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View Full Version : Smell of Homicidal Death After Four Hours?



JulieHowe
12-20-2010, 04:29 PM
Can someone offer me a few pointers? Here's the scenario.

Two people, an infant and a middle-aged man, are dead in the house, having been intentionally poisoned. A third person, the perpetrator, has taken less of the poison and is still alive, but barely. The poison was barbiturate pills dissolved in alcohol for the adult and crushed pills mixed into the baby's bottle. (The crime itself was sloppy and the perpetrator will be easily caught.)

When a concerned relative stops by to check on the family, how pungent is the smell of death after approximately four hours? He's a combat veteran, so he knows the smell of death. The bodies are in a room at the end of a long hallway, and the climate is the American South in the late summer. Should he smell the dead bodies as soon as he forces open the front door, or will he need to walk partway down the hall first?

Thanks in advance! As always, I greatly appreciate everyone's advice and suggestions.

Jean
12-20-2010, 04:49 PM
I'm not sure but 4 hours is too soon for decomposing.

Williebee
12-20-2010, 04:55 PM
Working from the last one I found (elderly gentleman, early summer, in an old, closed up camper)

It wouldn't smell like anything abnormal, really, unless:

It got really hot in there, which would give you some close, rank smells (as much from whatever else is in the house/kitchen as anything else.)

One or more of the people's bodies voided or attempted to purge in the process -- vomit, bowel or bladder discharge. (I'm not sure if that would happen in this case -- if a person could throw up some of the drug, but not enough to save themselves.)

LBlankenship
12-20-2010, 05:04 PM
From what I understand, your bladder usually has at least a little urine in it unless you went to the bathroom recently. When someone dies (or passes out), their sphincters relax and that will all come out.

So anyone entering the house will probably smell urine before finding the man's body. Bowel discharge depends on, well, how far off his next BM was when he died. From what I understand, the bowel doesn't move stuff close to the exit until it's almost time.

Not what I expected to be talking about so soon after breakfast! :)

thothguard51
12-20-2010, 06:01 PM
Any odors will depend on how large a house/room, temperature in the house/room, and any other associated items that could also produce an odor.

As too any smell from a decomposing body, not much in 4 hours unless they have been disemboweled or there is lots of blood.

jclarkdawe
12-20-2010, 06:11 PM
These sound like they would have been quiet deaths, as opposed to violent ones. There's a big difference. In combat deaths, you potentially have the odor of blood, adrenline, feces, vomit, and urine. Here you would have no blood and no adrenline, and probably minimal feces and urine. You may have vomit. Any odors would be very faint.

At four hours, in a house kept at normal temperatures, there are not going to be any gross signs of death. Body will be cool to the touch, rigor would not have set in, skin color would be pale, but still pinkish (as opposed to the gray that develops later), and jaw would probably be slack. People coming across a body in this circumstance have been fooled into thinking that CPR will change the result.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Horseshoes
12-20-2010, 06:16 PM
4 hour old bodies haven't knocked me over. The smell of "homicidal death" seems an odd phrase to me. Wildly traumatic death certainly reeks, but I smelled the exsanguinating hemmorhage or charring, depending on manner of death. The combat veteran would have a similar experience. In other words, a barbiturate OD is one of the cleaner homicide scenes you can visit, not at all like shooting scenes.

GeorgeK
12-20-2010, 09:50 PM
...When someone dies (or passes out), their sphincters relax and that will all come out.
...

That's a Myth that for some reason Hollywood keeps repeating. It confuses grand mal siezures with normal function.

The default position for sphicters is closed. It's only when the muscle starts to deteriorate and the gut bacteria have made enough gas to overwhelm the tension that the now decomposed stool and sloughed intestinal lining starts oozing out. The bladder is sterile in the healthy state, so it takes longer for bacteria to get in there to spill the urinary contents.

lbender
12-20-2010, 10:11 PM
I'm a vet, so I don't know that much about people. In dogs and cats, though, when we do euthanasias, the muscles do relax and the bladder and rectum do largely empty. That might be due to muscle relaxation induced by the euthanasis solution (an overdose of a barbiturate). I'm not sure.

