View Full Version : Suicide via hanging - open casket??

General Joy
05-12-2009, 06:12 PM
I have a character that hangs herself, and her body is found about 12 hours after death. Based on what happens to a hanged body post-mortem, is an open casket funeral possible? I'm thinking yes, that morticians can do wonders with makeup, but thought I'd see if anyone has thoughts or expertise on this...

BTW, this takes place in 1998, if that makes a difference.


05-12-2009, 10:26 PM
Depends on a few factors. Broken neck, lacerations on the neck that stand out? Peticial (sp?) bleeding?, Hemorrhage in the throat muscles. In a hanging situation (and as morbid as I am sounding here) the blood pools to the bottom, meaning that the best likely situation you will get is a mortician that works wonders with make up and a half open casket rather than fully open one.

05-12-2009, 10:33 PM
I don't think so. I believe that people who are hung (especially if they've been hanging for some hours)--I think their faces turn black. A friend of mine does cosmetic work for a mortician and he told me that it's almost impossible to make a hanging victim (for lack of a better word) viewable.

05-12-2009, 11:41 PM
Related though, although it's not what you're asking: everyone's gonna be peering into the coffin to see if they can spot injuries caused by the hanging. What family would want that?


General Joy
05-13-2009, 03:23 PM
Thanks for the feedback so far! And Derek--this is a Catholic family, so they'd fully believe in an open casket funeral if at all possible. But you're probably right... people do have that morbid curiosity.

05-14-2009, 06:01 AM
Most likely it would be an open casket. A good Funeral Director can carefully conceal lacerations or bruising through cosmetics and even clothing. Through the embalming process, they can drain most of the blood and fluid. I haven't heard of a face turning black before through hanging..hmm, could be.

True stories from my cousin's husband who used to be a Funeral Director: A guy in my town shot himself in the temple with a shot gun..yes, a shot gun. Cousin-in-law was able to rebuild the side of his face out of waxlike substance, and he was open an open casket. Same funeral home had a girl who was almost decapitated in a car accident. They were able to "put her head back on", and she was open.

05-14-2009, 06:16 AM
It is an absolute NO. Marks on neck is the least of your trouble. Trust me. I know. It would be closed.

05-14-2009, 07:17 PM
Now I don't know anything about what needs to happen for open or closed caskets. But I'm noticing the wide range of opinions here on it and I think this may be due to no one explaining to you that death by hanging involves two entirely different means.

In a proper hanging, called either a "standard drop" or "long drop," the length of the fall generates sufficient speed combined with weight that the person's neck is broken around C-1, C-2 or C-3. (The difference between standard and long drop is minor and mainly involves customizing for the person's weight.) This appears to be virtually instanteous death and all systems shut down very quickly. From what I've seen, other than pronounced bruising on the neck, and the occasional head being torn off, this type of death produces little discoloration to the face.

A long drop is what is now used as the preferred method of execution. Drop is in the range of about six feet.

Most suicides and accidental hangings, however, are strangulations, which is called the "short drop" method. Rather than breaking the neck, the person's blood vessels in the neck are obstructed, to a greater or lesser extent. This produces a gradual death, easily extending the period of dying to several minutes. During this period, the person will probably actively struggle, which may cause an even greater tightness in the throat.

Death by hanging in strangulations does not even require that the victim be fully clear of the floor.

Strangulation deaths result from either the blockage of the jugular veins or the carotid arteries. Each of these causes produces a different result in the color of the face.

When the jugular veins are blocked, flow of blood into the head in not limited, but the return of that blood is. The face will normally become engorged with blood, producing a blueish color, with burst blood vessels and sometimes a protruding tongue. This probably produces the most difficult body for an open casket.

If the carotids are blocked (which requires more force because they are deeper into the neck), unconsciousness is quicker. The face is more likely to be pale in color, as blood is not reaching the head.

Note that death here is not caused by an obstructed airway, although that may well be a contributing cause. If death is caused solely by asphyxia (lack of oxygen) through the airway being blocked, death is probably the slowest, and the entire body with develop a bluish tinge, as the body becomes slowly depleted of oxygen.

Bottom line is how the person died is going to produce a significant difference to how they look. Both the amount of struggles and the actual cause of death will probably impact their appearance. And this is probably a lot more detailed than you wanted.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-14-2009, 08:18 PM
I knew someone who hung them self. found maybe 10 ish hours after. The casket was open. the person was in a suit which obviously covered their neck where the markings would be. Their face didn't look any different than that of other deceased people. Heavily make uped , skin a little slacken. but otherwise i found no difference from how he looked to how others have. hope this helps you some.

05-14-2009, 09:10 PM

05-14-2009, 10:29 PM
Jim's answer is the correct one. The appearance of a hanging victim post-mortem depends upon the specific type of trauma caused during the hanging.

Since you mentioned that the victim is female, we can extrapolate that if she is of average height and build for a Caucasian female (generic example), she is more likely to have had her carotid arteries compressed because of having a relatively slender neck, resulting in a pale yet otherwise fairly preserved face.

However, if the victim was overweight, had a thick or heavily muscled neck, or was able to resist strangulation in some way, such as by bracing or kicking against a floor or wall (thus reducing the tightness and/or pressure of the noose), it's possible she may only have had her jugular veins compressed, which would result in the head becoming engorged with blood and producing a grotesque appearance as Jim described above.

So, it's safe to generalize here and assume she died via carotid compression, meaning that yes, she could have an open-casket funeral with relatively little cosmetic masking required.

General Joy
05-14-2009, 10:38 PM
Thanks once again for the replies, especially Jim and Leah. My character is average height and build for a 13-year-old girl, so carotid compression sounds likely based on the comments here. Definitely this would be a strangulation death, not a neck break. I think hanging oneself so that the neck breaks immediately must be pretty difficult to do.

05-15-2009, 03:56 AM
A 15 year old friend of mine committed suicide by hanging. He had an open casket at the wake. I heard that he was put in a button up shirt.

05-15-2009, 04:17 AM
Unfortunately, a few months ago our neighbor's son hung himself. He was found about an hour later. They had an open casket. You could easily see the rope burn mark around his neck--it was angled under his ear--even with the makeup and the buttoned-up shirt. And even with the makeup, his skin looked grayish.