Published
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ISSN: 1547-9609

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott

Spring 2005
Volume II
issue 3

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Dr. Anil Aggrawal is a professor of Forensic Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi-110002.
His Website address is http://www.geradts.com/~anil/index.html. Send snail mail to S-299 Greater Kailash-1, New Delhi-110048.
Phones (R): 26465460, 26291942, 26413101; (O) 23239271-4.

Direct email to Dr. Anil Aggrawal.


Dr. Anil Aggrawal's Forensic Files

photo of Dr. Anil Aggrawal
Death by Strangulation

             I solved a very interesting case in November 1993. On 16th November, 1993, I was called by the police to a house in Vasant Vihar, where they had found the dead body of an 18 year old girl Rajni. Rajni was a student of B.Com. (Bachelor of Commerce) in Delhi University. Her parents were simple middle-class people. She had a younger brother, a 15 year old boy called Raju. Rajni was in love with Pramod, a boy who was her colleague in the college. Everybody knew about their love-affair. Her parents were however very much against it, and had advised their daughter to terminate this affair. But she would not listen. Pramod came from a good family, but his company was not good. There were rumors in the campus, that the couple had even had sexual relations. However Rajni had confided everything to Sarita, her best friend. During the police investigations later on, Sarita told the police that Rajni had no sexual relations with Pramod. However only a few days back Rajni had told her that lately Pramod was insisting to start sexual relations with her; but as she was against such things before marriage, she had refuted his advances. Rajni had not lost her love for Pramod ... she just did not want to have sexual relations with him before marriage.

             On 15th November, 1993 Rajni came home from college at the usual time of 5 pm. She had her evening cup of tea, and then went to meet her friends. She came back again at about 8 pm, had her dinner and went to her room. At about 10 pm, her father heard some voices from her room. Out of curiosity he went to her room, and knocked at the door. Rajni opened the door after an inordinate delay. Her father however saw someone run away from the window. He immediately rushed to the window and saw a shadow rapidly moving away from the house. Her father became very furious with Rajni and asked who had come to meet her. She wouldn't say anything, but his father knew it was Pramod. He woke up his wife and told everything to her. Rajni's mother became very furious and slapped Rajni twice. She also shouted at Rajni and said that she was ruining the name of the family. This drama went up to 11.30 pm after which Rajni's parents left the room.

             When in the morning, her parents saw the room still closed at 8 am, they became very worried and knocked at the door. When they couldn't get an answer, they called their neighbors. Someone broke open the door. To everyone's horror, Rajni was found dead in her bed with a scarf tied around her neck. Rajni was dressed in a nightgown. Her nightgown was folded up showing her thighs and even her undergarments. Her face was congested. The bedclothing had been thrown back in a manner consistent with getting out of bed. There were no signs of any struggle. However I could notice a flower pot which had tipped down. Some bleeding had occurred from her nose which made a stain on the bedding. The tongue was protruding out.

             From the circumstances, it appeared that someone had strangulated her. Rajni's parents immediately accused Pramod. Her father told the police that he had indeed visited his daughter the previous night, and had entered their house through the drainage pipe. He said that when he caught him in some dastardly act, he ran away from the house. His contention was that Pramod came again after sometime, and killed her. Sarita's statement that lately Pramod was demanding sexual intercourse from her seemed to corroborate the story that Pramod had indeed killed her. It was quite possible that Pramod came back again after some time, demanded sexual intercourse from Rajni, and when she wouldn't relent, had strangulated her out of frustration. When Pramod was contacted and told that Rajni had died, he seemed perturbed. However he could not give satisfactory answer as to where he was on the night of 15 Nov. Police swung in action immediately and arrested Pramod even as he kept insisting about his innocence.

             It was at this stage that Rajni's dead body was brought to me for post-mortem. Here I would like to say a few facts about strangulation before we go on further. Strangulation is a kind of death in which the neck is compressed by a ligature. By and large, strangulation points to homicide. Although one can commit suicide by strangulating himself, such cases are not very common. I generally take a case of strangulation to be homicidal in nature, unless proved otherwise.

             Many types of ligature have been used for strangulation. Cases of strangulation with such weird materials as electrical cables are not unknown. Strangulation is of several different types. The cases in which some kind of ligature (such as a necktie, scarf, dhoti (a very long rectangular piece of cloth worn in India below the waist), or even an electrical cable as just mentioned) is used, go by the name ligature strangulation. However the neck could be constricted by other means too. For instance, one could simply use hands to constrict the neck of his victim. These cases go by the name throttling or manual strangulation (from Latin <i>manus</i>, hand ).

             Manual strangulation can leave tell-tale fingernail marks and scratches (from nails of the assailant) on the neck. There might be signs of struggle too, such as bruising of the face. The face is generally congested (engorged with blood), but it might be pale. Strangulation can also be effected by compressing the victim's neck against the assailant's forearm. This form is known as mugging.

             When a victim is attacked from the back without warning, and strangled by grasping his throat or throwing a ligature over the neck and tightening it quickly, it is known as garrotting. It can overpower and kill even a healthy robust male without any struggle. Loss of consciousness is so rapid that the assailant is able to single-handedly tie the ligature with one or more turns. Garrotting, as a mode of execution, is practiced in Spain and Turkey. In Spain, the prisoner is seated with his back to a post, to which he is firmly secured. A metal collar is then applied to the neck and tightened. The apparatus may include a spike which is forced into the nape of the neck during the execution. The bowstring is used in Turkey.

