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Investigating Suicide – An Overview



Suicides account for over 40,000 deaths in the United States annually, ranked the 10th leading cause of deaths in America. This number has been on a steady increase since the turn of the 21st century. By far the most significant manner of death a patrol or investigating officer will be involved in

The definition of suicide is; the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and a sound mind.

Accidents are not suicides regardless of the level of danger or risk involved in the act.

The need for continued advanced training in the area of suicide is the risk of becoming complacent in these investigations. Suicide deaths must be worked as a sudden, suspicious death until the facts and evidence available tell the investigator differently. 

 Your investigation and case report must support a ruling of suicide.  You should NEVER rule a death suicide unless your investigation proves it.

Suicide is a ruling of exclusion of all other manners of death, and the ruling should be a joint conclusion of all investigators, coroner, and medical examiner.

Implications in suicide rulings

  • Family Denial
  • Stigma of Suicide
  • Insurance Issues

As an investigator, you will need to understand these implications and why they exist.  Your investigation will be scrutinized based on these implications.  It is your responsibility to have completed a thorough investigation with the collaboration of all investigation parties. 

Implications may exist, but your report should identify how your ruling was determined. If others do not agree with the ruling, they must understand how you arrived at it.

Here more about this topic on the podcast.

Interpreting an Autoerotic Death Scene ep260



The scene of an autoerotic death can hold a wide variety of problems and issues for the investigator. Filled with deceiving information and abnormal behavior, these scenes offer challenges to even the most seasoned investigator. However, it is vital that you get these scenes worked correctly. First and foremost, it is your job to get the correct answers for the family, the victim, and any insurance companies needing the information. The stigma attached to suicide and the autoerotic can have devastating effects on survivors, proper determination can only be achieved through good scene work and investigation.

Proper Scene Work

As in any investigation, you should never rely solely on what you see. Without doing a complete investigation you will never find the truth. DO NOT go in with preconceived ideas or basis. If you can not properly work a sexually charged scene then remove yourself and let someone else take lead.

The investigator must consider all aspects of the triangle of forensic investigation. There is an interdependence of all evidence, and none of these elements can be interpreted separately. Each of these elements are equally important.

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Without this integrated approach, homicides could be missed, or suicides and natural deaths could be misinterpreted as autoerotic.It is important to look at what is present as well as what is not present. Family, spouses, parents – may sometimes alter the scene to avoid the embarrassment of what they found, or to save the embarrassment of the deceased.Be sure to interview the person who discovered the body quickly and look for indicators as to alteration

When looking at the scene keep in mind that these scenes can look like homicide or suicide. Many victims of this deadly game like to act out fantasies of torture and rape they want to do to someone else.

Hands and feet may be bound, gag may be in the mouth and a hood over the head. At first glance you will see evidence of a homicidal scene. But look closely and ask yourself these types of questions; could this person have done this themselves, could they have gotten out if still alive, how much struggle do you see, is there an escape mechanism. These along with history investigation will determine your manner.

Proper History Investigation

These cases are not complete unless you do a good history investigation. Areas such as medical, psychological, and sexual history. Talk with family and friends to learn sexual behavior patterns. Talk with old girlfriends about sexual acts and fantasies. You should know the victim’s medical history and psychological history, could this have been suicide, did he just get “bad news” from the doctor.

Computers should be seized and forensically evaluated for evidence of sexual interest and searches. Did the victim enjoy this type of sexual games, who has he talked to, what chat rooms, etc? Computers give us a really good insight into a person and their interests.

Above all, you must not have found any evidence of suicide ideation, suicide notes, or anything leading you to the suicide conclusion based upon the probability of the evidence. Better not to rule it autoerotic than to rule it wrongly.

This is only a very small fraction of the information needed to investigate these cases. Please take the time to find books, and articles on the topic and become familiar. You may not work many of these in your career and you can only learn from two sources; experience and education. Education is the key here.

The podcast attached to this post goes much deeper into this topic.

Assisted Suicide – Investigating planned suicide pt.2



The assisted suicide movement is, if anything, indefatigable. Not only is it undeterred by its failures, but it is now more energized than any other time in recent years. By the end of March of 2015, bills were introduced in twenty-five state legislatures to legalize assisted suicide.

