. A legal murder is in reference to a situation in which the killing of another human is justified and considered self-defense, such as during a home invasion or an attempted mugging (Findlaw). Although each classification can stem from intentional or accidental actions, the final determination of the event and subsequent charges are dependent on the individual laws upheld in each state, and how they are interpreted.
In order to gain an understanding of what occurred at a crime scene, and what people or objects may have been involved, investigators must begin documenting and analyzing anything that may seem of consequence using a direct and efficient approach. A scene evaluation can include the involvement of local police, crime scene investigators, and/or any federal investigators that may need to be present depending on the severity of the offense in question. In order to retain a sense of transparency—a useful quality to maintain trust between the public and different organizations, as well as confidence in the abilities of investigators and analysts—the investigation of the scene would, if possible, take place in the presence of any parties involved (Coroiu, Dumitru 91-94). As expected, each individual involved in the scene search is granted access to any locations that may be deemed important so long as they are assigned a specific responsibility—such as print recovery or scene photography—by the designated leader of the investigation team. The method of how the scene is to be analyzed also falls to the team leader. The method of inspection can take many forms such as: dividing the scene into smaller sections, moving as a unit from one side to the other, moving in a spiral pattern, or moving in a random pattern. The method of crime scene investigation is primarily dependent on the size of the scene, the nature of the crime, and how many organizations are involved. Due to the varying number of teams and individuals present, any personnel entering or exiting the scene are required to keep a log of the date and time of arrival and departure, and must stay within the confines of the task(s) delegated to them. This ensures that each member is placed within an area of experience, and no evidence is confused, misplaced, or mishandled before being packaged and delivered to the analysts (Coroiu, Dumitru 91-94).
After a scene has been deemed secure, and any medical assistance necessary has been administered, a report consisting of photos, sketches, and video recordings is compiled to be examined by detectives, and potentially brought to court if necessary. Wet evidence such as blood is swabbed or collected, air dried, and stored in a breathable container such as a paper bag. Scrapings are stored in an envelope, and dry stains are obtained using a wet swab technique. This practice uses a swab that has had one or two drops of deionized water added to the cotton which is then wiped through the surface stain (Sobieralski, 21 Aug. 2017). In some cases, an alternate light source may be required to locate and/or identify a stain that may otherwise be invisible to the naked eye.
Determining if any scene is unique enough to tie specifically to either a homicide or a suicide can prove to be difficult as the job of an investigator is not to assume what happened, but to analyze the evidence available and eliminate suspects. However, many detectives may take into account the reaction of any group or crowd formations. The difference between these two terms is explored in Robyn Lacks Diehl, Jill A. Gordon, and Colleen McLaughlin McCue’s article “WHO, WHAT, AND WHEN: A Descriptive Examination of Crowd Formation, Crowd Behavior, and Participation with Law Enforcement at Homicide Scenes in One City[dagger]” published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, which states that a group “contains five main characteristics” (Diehl et al. 1-20) that amount to the basic decision that this coming-together of individuals has a purpose and a goal, while a crowd does not necessarily serve a useful function (Diehl et al. 1-20). By gauging the reactions of a crowd, it is possible to determine if the local neighbors are surprised, horrified, or even calmly expectant. However, these reactions may vary depending on where the crime took place. For example, if violent crime is prevalent in a particular community, the ensuing crowd may appear more calm and resolved overall rather than horrified and shocked (Diehl, Grant 471-484). Analyzing these responses in a crowd may help investigators preliminarily determine if the deceased individual had recent odd habits, or if the community was able to notice any unusual activity surrounding the victim that could suggest foul play.
Similar to the term homicide, suicide can be broken into separate categories and can be difficult to officially assign a title to. It is generally understood that the action of committing suicide is the act of an individual taking their own life intentionally (Oxford Dictionary), however, this assignment of a manner of death can be complicated. Author M. Cholbi states “there are clear cases where people are casually responsible for their own death” in the article “Self-manslaughter and the forensic classification of self-inflicted death” published in the Law, Ethics and Medicine subcategory in the J Med Ethics journal in 2007 (Cholbi 155-157). This type of unintentional self-inflicted death can occur when an individual assumes the safety on a handgun is on and thus fatally wounds himself while performing routine maintenance. Cholbi further goes on to mention that even the request for assisted suicide or doctor-assisted suicide can be difficult to place simply due to the nature of the request (Cholbi 155-157). The task of determining whether or not the deed of self-inflicted death is accidental or suicidal is the main argument behind Cholbi’s article, as he states that a coroner’s most important factor in establishing if an individual’s death can be classified as a suicide or not should be based on “whether it was intended that the actions would cause death” (Cholbi 155-157). The ascertainment of the labels attached to self-inflicted deaths become more clear when the manner of death is the result of increasingly reckless behavior with no clear intention of death, but no attempt to avoid hazardous activities. For example, if a drug addicted individual risked an injection of lethal amounts with the hopes of achieving a record high, or another person continues to engage in life-threatening behavior in an attempt to gain the attention—and the help associated with it—from surrounding friends, family, and even strangers. Should either of the aforementioned behaviors result in death, it is reasonable to speculate that death was not the obvious desired action, though neither situation was allowed any precautions by either individual.
