View Full Version : suicide by hanging

11-21-2013, 02:08 AM
I just need to clarify a few details about this. I'm trying to describe a scene where a son walks in to find his father has hanged himself. This is from the son's POV and my goal is to depict what he sees accurately without going into too many lavish details. So, please correct me if I'm wrong about any of the following:
There would be an odor of sewage.
The face would be purplish (but from what I saw when I did an image search--which was unfun, by the way--this doesn't appear to be very extreme).
The mouth is somewhat open and the tongue rests between the lips. Again, I expected this to be more extreme. In many of the photos the tongue wasn't visible at all.
The mouth seemed to be darkened somehow. I'm not sure but I think some of the victims had blood on their lips?
The eyes did not appear to bulge.

Have I left anything out that would be immediately visible to the viewer if the body was fully clothed?

Thanks in advance for any help.

11-21-2013, 03:25 AM
I'm stealing my last post on death by strangulation and putting it here:

There are two ways to kill by strangulation.

Type 1 - you cut off the windpipe, and the person loses consciousness due to hypoxia. It takes a long time, and you need a good bit of force to do it. It can take upwards of 20 minutes to strangle a grown man this way, and that's with bound hands and a vertical noose using gravity and the man's own weight against him. (Look up some death row hangings and you'll see these are the ones that do what they call a "dead man's dance.")

Type 2 - restrict the carotid artery to the point that blood flow stops. This is the "sleeper hold" kind of strangulation, and you'll incapacitate your guy a lot faster.

Hanging's not like you see in the movies. It's often slow, painful, and messy. If your guy is at home, he's likely not going to know what he's doing, which means he's going linger. You might get blood or foam from the mouth, but whether the face is purple is going to depend on whether he dies from restricted airflow or bloodflow. If it's bloodflow, then he won't be purple at all.

11-21-2013, 05:38 AM
Instead of describing his father's face, what about the son focussing on the awful tautness of the rope that the father used to kill himself compared with the slackness of the dead man's body? Maybe a chair kicked over as his father died? That sort of description might convey the emotions while getting around the need for details.

11-21-2013, 07:34 AM
I agree with Helix. I think the reader/audience would connect better with the detail of kicked over chair rather than giving the details of how the body looks.

11-22-2013, 01:12 AM
I don't know. The son in question is a kid, and what I'm going for is how horrific this sight is for a child. The sheer trauma that this incident inflicts. The child has suffered abuse before and this caps that off.

I'm not trying to claim that an adult seeing this would somehow not be traumatized. I hope that's clear. I'm writing about this because it happened to a young man I know and I just have this incredible rage for him, and want to convey the horror of what he went through. To me, an overturned chair falls short.

OTOH I'm not writing this in order to entertain the reader with gruesome details. I just want to do broad strokes that are accurate.

Thank you, though. It's always helpful to think about a scene another way.

Cyia, what kind of hanging causes blood in the mouth? I'd guess the one that impacts the artery? I wouldn't want to describe it to match strangulation and then include a detail that fits better with damage to the artery.

11-22-2013, 03:09 AM
I also researched this for a story. From what I found, it's an ugly sight, though details of the physical appearance can vary depending on how the victim dies (see Cyia's post), the location of the rope and knot on the neck (low, high, knot in front, knot on side, etc.), and other factors:

The lips can swell and turn purplish, the protruding tip of the tongue can swell and blacken. When you don't see the tongue, it's often because the victims jaws have clenched.

Sometimes the face is flushed, sometimes pale.

Sometimes the eyes bulge, sometimes not.

A lot of saliva can drip down the front of the body. Urine and feces also are released.

Suicidal hangings typically cause slow and horrible strangulation, execution hangings are designed to cause a quick broken neck. But it takes a heavy rope, big knot, and long, hard drop to break the neck. Do-it-yourselfers almost never get those parts right.

11-22-2013, 06:43 PM
There's a wide variety in how a death by strangulation through self-hanging appears. Your descriptions are all well within the range.

However, if you want to really create an image that the person will never forget, start with a character that actually studies how to do this. A strangulation hanging death is of questionable efficiency as a way of killing yourself. The smart person ups the ante.

Start with a loop of rope around your neck and a fall plan. Then take a sock and stuff it in your mouth. Then a plastic bag over your head. (The transparency here definitely has an influence on the visual results. Use your imagination.) The a quick loop around the hands behind you. Then fall forward.

Advantages to this approach is it greatly increases the speed at which death will happen. Faster death happens, the less unpleasant it will be and the less likely you can be saved.

And the dramatic approach here is wonderful. You get to draw out the preparation for the suicide, and you will create a memorable image for whoever discovers the body. Even experienced people can lose their lunch with this visual.

Add in a stain in the pants at the crotch area. You've now covered the smell factor.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

11-22-2013, 09:48 PM
JCD mentioned the smell - you could also include the sounds. Maybe the sound of the plastic bag, or the rope rubbing against itself. The body could be swinging ever-so-slightly. Are they indoors or outdoors? Outdoors, of course, you have plenty of possible sounds. Indoors, you could have a dripping sink in another room, or just the sound of water going through the pipes. Maybe you can hear the furnace growling (throw in a knock of some sort for extra effect).

King Neptune
11-22-2013, 10:51 PM
And, if you want to make it really horrible, the kid could come in shortly before the victim strangles.

11-22-2013, 11:12 PM
I'm not an expert but I recall reading about people "dancing on the end of the rope". Unless you have a skilled hangman to break the neck as pdechellis says, then it's a painful and drawn out process where the hanged person kicks out involuntarily as they suffocate. So you might see furniture kicked aside and clothing dishevelled. Certainly not the peaceful falling asleep kind of death that you sometimes see in the movies.

11-23-2013, 12:01 AM
Very rarely will a suicide allow enough drop. Take a look around your house and think about where you'd hang yourself where there's enough drop to hang with your feet off the ground. So you don't get the "dancing." Sometimes you get some thrashing, and usually the point someone jumped from is kicked over, but other then that, the room isn't usually trashed.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
11-23-2013, 01:07 AM
Very rarely will a suicide allow enough drop. Take a look around your house and think about where you'd hang yourself where there's enough drop to hang with your feet off the ground. So you don't get the "dancing." Sometimes you get some thrashing, and usually the point someone jumped from is kicked over, but other then that, the room isn't usually trashed.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

All too true. Few houses have ceilings high enough to allow for a fall that would break a neck.