How to Tell the Difference Between a Hanging and a Murder That Looks Like One (II)

hanging death chair

Back to finish your investigation? Brilliant. Otherwise, you probably should start at the beginning.

5. The most important piece of evidence: the body.

It’s an invaluable source of clues, and one left better to forensic analysis. If curiosity gets the better of you, we’ve put together a quick checklist to help interpret how it all happened.

Scrapings under the nails. What’s there? If its blood or skin, you can bet there’s been some sort of skirmish. This usually indicates a last desperate struggle between your suspect and victim, and these clues may be critical. If its just part of the ligature, I’m afraid the ending of this chap’s life probably wasn’t as quick as he would’ve liked.

Bruising. Check the body for any signs of bruising. If your victim isn’t swinging from the rafters but is found collapsed near a door, or on the floor, check the lower back. If pressure has been applied here while applied to the neck, this could indicate someone sticking a knee in the victim’s back while strangling him.

Ligature and marks around the neck.If you must cut a hanging victim down, cut above the knot, as this preserves this item for forensics. Knots normally involve a high degree of movement in their creation, leading to plenty of forensic opportunities for DNA profiles at a later stage. What do the marks around the neck show you? Is it just bruising following a similar pattern to the ridges in the rope used? That’s pretty normal and may be consistent with suicide. If there are other marks, alarm bells should be ringing.


6. Consider the MO (or method of action).

Traditional schools of criminology state that for a crime to take place there needs to be a motive and opportunity. Without either of the two, there wouldn’t be a crime. What might your victim tell you about the offender’s motive. Crime of passion? As a a hanging, it’s hardly likely. What about the wrong end of greedy relatives? A drug dealer trying to prove a point? A contracted hit? Research your victim fully to get some answers.


7. Wrapping it up: preserving for forensics.

The golden rule of forensics is “don’t touch anything unless you have to.” A perfectly preserved crime scene will tell a good story for a long time to come, and can be resurrected with detailed forensic analysis. If you want to know if it’s a simple suicide, look directly to the obvious: no signs of forced entry and disturbance; serene surroundings; no wounds on the body; an obvious ingress method to the hanging; and perhaps even a suicide note. Suspect foul play? Look to the subtle: bruises; debris; blood; and the exit point for a potential offender.

There’s more to being Sherlock than you thought, right?




  • The rest of this article makes me think of an 1816 crime where a man allegedly hung himself from a 2″ sapling (other places say it was a bush) with a handkerchief–his legs, body, and hands were touching the ground. I just don’t see a tiny tree or a bush having the strength to hold up to a man’s weight. I’m more apt to think he was tied to it and yanked til he choked. Intriguing stuff these old crimes.

  • Becki says:

    I have a friend that was found dead with a belt around his neck so it was ruled as a suicide. But there was no bruising on his neck and his clothes were ripped and torn as if someone dragged him to the spot he was found. He was also found with his jacket on but there were no rips and tears on the jacket. He was found in an area with prickly bushes. This man was Guadamalan and had a birth certificate and passpors that the police cannot account for. This doesn’t make sense. No autopsy was done and the police have closed the case. What can we do to get someone outside of the local police to actually do something?

    • The Forensic Outreach Team says:

      Hi Becki,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your friend.

      Your best bet is to research victim and family support services in your area. If you have access to adequate funds, you might be able to hire a private cold case investigator to look further into this case as well. Finally, there is the possibility of contacting state police and explaining your viewpoint, rather than reaching out to local police again. Unfortunately, without a larger organisation supporting advocates of reopening the case, it might be very difficult to get this looked at more closely.

      Best of luck.

  • carrie says:

    My husband and I found out this morning that his cousin hung himself, as soon as I heard I didnt fit, this young man has had a rough tough life, and was in an on again off again relationship with his baby mama,. Yet his life was down more than up he was always smiling, making people laugh more than his lady his kids were everything,
    Three days earlier his lady stabbed him, and the night he hung himself she stayed at her moms came home 6:30 am without the kids, ..
    The detective is saying possible homicide. He was in a akward position, and was hanging from shower rod, (one with doors) that he was to tall for this incident. Im just wondering your opinion. In the last 10 years this is the forth person I knew to hang themself.. and it doesnt add up. Plus there was no note.. ? I hope they get the evidence they need in my heart and soul I know this particular individual wouldn’t of done this. Do you have any insight,

    • The Forensic Outreach Team says:

      Dear Carrie,

      So sorry for your loss. If the detective is investigating the death as a homicide, then you will likely find out if your hunch is correct. You could contact him and provide what you know about his background, but other than that, there is not much else you can do and initiating an investigation on your own could cause problems for law enforcement. Let’s hope that they are in a position to collect and understand all of the clues, about everyone who was in contact with your husband’s cousin. If there is funny business about his partner and child’s mother, We are certain that the detectives are already looking at that angle. Many domestic homicides involve spouses and partners.

      As for the other three hangings you refer to – without any background information, we can’t comment other than to also send our condolences. If there was any link between all of them (besides the fact that you are acquainted with all four), then something suspicious may be at hand.