The initial scene of a suicide should not be treated any differently than that of a homicide. This method of investigation stems from the acknowledgment that it is not necessarily the job of the investigator(s) to determine whether or not a subject’s death was the result of a homicide or a self-inflicted death. As such, every piece of evidence must be as carefully documented as stated in the homicide section. After a scene is determined to be cold, there is no suspect at the scene, and any medical aid possibly needed has been administered, the investigators begin documenting the scene using a photography process known as GO-CUT, which acts as a method guide to capturing as much detail about the setting and sample(s) as possible. The acronym is able to be broken down such that each letter stands for the type of photo needed; for example: G—a general overview of the whole scene, and the correlation of the larger pieces of evidence as related to each other and the other objects in the area, O—an orientation view that is typically taken from the ‘four corners’ of the scene to demonstrate the relation of one item to another, C and U—a close-up view of evidence typically taken at a 90̊ angle to show minor details, and T—a technical shot taken at a 90̊ angle with a scale for size accuracy (Sobieralski, 21 Aug. 2017). This type of method is used when investigating a homicide scene as well as a suicide, but the specific method of documentation could provide enough visual information about the scene, the body, and any wounds present to give investigators an idea of the nature of the scene, and if a crime occurred.
In a 2005 article written by T. Fracasso and B. Karger titled “Two unusual stab injuries to the neck: homicide or self-infliction?” and published by the International Journal of Legal Medicine, Fracasso and Karger analyze a documented scene involving a woman found in her living room by her daughter. The surrounding scene housed the body, “a large pool of blood, secondary droplets and stains from arterial bloodspatter, dropping and contact” (Fracasso, Karger 369-371). The puncture wounds present on the subject’s neck were located on the anterior portion of her neck, cutting across the left common carotid artery. The placement of the wounds, tied with the premise that deaths resulted from sharp force are primarily the product of a homicide led to suspicion that the subject’s death was the effect of a homicide. However, the inspection of the wounds showed characteristics that were common with glass wounds. This, along with evidence found at the scene, and a statement from the subject’s daughter allowed investigators to ascertain that the death was accidental and self-inflicted (Fracasso, Karger 369-371). Cases such as this reaffirm the importance of proper scene documentation and analysis.
Although the previously stated case was able to be confirmed as an accidental, self-inflicted death, it is worthy to note that initial inspection lead investigators to believe that the subject’s unfortunate death was the result of a homicide. In the profession of crime scene investigation, it is reasonable to assume that most scenes would better be considered a homicide than suicide in order to allow any and all evidence present to be collected and analyzed with the full effort of scientists to eliminate any potential suspects. In fact, M. Große Perdekamp, S. Pollak, and A. Thierauf stated “in practice, it often remains doubtful whether suicides were really committed voluntarily…or whether external reasons or psychopathological dispositions may have led to the development of suicidal thoughts and impulses” (Perdekamp et al. 171-180). These predisposed doubts are further complicated if multiple suicide methods seem to have been applied simultaneously or in rapid succession. Cases such as this are further delegated into planned actions—known as a primary suicide—or actions that may have been unplanned—known as secondary suicides (Perdekamp et al. 171-180). Because these actions can be seen in both a homicide and a suicide, this information will be covered more in depth in the following section below.
Individually the scenes of a homicide or suicide-related death can be complicated and chaotic. The presence—or lack thereof—of evidence and clues can determine if there is a suspect, and even if that suspect is charged and/or tried for the crime. When factors of each stigma collide, the scene and the evidence within it can seem all the more confusing. Every detail down to the angle of blood spatter and the position of various objects in the area are key tools in establishing whether or not a crime was suicide or murder.