I would think that some of the muscle relaxation issue might depend on what drug is used to kill them.

LBlankenship
12-20-2010, 10:24 PM
>That's a Myth that for some reason Hollywood keeps repeating.

So why did I wet myself when I passed out due to blood loss?

RJK
12-20-2010, 11:17 PM
Four hours would not generate any perceptible odor. As Jim said, you would be inclined to perform CPR if not for the cool body temperature, and if you are in the south, in the summer with no A/C, you may not even notice that.

Kenra Daniels
12-21-2010, 12:06 AM
There might be a sort of sickly sweet odor noticeable a few feet from the bodies if the bowels and bladder haven't voided. I was with a person when he passed away, and noticed such an odor after a while.

As for bowels and bladders voiding at death - I used to raise rats to sell for snake food. About half were sold pre-killed and frozen, meaning I had to kill them using carbon dioxide gas. It was a fairly peaceful way for them to go, considering - they would pant for a moment, then lose consciousness, then die a few moments later. Roughly half would void their bladders and bowels, while the other half didn't. And that sickly sweet odor is apparent almost immediately with rats.

I know for a fact that some humans die without their bladder and bowels emptying. I wonder if maybe fear has something to do with it? Perhaps if the person is either prepared for and accepting of death, or if they don't realize what it is happening, they might not void, but if they fear death, are unprepared, and realize it's happening, maybe they do? Just a thought.

Theo81
12-21-2010, 12:09 AM
I'm a vet, so I don't know that much about people. In dogs and cats, though, when we do euthanasias, the muscles do relax and the bladder and rectum do largely empty. That might be due to muscle relaxation induced by the euthanasis solution (an overdose of a barbiturate). I'm not sure.



I'm not a vet but when my cat died (end-stage renal failure for reference), her body voided and defecated following her cardiac arrest. No vets or euthanasia involved - just a coma during which she also vomited and drooled copiously.

veinglory
12-21-2010, 12:34 AM
I think there is often a faint sweet/musty smell within four hours, but not everyone would know immediately that it is the smell of something dead.

GeorgeK
12-21-2010, 12:51 AM
Like everything in medicine there are exceptions. The longer and more distressful a death or falling unconscious is, the more likely that prior to that a stress response can by reflex, relax the sphicters. The more chronically ill someone is from organ failure, anemia etc the more likely that the body will reallocate energy and stop the default muscle tone (which starts around age 2). Cases of euthenasia and end stage organ failure are not what the OP addresses. Some euthenasia drugs might have sympathetic and parasympathetic excitatory effects. Theoretically a poison might also, but without knowing what it is, and assuming the people all just quietly died in place which is how I interpretted the OP, then it is unlikely that anything was used that would have that affect. I am a retired MD and although I'm sure that I've had to pronounce far fewer peope than the average MD, people losing their stool or urine was by far the exeption. I also farm, raising and butchering our own meat. None of the sheep and maybe one or two of the pigs out of something on the order of 100 or so did that either.

lbender
12-21-2010, 01:46 AM
Like everything in medicine there are exceptions. The longer and more distressful a death or falling unconscious is, the more likely that prior to that a stress response can by reflex, relax the sphicters. The more chronically ill someone is from organ failure, anemia etc the more likely that the body will reallocate energy and stop the default muscle tone (which starts around age 2). Cases of euthenasia and end stage organ failure are not what the OP addresses. Some euthenasia drugs might have sympathetic and parasympathetic excitatory effects. Theoretically a poison might also, but without knowing what it is, and assuming the people all just quietly died in place which is how I interpretted the OP, then it is unlikely that anything was used that would have that affect. I am a retired MD and although I'm sure that I've had to pronounce far fewer peope than the average MD, people losing their stool or urine was by far the exeption. I also farm, raising and butchering our own meat. None of the sheep and maybe one or two of the pigs out of something on the order of 100 or so did that either.