  • Rhonal Femaa says:

    Today morning my uncle was found dead hanging from a tree. I was sent the picture in the evening. The picture does not convince me that he committed suicide. I desperately want to know the truth. Since it happened in a very remote place of India, communicating with them is very difficult. I am questioning myself but I cant find any answer.

    • We are sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, a single photograph is only a very small part of doing an investigation and making a determination. You will need to either find someone in India who can do a proper independent investigation for you, or trust in the authorities. Good luck in your inquiries and we hope you find peace in this tragic event.

  • Mom Seeking Answers says:

    I found my 20 year old son hanging in my 8′(wide)x14′(long) hay shed on June 16th. He was standing under the 1st rafter feet in the center, legs straight, butt pushed towards the left side of the shed, neck attached to rope at one end. The other end was attached to the 2nd rafter (rafters aprox 18″ to 2′ apart and toward the right of the shed. He was facing to the right. The rope was 3′ to 4′ long between both ends that were tied. There was a metal garbage can behind him with a dent on either side of the lid and possibly vomit on the edge between the dents. In front of him were 2 Rubbermaid garbage cans. One directly in front of him and the second to the left of him underneath the rafter he was tied to. On this garbage can was a foot print (clear no scuffs) upon receiving my sons shoes from the funeral home we found them not to be a match. No one in my household has those size or pattern on their shoes. And the print was not there the night before. We have 3 people with motive and opportunity. Greasy finger prints on rafter and hat. (No grease on my sons clothing except 1 small spot on the very back of his new white shirt on the bottom hem.) And his new button up white shirt is missing. Pathologist said ligature hanging by suicide. Waiting for toxicology report. Want to know your opinion. Am I reaching? Or could this be a possible homicide? Also, he had made a noose six months ago in the same shed on the middle rafter in the center of the shed. He said “See my noose?” I said “yes, take it down” took him for a mental health evaluation stayed aprox 10 days. That noose was secure and tight. This one was not tied the same. Everyone knew he had made the noose there in the hay shed, 3 people would benefit from him not being able to talk. He had plans. Suicidal people don’t make plans. And there wasn’t a note.

    • Dear Mom, we are so sorry to hear of your loss. It looks like you have some valuable insights into the suspicious death. Please share those with the investigators and encourage them to follow up on your clues. We hope the investigation brings you peace.

  • worried sis says:

    My brother selected in navy force he started training and within six days found dead with left arm vessels cut and hanged . They say its suicide but I do not think can you help I am thinking its murder

    • We are so sorry for your loss, worried sis.

      Crimes like that are handled by (in the US, at least) the NCIS – Naval Criminal Investigative Service. I assume that they would find the fact that his arms were cut and he was hanged suspicious. Keep in touch with them and point out anything that you know about your brother that would be helpful

      once again, we are sorry that you have to go through this.

  • Kimberly says:

    I just can’t shake this feeling that my sister in law is hiding something about the day my brother allegedly hung himself. No one saw him hanging and she claimed she cut him down before the police got there. There was a note, but it sounded nothing like how my brother would talk, and was written in cursive. Something he hardly ever did but I was told she knew how to copy his handwriting. She was also having an affair with his best friend from high school. My brother had 4 young children who were his life so it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea he would commit suicide with his kids in the very next room. Furthermore, his wife has continued to keep his kids away from our family and will only let us near them if her brother or mother are in close proximity which is odd because prior to my brother’s death, my mom watched the kids a lot and they came over to my aunts and uncles for holidays with my brother without her. My brother also had a big gash over his eye that my sister-in-law said happened when she cut him down. She also asked my aunts to come over and clean the house. She was concerned only about steam cleaning an area in front of the couch but there were other areas in the house covered with animal feces. I think the police treated it like a suicide and did not investigate thouroughly because she told them it was a suicide and she is really good at manipulating people. Lastly, she moved from the town she was living in and did not tell anyone where she was going and got mad when we found out (through digging) where they were. I tried to make amends with her, to get the truth, whatever that may be, but she refuses to give any information. As a side note, she has refused to let us put a headstone on my brother’s grave, even though we offered to pay for it and told her it could say whatever it wanted. She did not seem at all upset at the calling hours or funeral, except for one moment of what appeared to be “fake crying”. Oh and she cried when the bill for the calling hours was put in front of her. I just want the truth and am not really sure how to go about getting it.

    • The Forensic Outreach Team says:

      Hi Kimberly,

      First, we are so sorry to hear about your brother. What we always advise in this situations is ensure that the law enforcement in your jurisdiction are aware of your concerns. Make sure that you outline what you have mentioned here to use systematically and clearly. They may deem that these allegations are entirely circumstantial – in which case some people have been known to hire external investigators to ensure that there is something more concrete the next time they ask law enforcement to re-investigate.

      We would approach the situation carefully to avoid interfering with any ongoing investigation – and to prevent any judgements from being made against yourself. Finally, these are just our suggestions – and we emphasise that ultimately, you need to do your own research and be very vigilant of laws and protocol in your area.

      All the best to you.