Perhaps the most commonly realized form of crime scene investigation is bloodstain analysis. The presence of this substance on a suspect or windowsill allows detectives to recreate the crime scene and gain a better understanding of what may have occurred there. In fact, the ability to distinguish between the blood patterns formed as a result of spatter and spurting versus contact transfers can be instrumental in reconstructing a crime scene. Cho et al.’s article “Quantitative bloodstain analysis: Differentiation of contact transfer patterns versus spatter patterns on fabric via microscopic inspection” states that a spatter stain is defined as “a bloodstain resulting from a blood drop dispersed through the air due to an external force applied to a source of liquid blood” while citing the Scientific Working Group on Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (noted as SWGSTAIN for the rest of the paper) definition of a transfer stain as “a bloodstain resulting from contact between a blood-bearing surface and another surface” (Cho et al. 249). This definition also brings to light the noting of a stain being formed as a result of a surface or object already stained coming in contact with a surface or object that is not. This type of touch evidence can further be analyzed as a ‘wipe’ or ‘swipe’ action. These terms usually depend on which surface was originally stained. If a clean object is dragged through a stained surface and collects excess portions of it, this would result in a wiped stain. As such, if a stained object crosses a clean surface and leaves a trace, this would be recorded as a swiped stain (Sobieralski, 21 Aug. 2017). The differentiation between a wipe and swipe, and transfer stains and blood spatter is a challenging practice and can become increasingly difficult to analyze when the stains are found on various surfaces such as fabrics. However, by identifying the nature and type of a stain, investigators can determine if a body was repositioned, or if there was any type of clean up attempted. Patterns such as these can arouse suspicion and indicate foul play is involved.
Alongside the concept of spatter-transfer differentiation comes the analysis of void patterns. These patterns are defined as “an area that is somehow shielded and thus does not show staining that would otherwise be expected” (Bell, 129). Bell further notes that a void pattern can also be referred to as a ‘shadow pattern’ and can be seen when a portion of a body or an object is positioned so that it is able to block a portion of the blood—or other substance—from reaching another surface (Bell, 129). Patterns such as these, similar to the wipe-swipe concept, allow investigators to determine if a body or object is moved, or even missing. Cases such as this, where high concentrations of spatter are present, and any smears or void patterns may be visible are usually found in cases of homicide rather than suicide.
Despite the difficulties of distinguishing what patterns are and are not present, and the importance of recognizing specific qualities of each, the data interpreted and presented by bloodstain analysts are mostly based on the characteristics of the pattern, the level of experience the analyst has, and thusly how he interprets the data. Cho et al. references the case Indiana v. Camm in which four expert witnesses were called for both the defense and the state. The witnesses of the state testified the bloodstains were a result of “high-velocity impact spatter” (Cho et al. 249) while the defense witnesses claimed they were a result of contact transfer (Cho et al. 249). Cho et al. references several cases in which expert witnesses disagreed on what a bloodstain was meant to represent, and where it came from.
Fortunately, blood stain analysis is not the only method of crime scene investigation. Many aspects of the forensic field are able to be tied together and related to each other. Weapon placement/location is a prime example of the relationship between two different fields. Kunz et al. stated, “the main goal of forensic analysis is to distinguish firearm suicides from homicides and accidents” (Kunz et al. e54-7). It is worthy to note in his description as well that there are three mentioned classifications of death: suicides, homicides, and accidents. Determining the location and/or placement of the weapon in question can be instrumental in determining which of those classifications can be associated with a particular scene. Because it is reasonable to assume that a majority of the public recognizes firearms can play equally critical roles in both homicides and suicides, they will be the subject of comparison in this portion. Apart from analyzing any possible blood stain patterns that result from “gunshot-related backspatter” (Kunz et al. e54-7) on the limbs or body of a victim or perpetrator, crime scene investigators and coroners must also consider the location of the wound entrance and possible exit, the wound trajectory, and any gunshot residue that may be present on the subject or any objects in the surrounding area (Kunz et al. e54-7). Kunz cites a case in which the death of an elderly man due to a gunshot wound to the head was suspected to be a suicide. Investigators noted the position of the body and weapon and were able to discern “uncharacteristic bloodstains on the firearm”, “inconsistent droplets spread over the weapon”, and “projected patterns on the right outer side of the slide” (Kunz et al. e54-7). Backspatter found on the subject’s hands and fingers were consistent with other biological and firearm-related evidence collected from the scene.