             In our country, especially in the Northern regions, a very weird form of strangulation is used. This is known as Bansdola ("doing away with a bamboo"). In this form of strangulation, the neck is compressed between two sticks or hard objects, usually bamboos, one being placed across the throat in front and another behind. These are strongly fastened at one end and a rope is passed at the other to bring the two bamboos together. The unfortunate victim is thus strangled to death. Sometimes, the throat is pressed by means of a bamboo or lathi (a wooden rod) placed across the front of the neck, the murderer standing with a foot on each end of the bamboo or lathi, thus squeezing the victim.

             There is another method of strangulation known as the palmar strangulation. In this method, both palms are so pressed over the nose and mouth that the victim can not breathe.

             In cases of strangulation, abrasions and bruises round about the ligature mark are quite common. These injuries are produced by the assailant's nails, and even by the victim's own nails during the struggle to pry the ligature away from his neck. Many times, the pattern of the ligature material is reflected very faithfully on the neck. The weave of a rope for instance can come very accurately on the neck, and many times a victim can be apprehended from that. In the adjoining figures, the weave of the ligature material gave away the criminal. The criminal strangulated a young boy with a plastic twine, with a characteristic weave. This weave was faithfully reproduced on the neck of the victim. When the accused was finally apprehended, a plastic twine was recovered from his which had exactly the same weave as was found on the neck of the boy. This helped to nab the criminal very easily.

             Differentiating suicidal from homicidal strangulation however can be a very tough affair. In the given case, I found at my wit's end to decide whether I was dealing with a case of suicide or homicide. The pattern certainly seemed similar to homicide. It was quite possible that Pramod came back later in the night to press his demand for sexual intercourse, and when Rajni resisted he strangulated her with her own scarf. It was quite possible for him to do that. Police investigations revealed that lately he was moving in bad company. Rajni's upturned skirt showing her underclothings pointed to the fact that Pramod might indeed have tried to molest her.

             However the two things that caught my attention were relatively undisturbed state of the room and the position of the knot in front of the neck. If the death was as result of homicide, there should have been a struggle between the two. Rajni might have shouted, but nobody heard her cries in the night. Furthermore one would expect the furniture and other things in the room to be in a violently disturbed state. But everything seemed to be in order, save for a flower pot which might have tipped because of the carelessness of Rajni.

             In suicidal cases, mostly the knot is in the front, as was in our case. Furthermore the scarf was applied with five turns, and there was a final tying of the free ends with a half-knot. This is the hallmark of self-strangulation. A killer generally makes only one turn around the knot, and more often than not he would merely tighten the ligature without actually tying it. A person committing suicide by strangulation would have to tie the knots. If he merely tightened the noose, he could not strangulate himself. The reason is not hard to guess. First of all he would tighten the noose with his muscular effort. Just before dying he would fall unconscious. The moment he would fall unconscious, his muscles would relax. He would not be able to keep the ligature tight. The ligature would loosen up and he would start breathing again. Thus if a person wants to commit suicide by strangulation, he would have to tie a knot, so that the grip is not loosened.

             Another interesting point was the presence of scarf round the neck of Rajni. If Pramod had killed Rajni by strangulation, why hadn't he taken away the ligature material (the scarf) with him? It is very natural for a killer to take away the ligature material from the scene of crime. No criminal wants to leave behind any incriminating piece of evidence.

             There was one final thing which was nagging me. Why didn’t Rajni hang herself? A person committing suicide chooses hanging far more often than strangulation. I looked at the roof. It was quite high. To be sure, there was a fan, which provided a convenient point for suspension of a rope. I estimated that the roof was about 20 feet high. The fan came down about 3 feet from the roof, making its lowest point about 17 feet from the floor. Rajni was a small girl, about 5’2” in height and even if she raised her hands to tie a knot on the fan, she could reach about 7 or 8 feet above the floor. I did not see any moveable stool or chair in her room. There was only a bed, which was quite low (about 3 feet). Rajni could not possibly have reached the fan, even if she stood over it. Furthermore in the heat of her suicidal impulse, she might have found it hard to get a rope. On the contrary, her scarf was easily available to her.

             All these pieces of evidence led me to conclude that Rajni had actually committed suicide by strangulating herself. She had been severely scolded by both her parents the previous night. She was in a state of great turmoil otherwise too. Her love-affair was not seen in the proper light by her parents and this had disturbed her a lot. All this caused her to take that drastic step on that night..

             The police had faith in my findings and released Pramod. A few months later, Rajni's father confided in me that he had indeed found a suicide note in Rajni's drawer, in which she had stated that she was taking her life because her parents refused to acknowledge her love-affair. He had destroyed that suicide note because he wanted Pramod to go behind bars. In his opinion, Pramod was morally and ethically responsible for his daughter's death. This confession confirmed my conclusions in that case. I was very satisfied on that day that forensic science could help save the life of a young man who was innocent of the crime he stood accused of.

Copyright 2005 by Dr. Anil Aggrawal


 

Published
Quarterly by
Lifeloom.com
ISSN: 1547-9609

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott

Sprinr 2005
Volume II
issue 3

 

 

W M M New Issue W M M Archives

 

The Web Mystery Magazine (ISSN: 1547-9609) is an on-line quarterly journal dedicated to investigating the mysterious genre in print, in film, and in real-life. The Web welcomes well-researched, well-written articles, reviews, and fiction. Writers are invited to send letters and inquiries to editor@lifeloom.com. Copyright 2005, lifeloom.com