Defining the Subject

Many people remain confused about the exact nature of assisted suicide advocacy, sometimes confusing it with other medical issues involving end-of-life care. Thus, to fully understand the subject, we must distinguish between ethical choices at the end of life that may lead to death and the poison of euthanasia/assisted suicide.

1.      Refusing unwanted medical treatment is not assisted suicide: Fear of being “hooked up to machines” when one wishes to die at home has traditionally been a driving force behind the assisted suicide movement. But we all have the right to refuse medical interventions—even if the choice is likely to lead to death. Thus, a cancer patient can reject chemotherapy and a patient dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease can say no to a respirator.  Indeed, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the right to refuse medical treatment is completely different from assisted suicide.[9]

2.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia is not the same as a medical treatment for pain control: Because pain control may require strong drugs, which can cause death, assisted suicide advocates often claim that palliation and euthanasia are ethically the same under the “principle of double effect.” But this is all wrong:

  • Any legitimate medical treatment can unintentionally lead to death, including pain alleviation. In assisted suicide death is the intended effect.
  • We would never say that a patient who died during open-heart surgery was euthanized. Similarly, a patient who dies from the unintended side effects of pain control has not been assisted in suicide or euthanized.
  • Pain control experts state that aggressive pain control generally does not shorten life.

3.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia is antithetical to hospice: Hospice was founded by the great medical humanitarian Dame Cicely Saunders in the late 1960s as a reform movement to bring the care of the dying out of isolated hospitals and into patients’ homes or non-institutional local care facilities. Its purpose is to provide dying people with proper treatment of pain and other disturbing symptoms as well as to render spiritual, psychological, and social support toward the end that life be lived as fully as possible until natural death.

In contrast, assisted suicide is about rushing death, making it happen sooner rather than later through lethal actions. Or to put it another way: Hospice is about living. Assisted suicide/euthanasia is about dying. As the noted palliative care expert and assisted suicide opponent Dr. Ira Byock has written, “There’s a distinction between alleviating suffering and eliminating the sufferer — between enabling someone to die gently of their disease and ending that person’s life with a lethal pill or injection.”

4.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia are acts that intentionally end life: In contrast to the above, the intended purpose of assisted suicide and euthanasia is to end life, e.g., to kill. In assisted suicide, the last act causing death is taken by the person who dies, for example, ingesting a lethal prescription of barbiturates. In euthanasia, the death is a homicide, an act of killing taken by a third person, such as a doctor injecting a patient with poisonous drugs.

From an Investigators Standpoint 

With the above statements, we can see that the topic of assisted suicide is at best controversial.  As a death investigator, our job is simple; to report the facts and the facts only.  However, it is well understood that our own emotions and bias on the topic can and will play a role in how we approached these scenes. The investigators must guard against allowing these personal feelings to interfere with the proper reporting and interpretation of  the scene.

Conversation with Prosecuting Attorney 

It is a good suggestion to have a conversation with your prosecuting attorney and a review of your agency policy to see how best to proceed in these cases. You should always report all facts in the case, but having a better understanding of how you are expected to proceed may well help in your overall review of the case.

With Family

No matter what decision your Prosecuting Attorney goes, some members of the deceased family will invariably not agree with the decision.  This is why it best to do a proper and complete investigation, report all and only, the facts – and let those responsible for making these critical decision do their job. You, as the investigator, can rest in the knowledge that you have done your job and can properly explain to the family exactly what took place and why decision are made based upon these facts.  Many family members may still not agree with the outcome, but it is much better for them to have the facts than they come up with their own set of “facts’ as they see it.

Assisted Suicide – Investigating Planned Suicides Pt1



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2017 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 47,173 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. On average, someone in the country dies by suicide every 12 minutes.   With those totals, we are all bound to be involved in investigating suicides.  Suicides can be acute, meaning short term or spur of the moment final decision, or a well planned and risk assessed action.  In this episode of Coroner Talk™ we are going to look at the pros if there be any, and the cons of a planned suicide.

Featured in this week’s show is a PBS production of  Frontline that deals with the topic of a well-planned suicide and the legal and moral implication that accompany such a decision.  Regardless of where you stand on the topic, this episode will start you thinking of the other side.

The Assisted Suicide Debate

Since Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in 1997, more than 700 people have taken their lives with prescribed medication — including Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with an incurable brain tumor, who ended her life earlier this month.