The aforementioned case was assumed to be suicide based “primarily on the location and characteristics of the entrance wound” (Kunz et al. e54-7) and the trajectory of the bullet. However, investigators were doubtful of the final verdict due to the position of the firearm in the subject’s hand at the time of death. The entrance wound was found to be on the elderly male’s right temple, but the weapon was found in his left hand. This relationship between the placement of a weapon and the presence of an entrance wound caused skepticism that the gunshot wound was in fact self-inflicted. Despite the suspicions of possible foul-play, the original verdict of suicide was able to be supported by means of mathematically and physically determining that the gunshot residue and backspatter present on the subject’s hands indicate the weapon was held in one hand and braced with the other. It is possible that the physical act of holding both hands near the wound site would result in a shadow pattern against any nearby surfaces. This presented case is a prime example of the evidence from an initially confusing scene allowing investigators to come to a conclusion of suicide, despite the odd set-up of the scene (Kunz et al. e54-7).
Perhaps more difficult to analyze would be the three cases presented by Doichinov et al. Doichinov et al. describes the cases as unusual, with all three subjects having gunshot wounds but one had suffered two shots to the head, the other two shots to the chest, and the third to the back of the neck. (Doichinov et al. 53-7). He goes on to note that “it is a very rare case in forensic practice to have more than one gunshot [wound] in a suicide. A suicide case with the gunshot wound located in the back of the neck is still rarer” (Doichinov et al. 53-7). Cases such as this can provide investigators with a difficult task of determining which, if any, of the deaths were the result of a suicide, a homicide, or an accident. Typically, if a subject’s death is the result of a suicide, investigators expect to find a single gunshot on the more anterior side of the body or near the temporal region of the head (Doichinov et al. 53-7). Because each of the bodies analyzed in these cases suffered atypical gunshot wounds, investigators are quick to initially expect the deaths to be a result of a homicide. Analysts and examiners must search diligently for any signs or characteristics that will aid in the differentiation of a homicide from a suicide. These criteria include firearm factors such as weapon type (i.e. short or long-barreled), weapon caliber, wound site, number of wounds, shooting distance, and bullet direction, as well as more biological-based factors such as sex and age (Doichinov et al. 53-7). Doichinov et al. gathered several other statistics about the characteristics associated with firearm suicide, such as the victims are primarily young men and they suffer from gunshot wounds produced by a short-barreled, high-caliber weapon usually in the head or chest region (Doichinov et al. 53-7). In cases where a victim suffers from a single gunshot wound, it may be possible to use the previously mentioned characteristics to distinguish between a homicide and a suicide. However, in these presented cases, the evidence may fall to analyzing any potential gunshot residue on the hands of the body. In such cases where this evidence is lacking, it may be pertinent to derive that the subject may have been the victim of a homicide. All three cases documented by Doichinov et al. were determined to be suicides with the use of various makes of a 9mm firearm based on the evidence of contact wounds and gunshot residue found on the subject’s limbs and clothing (Doichinov et al. 53-7). In the book Forensic Pathology edited by Max Houck, it is mentioned that the most common example of suicide-homicide argument comes from a death resulting from a gunshot wound. He states that the argument of placing a gun in a subject’s hand to simulate suicide is typically unrealistic due to the understanding that the number of attempted cover-ups of this nature are rare, but finding a weapon in the body’s hand after a suicide is fairly common (Houck 171-180). Information and statistics such as this allow crime scene investigators and medical examiners to deduce the manner of a subject’s death with more confidence.
Despite the study against this firearm argument, there are several other forms of death that may cause disputes between investigators, as traits that are more commonly found in one situation or the other appear in a case of the opposite nature. For example, Houck states “superficial cuts [in homicides] on the forearms or neck may create the impression of tentative or hesitation cuts thus simulating a suicide” (Houck 171-180). Wounds such as this may not be intentional by the perpetrator, but can lead to confusing evidence. Traumatic deaths that may be found in vehicles, ditches, or near railroad tracks are nearly always a cause of speculation, as investigators must take into account the possibility of homicide. These deaths may be a result of a homicide by shooting (or any other method) where the deceased was then left in another location to simulate an accident or suicide. Such actions must also be considered in deaths that may remain localized such as a hanging of a body that occurred just before or after a death that was acted out by some other method (Houck 171-180).
