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

hanging death noose

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

A body is left swinging from the rafters in an old, Victorian attic. It’s not even in the early stages of decay. You approach anyway, and it’s unmistakable now: all signs of life have left this unfortunate soul. His cold, vacant eyes stare out at you accusingly. A shocking waste of life, you think, but what lead this person close to the edge? Depression? Mania?

Not so fast, Sherlock. The truth may be far more sinister than you realise.

The first step we’ll take on discovering such a scene (and it goes without saying, really) is alerting the authorities. Even if you doubt their tenacity when bleary-eyed youths run rampant in your city at twilight, there’s one thing that cops in Old Blighty are good for — and that’s murder detection.

Ninety-six percent of UK murders (of which there are fortunately few) are solved. Most other crimes are only detected around thirty-percent of the time. The professionals are best placed to deal with it.

If you’re the inquisitive type, read on. When you’re finished with the first part of this investigative manual, go even further.


1. Hopelessly dead or still breathing? Examine the body.

The priority at any scene should be saving life and limb. Police first aid courses say there’s approximately a one in four chance of reviving someone using CPR. If you think there’s a chance: dial 999, get pumping, and don’t look back.


2. Bring out the yellow tape: secure the scene.

You want to be sure that whoever’s done the deed (if anyone) isn’t going to come back. Secure windows and doors if necessary. Be careful because you’ll want to maximise forensic opportunities too. By shutting doors, you might prevent contamination — but may cause it yourself, if you’re not careful (more on this later).


3. Put the pieces together: look for environmental clues.

The scene can tell you a lot about how the person died. Think about it: in any given room, every object tells a story. Everything was brought there by someone, and placed in its location for a very specific reason.

What is your room telling you? Are there spilt liquids, furniture in disarray, scrape marks on the floor, or patterns in the dust? If so, this is a very good indication of a struggle, which might point you in the direction of a sinister motive.

If there’s no ladder, or point to climb up to, think about how your victim got where he is in the first place. Chances are he didn’t jump up and hang himself. Similarly, think about how your offender left the scene. Did he leave via a different exit? Would there be anything he left there (like cigarettes or bottles)? Such seemingly trivial evidence will later prove essential in recreating the precise circumstances of death.


4. Thicker than water, and a whole lot messier: blood.

If there’s blood (particularly in areas not surrounding the victim) you’ve got something sinister on your hands. Forensic blood spatter analysis is extremely advanced nowadays and can tell you all sorts about the victim’s last movements and expiry. And make sure not to touch the blood. Not only will you ruin evidence, but it may contain pathogens. Secure, preserve and alert the authorities.


5, 6 & 7.

Make sure to come back next time for the second part of this entry (including how to examine the body).


Your Turn: Your turn to guess — what comes next? Let us know what you think steps you should take from here in your investigation, sleuth.




  • Excellent article. This makes me think of historic crimes. I read so many that were deemed suicides, that I think, just not physically possible. Granted, 100+ years ago they did not have the scientific means we have today to analyze a scene, but some of the suicide conclusions defy logic altogether. If you shoot yourself in the head would you have the capacity to then slit your own throat or visa versa? True case, and both were considered fatal wounds. Fascinating stuff old crimes.

  • Terina says:

    Would like done help with a hanging if my sister’s dear fiance I suspect foul play please email back ASAP Thank you TerinaBeina

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