I understand what you're saying, but the original question mentioned overdose of barbiturate as cause of death. Since the euthanasia solution we use in vet medicine is primarily an overdose of pentobarbital, (which would never be used in slaughtering for meat) I thought it might be relevant.

JulieHowe
12-21-2010, 01:58 AM
Thanks! Rep points for all, and I'm going to extend the time of death out to about 12 hours. I seriously appreciate all the helpful answers. :)

Sorry. The rep point thingie screwed up and some of you have blank thank-yous on your rep points because I wasn't able to type a message, nor was I able to cancel the deal and start over again.

RJK
12-21-2010, 07:45 PM
I've been called to the scene of dozens of dead bodies. Two of which scared the bejesus out of me, because they woke up when I checked for a pulse. I can only remember one that had a putrid odor, and she had lain in her bed in a closed room, for about two weeks in August.

Homicide and suicide scenes with a lot of blood are different. You can smell the blood and gore.

Ingvanye
02-16-2011, 11:49 PM
There'd be no smell you would notice. You wouldn't even smell the urine or faeces, because four hours is much too soon for any smell to develop. Any bowel or bladder evacuation is contained in their clothing and isn't noticeable. After, say, 7-10 hours you would get the smell of the gas released as the body is moved by the coroner or government undertaker (depending what country you are in) Some poisons will cause a smell to be given off after death, but not what you are describing.
If there is a lot of blood, you would smell that.

quicklime
02-16-2011, 11:54 PM
unless they pissed or shit themselves post-mortem (or simply while passed out) there would be no smell at 4 hours....or if they pulled a Hendrix and vomited on the way down.

someone gut-shot might smell up a room at 4 hours, but someone poisoned into lala land is a "closed system"; any decomp would still be skinbound and held inside.

Canotila
02-17-2011, 03:18 PM
There might be a sort of sickly sweet odor noticeable a few feet from the bodies if the bowels and bladder haven't voided. I was with a person when he passed away, and noticed such an odor after a while.

As for bowels and bladders voiding at death - I used to raise rats to sell for snake food. About half were sold pre-killed and frozen, meaning I had to kill them using carbon dioxide gas. It was a fairly peaceful way for them to go, considering - they would pant for a moment, then lose consciousness, then die a few moments later. Roughly half would void their bladders and bowels, while the other half didn't. And that sickly sweet odor is apparent almost immediately with rats.

I know for a fact that some humans die without their bladder and bowels emptying. I wonder if maybe fear has something to do with it? Perhaps if the person is either prepared for and accepting of death, or if they don't realize what it is happening, they might not void, but if they fear death, are unprepared, and realize it's happening, maybe they do? Just a thought.

I used to work in a nursing home, and one of my less pleasant duties was cleaning up the corpses after the paramedics came and pronounced someone dead.

Every single time they voided themselves. Every time. I don't know if it's because they were old and the sphincter muscles weren't very well toned anyway (most of these people were in diapers) or what. A lot of them definitely didn't die in fear. A couple passed in their sleep at any rate.

Maybe some of the folks who you encountered after death simply had empty bladders and colons to start with?

The sicky sweet smell is definitely there. We could smell it ahead of time when someone was on their way out. Animals get the same smell, like when I raised chickens I always knew if a chick was going to pull through an illness or not because of its smell. It's kind of a, gastic juice smell. And it's there there under the bowel smell after the person dies. For the first few hours anyway. I haven't run into any long dead bodies (thank goodness).

veinglory
02-17-2011, 07:15 PM
I tend to disagree about no smell after four hours. I don't have a lot of human experience but I have walked into a room and smelled that a small animal was dead that I knew had been alive a few hours before. It is quite a subtle smell but if a rat or pigeon produces it why wouldn't a human? Maybe it has something to do with temp and the space.