  • curious daughter says:

    My father allegedly hung himself .while placed in central bookings. I was never showed any proof but police claim it was done with a shoe lace. Now I’m no officer but I know for a fact shoe laces , belts and items of the such are taken from you before being placed in your cell. Now is it possible my father was murdered by an officer?? After 5 years the case hasn’t really come to a conclusion can I reopen this case ?? Could I sew NYPD????

    • First, we are sorry for your loss. That is a question for a lawyer in the jurisdiction of the unfortunate death of your father. If the evidence is there and facts line up indicating intentional harm or negligence, then the lawyer will know what to do to proceed. He will likely advise you to sue or not to file a lawsuit. I am not sure that you want to sew the officers, as the thread will probably not contain them for long. And, during the sewing, if the needle pricks one of the officers, he or she may have an action against you!

      Good luck

  • Akal says:

    Dear The Forensic Outreach Team,

    I’m curious about the action of touching underneath the neck of person when they are found dead as shown in those serials of CSI series. And is that action lets the people to determine the death as natural or murder? Please clarify my doubts.

  • Concerned cousin says:

    On Sunday, December 20th, my cousin was found in her bathroom hanging from her bathroom doorknob. I know this is possible, but there’s a lot of red flags to me. Both of her hands were on the doorknob, like she had tried to escape and the doorknob was also stripped. All of the lights were off in her bathroom, so that meant zero light. No windows. She also had been abused by her husband, who had recently pulled a gun on her and their two kids a few days prior to this. I did her makeup for her funeral and she had bruising all over her arms, legs, face, etc. She always had scratch marks on her chest and fingers. I saw some odd stuff under her fingernails, too. Just the way she was found hanging, is just odd to me and my family. We all suspect that she did not do this to herself. She would ask her manager if she could stay later at work because she was frightened to go home. I’m scared for their two kids because if he did do this to her, which he’s already mean to the children, then he would do it to them as well. He also is asking for her death certificate? One more thing to add. The ligature marks around her neck… they were straight across and the way she was hanging, the shoe string, and yes, this happened with a shoe string, had gone up behind her ears, but no bruising? Her backdoor was also standing wide open that morning, which was unusual. Please give me some type of advice. It’s just too odd to me. She had just started going to church and getting her life on track for her and her kids. I’m so confused and don’t understand this.

  • Karen dodge says:

    My brother was reported missing by a roomate! In nov. The roomate told police he was depressed! Later that day he told my sister my brother was missing. 8wks later , my brother was found in the back yard! Hanging! Everyone in the family say he did not do this! He had money, ID , and a bank card ,but did not have the 2200.00 he withdrew from the bank two days before. He had keys, but no car key , which the roomate said he had! He also was not wearing the clothe he was reported wearing , no coat ,that was reported. His second phone, which was new was no where to be found! And don’t in the weeks he was missing, the roomate had meetings in the back yard! !!!!!!! How is it possible no one knew he was there??? Since then , my sister picked up his belongings and was given 2200.00 he was HOLDING!!!!! With the keys , and never saw fit to give to the Detectives. Because the Detective had walked the back yard in the beginning of the investigation, and did not find him, he is no longer including the family in what is going on!

  • Mariah says:

    I’m not sure what to do here. In November 2001 my brother was sent to prison for failing a marijuana drug test while on probation. He was there in receiving for 3 weeks when this happened. He was found with a sheet around his neck while sitting on the floor in his cell. There wasn’t much room between the cell door and his bed. He later died at st. Louis university hospital. The officers couldn’t say the exact time they found him. Anywhere from 9:30-10:30pm. No note. They didn’t call us til around 2am. It took 6 months for them to finish the investigation. But it took a year and half for my mom to get the few belongings he had in a box. There has been so many stories told to us either by inmates or former workers. Etc. Also he had called on Friday and stated a few inmates came to his cell and tried to stab him. Yet the investigator said that wasn’t true thAt he liked to tell stories. How would they know that? That’s something only close friends and neighbors would know about him. Then the morning before he passed the prison denied my mom to see him one last time. Warden said no. But yet the investigator told me months later that he doesn’t know what happened because he gave the ok for her to go in. Then the doctor asked us what we wanted to do as far as taking him off the machine. I said no you do what you have to do to keep him alive. The only person in his room was an officer when he died. And they took him off support and then he went into cardiac arrest. They said he would’ve been a vegetable if he lived. They also tried to have him buried at the prison until his sentence was up 4 years. And then we could have him exhumed. My mom fought that and we took him home. Called several attorneys and they won’t even touch it. Don’t know what to do? I’ve tried to let it go and I just can’t. He wouldn’t have done that to himself. He stated in a letter to my mom that came in the box that he was scared at menard. But he found out the day this happened that he was getting transferred close to home. So that made him happy. The investigator told me that. He even said it doesn’t make sense at one time. Because of no letter no hiding etc. The prison said I could have the report from the investigation. But you have to have it subpoenaed and to do that you need a lawyer which won’t take the case and not much money. What do I do?

  • Ana says:

    If someone’s hands are clenched when the body is found hanging, what does it indicate? Normally how would the hands be if somone hangs them selves?

Leave a Reply