As previously mentioned in the SUICIDE portion of this report, investigators can distinguish a homicide from a suicide or accidental death based on the presence of defensive wounds or tentative lesions. Segen’s Medical Dictionary defines defensive wounds as “a wound sustained when a victim places a hand, arm or other body part in harm’s way to prevent or minimize the impact of a blow or slashing by a sharp weapon” (Segen’s Medical Dictionary). Wounds such as these are more prevalent in homicide cases in which a subject would attempt to protect themselves or fend off an attacker by sacrificing the total health of a limb for the greater good of the whole body. Tentative lesions are “multiple, small and superficial, often involving only the skin and are seen at the commencement of the incised wound” by Dr. Dinesh Rao (Rao). Tentative wounds can be interpreted as preemptive wounds to a subject committing suicide. Wounds such as this may show a hesitation that otherwise may not be exhibited in a death resulting from a homicide. Max Houck, editor of the book Forensic Pathology stated that “sharp force injuries are much more frequent in suicide attempts than in complicated suicides” (Houck 171-180). Houck’s book localizes suicidal stab wounds to the anterior chest region typically near the heart and acknowledges that the number of wounds can vary greatly from one body to another (Houck 171-180). Attempts at suicidal stabs can also occasionally be found in the abdomen, cervical region, or the arms. The acknowledgment that self-inflicted wounds such as these tend to be localized to specific areas aid investigators in determining the ultimate manner of death. Houck further recognizes that the suspected tool used in a suicide is usually found near, or even in the body (Houck 171-180). Much like the conflict in the analysis and differentiation of homicidal, suicidal and accidental firearm deaths, the increased number of wounds present can lend to the possibility of murder rather than self-inflicted death. When a case arises that produces a body with multiple wounds of any sort, the initial speculation is that the death is a result of a homicide until further inspection of the scene, the body, and the wounds.
As in the case of firearm-related deaths, a list of characteristics found to be common among self-inflicted injuries are compared closely to the wounds that may be present on the body. In the case of tentative lesions and self-inflicted suicide with sharp force, the wounds are typically located in the cardiac region, any lesions there may be are parallel and arranged in groups, there is a presence of tentative and hesitation cuts, and—perhaps most importantly—an absence of any form of defensive wounds (Houck 171-180). Although characteristics such as these are common in suicide victims, Houck goes on to state that there can be motives for the victim of the suicide or their family to make attempts to cover up the scene. Motives of this nature can be a result of religious reasons, in which a suicide may be deemed shameful by the church body, or even a partner fearful of shouldering some sort of blame (Houck 171-180). To further add difficulty to distinguishing between homicide and suicide, it is possible that the victim of a suicide may stage their death so as to resemble a homicide in attempt to leave the full amount of life insurance money to the surviving family (Houck 171-180). Cases such as this can be further complicated by acknowledging that an individual may be the victim of an actual homicide by a family member for the same reason.
Relatives of the deceased may also unwittingly play a part in confusing the crime scene and any evidence in it, adding another layer of difficulty for investigators to analyze. Upon discovery of a body, members of the victim’s family may panic and attempt to rush to their aid. They may remove a hanging device or a plastic bag from the body before calling for help (Houck 171-180). The surviving members may be fearful of blame or feel shame, and may thusly remove any evidence that points toward a suicide, such as hiding or destroying a suicide note, empty any drug packets or packages, or disposing of any alcohol or glasses that could be suspicious (Houck 171-180). This type of altering can be a form of intentional tampering, or simply well-meaning family members attempting to save a loved one. In addition to this kind of scene interference, there may be situations in which death was not achieved, and the subject is able to be saved. Such individuals may face feelings such as anger, fear, and shame that may cause them to pretend to be the victim of a violent crime (Houck 171-180). Claims such as this, especially if they are tied to scene that may already be difficult to differentiate can cause investigators and detectives to search for a suspect that may not exist, causing feelings of frustration and failure among the units, as well as a lack of closure with the close family and friends of the victim. Feelings such as this can cause the community to lose faith in the law enforcement officials, and members of the alphabet agencies to lose trust in each other as well as local law enforcement.
The purpose of the research in this paper was to break down and analyze the various components used by crime scene investigators and detectives on nearly a daily basis. Because the range of topics and information on subjects such as these is so vast and so broad, the information compiled and combined here was limited to the deeper analysis of a select few topics such as deaths resulting from firearm wounds and sharp-force trauma. The initial hypothesis tested was the question of whether or not any one crime scene can be considered a homicide or a suicide. Methods for attempting to understand this question were primarily limited to researching scholarly articles, journals, and textbooks as well as attending lectures by well-known forensic analysts.
