Manner of Death: Suicide

Casey Allen Photo,
Suicide: The act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.


Suicide cases run the gamut: shooting, hanging, jumping, overdosing on pills, and slashing wrists. Carbon monoxide poisoning, drowning, asphyxia, suicide by train, suicide by cop, plummeting one’s car over a cliff.

Suicide, or a Cleverly Disguised Homicide?

The purpose of the investigation is to be certain that a suicide is as it appears, and not a cleverly disguised homicide. It requires a trained eye, experienced in death investigation, to get it right. Seldom are homicides staged to appear as suicide; it is more common that suicides are staged to appear as something else.

Some suicide cases are designed to appear as accidents, with consideration to the survivors and their insurance policies. Others are meant to appear as murder, for the same reasons or maybe to conceal the vile act from loved ones. Sometimes the victim uses the act of suicide as a weapon, a form of revenge against the evildoers who drove them to that point, their way of getting in the last word.

Those designed to appear as accidents or murders are difficult cases for a homicide investigator. Ask anyone in the business, they’ll tell you their biggest headaches come from suicides, not murders. Family members often dismiss the possibility that a loved one would take their own life. Because it’s dreadful, repellent, and against the laws of human nature. The exceptions are cases involving the mentally ill; those are only tragic and sad.

A Few Strange Cases

One of my partners handled a suicide where the victim devised a contraption that would retract his gun into the rafters once released. It was an effort to stage the crime scene as a murder. He nearly pulled it off, but the savvy investigator discovered the truth.

I recently told the story of a man who killed himself on a yacht. He tied himself to the hull of the boat. Using a rifle, he shot numerous holes through the deck that penetrated the hull and sank the boat. Like a good captain, he went down with his ship. At first, I had concerns, but ultimately the trajectory of the bullets proved it was suicide. It was definitely one of the more creative suicides I had investigated. The kicker was that he had borrowed the yacht from a friend.

There was a woman who shot herself in the heart with a .22 caliber rifle. Women seldom shoot themselves in the face or head. Perhaps it’s vanity. Regardless, doing it her way would have caused a relatively long and painful death. I wondered if she had regretted doing it during those long, final moments.

A Vindictive S.O.B.

I will never forget interviewing the wife of a man who hanged himself. He did it in the garage in such a way that she would find him when she came home from work. She sat watching through the windshield as the garage door opened and the headlights shone on her husband who hung from the rafters, his dead eyes coldly staring out at her.

Many times, the act itself is meant to harm others. It almost always does.

Most Pitiful of All Award

A starving artist in West Hollywood was being evicted from his rent-controlled apartment. He had had no income for many years, rarely if ever selling any of his so-called art. For his grand finale, he hung a blank canvas on his wall, placed the side of his head against it, and pulled the trigger. The .38 caliber round-nosed bullet traversed his head cleanly. It continued through the wall, across the hall, and through the neighbor’s kitchen. It missed striking an elderly lady by inches as she prepared dinner.

The artist had prepped his canvas for display. Prior to departing the cruel world, he scribbled his final message across the top: “This is my last great piece of work.”

He had likely envisioned a canvas painted by brain matter and blood. Brilliant colors spattered in bold patterns, an ingenious expression of his art. Sadly, the result was only a small hole and a couple speckles of blood near the center of an otherwise unpainted canvas.

The irony of it did not escape me.

Winner of Most Committed to the Cause

There was a man who killed himself by asphyxiation. He sat in a chair and tied his legs to those of the chair. He configured a rope so that it was tied to the chair behind his back with two open slip knot loops. After securing a plastic bag over his head, he placed his hands into the rope, and tightened the loops by pulling with his arms. He essentially configured it in a way so that once secured, he would not be able to change his mind and free himself.

Fortunately, he had declared his intent to a family member shortly before his final act. Otherwise, it would have been a prolonged homicide investigation with nothing but dead ends.

In the End

Clever, careless, or with great trepidation, in the end, dead is dead. Though some of the ways people find to kill themselves can be intriguing, I’m glad it’s no longer my job to unravel the messes.


Suicide is the role you write for yourself. You inhabit it and you enact it. All carefully staged—where they will find you and how they will find you. But one performance only. – Philip Roth


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9 thoughts on “Manner of Death: Suicide

  1. That West Hollywood “artist” couldn’t even get it right when leaving his “last great piece of work”. My thoughts when reading about that caper–Just another example of a non-shooter/hunter not understanding the finer points of how different types of bullets work.
    Did that by any chance cross your mind when handling that? Lol.

    1. Usually trash runs are one man responses. For some reason, Floyd and I both went. I can’t remember why. Probably just because we were funny like that. But anyway, he and I had quite a few things to say about it, and a lot of discussion about his selection of bullet type. I wish I had a photo of that “artwork” he left behind.. I might have to see about obtaining one.

  2. I was sent to a death scene in the Marina Station area. Dead victim was seated in the passenger seat of a car, the car was totally burned out leaving little more than skeletal remains. due to thick fog the fire went unnoticed until a jogger found the car. Due to the time elapsed when the fire department arrived the fire was completely out, and since there was an obvious dead victim, they did nothing else so as to not disturb the scene. There was one expended 9mm casing outside the passenger window. My job was to work my bloodhound to see if the “perpetrator” had left the scene on foot. The dog indicated no scent trail leaving the area. Once the coroner arrived and he (she?) started their careful examination of the remains it was found that the victim had a sword piercing the chest cavity but the body had slumped over it so it wasn’t visible. About this time the hood was opened and there was a 5 gallon propane tank resting on one of the exhaust headers. Back to the body, after most the remains were removed we could now see a 9mm semi automatic handgun between the remains of the car seat and the door. The whole thing ended up being an elaborate suicide…best guess the victim drove the car to the location, got out and put the propane tank in the engine compartment and opened it. He then got into the passenger seat and started the engine and then started a fire in the driver’s side of the car, placed a sword between his feet and knees so the point was pointed at his chest, leaned forward and shot himself in the head with the 9mm. THAT was total commitment!

      1. The case Ted described was mine and another investigator’s. It was one of the weirdest ones I had, but I was pretty sure it was a suicide from the beginning. I’d had another one before with some similarities.

        1. Strange case for sure… The propane tank is the real weird part. I mean, who thinks of that? lol. Thanks, Pam. As one of my former 187 partners, I’m glad you’re following along. (:

        2. Hi Pam. I forgot it was yours. As I recall you kept me in the dark (which is what I always ask) until after I worked my dog.

          I would ask the detectives to not tell me what they thought about suspect activity so as the dog handler I couldn’t inadvertently lead my dog…if I know nothing, I can’t mislead the dog. The dog has to take charge and tell me where someone went (or as in this case, didn’t go).

  3. I had the EXACT hanger scenario in Saugus (June ‘02). Don’t know if you had the handle, or not. Talk about tearing up a family, with disbelief!

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