Each piece of information gathered from the articles considered was taken and analyzed for quality research and references that pertained to the subject(s) discussed in this research paper. Factoids and quotes were grouped together in specific discussion topics based on relevance to the main subject and the subsections explored therein. For the sake of not compiling so much data that the gathered research would be seen as overwhelming or confusing, the primary examples used were death by sharp-force and death by firearm. By analyzing these topics, it was able to be learned that homicide deaths by firearm may be expected to result from multiple gunshots or wounds that may be located in unusual places such as the posterior side of the body, or the back of the head. Deaths achieved from this manner of death are not to be completely excluded from suicidal gunshot wounds, as there are documented cases in which a subject performed the atypical firearm death of their own accord. While uncommon, it is not unheard of and must therefore be analyzed very carefully for other signs of trauma such as defensive wounds, or gunshot residue on the limbs and/or clothing (Kunz et al. e54-7). Interestingly enough, it was also explored that a firearm wound resulting in death could potentially fall into neither the category of suicidal or homicidal, and instead would be recognized as an accidental death. Situations such as these are the result of an action that was not intended to result in the death of the subject, such as cleaning a weapon while it is unknowingly loaded or not switched to safety. These incidents will be investigated as the other scenes would be: with no bias as to whether or not the scene is a result of a homicide. Although deaths such as this can be difficult to differentiate from the other classifications, it is not impossible.
Acknowledging the potential presence of defensive or tentative wounds allowed the research to flow into the next topic of analysis: sharp-force death. Deaths such these, while more common in suicide-related deaths, can also be found while investigating homicides. Investigators and detectives must determine if the injuries are self-inflicted based on the wound characteristics, and the statistics of which type is more common on various parts of the body. It was recorded that stab wounds can vary greatly, but are more typically found on the anterior portion of the body, with injuries centralized near the heart, in the abdomen, cervical region, or on the arms (Houck 171-180). Houck’s article also brought attention to the complication of homicide perpetrators leaving wounds that may appear to be a result of tentative lesions or hesitation marks, whether or not it is intended (Houck 171-180). Because these marks can be characteristic to a suicide or a homicide, it is important to take in the whole of the scene and look for any signs of a struggle or attempt to stave off further injury. Interestingly enough, there are cases in which a subject may have subjected themselves to accidental death via sharp-force, such as the case presented by Fracasso and Karger in which a woman was killed by an accidental self-inflicted sharp-force wound to the neck when she stepped on a piece of glass and reacted sharply (369-371). This case was able to be determined an accident by analyzing the wound characteristics as compared to the broken wineglass found at the scene.
Any complications that may be a result of an already difficult scene may be further conflicting if the scenes are tampered with. A later portion of Houck’s article acknowledged the possibility of scene interference either by the subject of the scene or the surviving family. Altering the scene lay out may not be the result of any malicious intentions, but the removal of any sort of incriminating evidence can complicate the process of analyzing data, or searching for evidence that may not exist (Houck 171-180). Scenes that have been altered may have been done by concerned family or friends, relatives that may be uncomfortable dealing with the stigma associated with suicide, or even the victim themselves should their attempt fail. Consequently, there may also be homicide scenes in which the subject is staged in another location to simulate the appearance of a suicide (Houck 171-180). In either case, M. Große Perdekamp et al. stated that “it often remains doubtful whether suicides were really committed voluntarily” (Perdekamp et al. 171-180), which implies that a scene is generally expected to be a homicide until enough evidence is produced to prove it a homicide. This requires that investigators be aware of what characteristics are typically found in each manner of death, and how to analyze the present wounds, weapons, or objects in the area to determine a likely sequence of events. Perhaps the most notable of these case characteristics is the presence of void patterns. Patterns such as these allow investigators and detectives to note if an individual or an object has been moved or has gone missing from the scene (Bell, 129).
This research paper has proven that, although there may be instances in which a scene may seem more particular to one form of death or the other, there is ultimately not enough evidence researched here to say with absolute certainty that a scene can be completely unique to either situation. This kind of conclusion can be based on the scientific information that while a type of wound or behavior may be associated with a scene, it does not mean that those types of behaviors will not appear in a scene of the opposite nature. It can also be attributed to the general knowledge that man can be unpredictable, and this unpredictability can lead to confusing scenes.
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