Advocates of assisted-suicide laws believe that mentally competent people who are suffering and have no chance of long-term survival should have the right to die if and when they choose. If people have the right to refuse life-saving treatments, they argue, they should also have the freedom to choose to end their own lives.

Opponents say that such laws devalue human life. Medical prognoses are often inaccurate, they note — meaning people who have been told they will soon die sometimes live for many months or even years longer. They also argue that seriously ill people often suffer from undiagnosed depression or other mental illnesses that can impair their ability to make an informed decision.

At the latest event from Intelligence Squared U.S., two teams addressed these questions while debating the motion, “Legalize Assisted Suicide.”

Before the debate, the audience at the Kaufman Music Center in New York was 65 percent in favor of the motion and 10 percent against, with 25 percent undecided. After the debate, 67 percent favored the motion, with 22 percent against, making the team arguing against the motion the winner of this debate.

http://www.npr.org/2014/11/20/365509889/debate-should-physician-assisted-suicide-be-legal

The Suicide Plan – Investigating Planned Suicide

Investigators are offered a hard road when it comes to investigating a planned suicide when it is found that family or friends may have assisted in some manner, regardless of the extent of that assistance.  Even providing a cool drink of water to wash down the pills that will end life can be enough in some states to charge a person with assistance.  But where, as investigators, do we stand on the issue.  Some investigators are only providing cause and manner of death determinations, which can be clouded by the assistance issue. While other investigators are charged with the task  of deciding the criminal aspect of the assistance rendered.

In part two of this issue, we will take a deep dive into the debate that will most assuredly muddy up the waters a bit.  That is the next episode on Coroner Talk™..

The Evil Guardian – Dr. Scott Bonn PhD


Serial killers hold the fascination of the public, whether in true crime news accounts of individuals such as Ted Bundy or fictional depictions such as the television shows Dexter and Criminal Minds or popular movies such as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “Silence of the Lambs.” Serial killers seem so purely predatory and unremorseful that our society cannot help but display a macabre interest in them. Although they account for no more than 1% of the approximately 15,000 homicides in the U.S. annually, serial killers receive a disproportionate amount of media attention due to the incomprehensible savagery of their deeds.

Significantly, serial killers differ from mass murderers or spree murderers. Mass murder can be defined as the killing of multiple people at a single location where the victims may be either randomly selected or targeted. A mass murderer is often killed at the scene of the crime; sometimes by his/her own hand.  A spree murder is the killing of multiple people at different locations over a short period of time (the maximum duration is usually 7 days).  The killer in spree murders often but not always knows his/her victims, and most often targets family members or romantic partners.

I use the following list of behavioral criteria to define serial homicide for the purposes of my research:

            1. At least three murdered victims.

            2. The murders take place in separate events, at different times.

            3. The killer experiences an emotional cooling-off period between murders.

The key distinction between serial killers and mass or spree killers is this emotional cooling-off period in which the killer blends back into his/her seemingly normal life. The predator reemerges to strike again when the urge to kill becomes overwhelming. The duration of the cooling-off period can vary from weeks to months or even years, and varies by a killer. Dennis Rader or “Bind, Torture, Kill” (BTK) had 10 known victims over nearly 30 years!       

There is some disagreement over the serial killer definition, mostly about the number of killings required. There is also debate as to whether organized crime hit-men should be considered serial killers.  Doc Bonn argues that they are not serial killers because their motivation is purely business and their killings fulfill no emotional needs.  Serial killers are driven to murder by urges and fantasies that they frequently do not comprehend.       

Doc Bonn’s Research

Doc Bonn is currently researching and writing a popular book on the public’s fascination with serial killers titled, “Why We Love Serial Killers,” published by Skyhorse Press for release in 2014. This book examines the social processes through which serial killers often become morbid pop culture celebrities.  The book seeks to answer the following:

  • What are the roles of the popular media, state officials and the killers themselves in the social construction of serial killers’ public identities? 
  • Why are so many people fascinated with serial killers?
  • What social-psychological needs do serial killers fulfill for the public? 

In order to help answer these questions, Doc Bonn is exploring the mysterious, psychopathic criminal minds of infamous serial killers. Ironically, and perhaps shockingly, this book proposes that serial killers may actually serve a function in society by clarifying the meaning of “evil” and setting moral boundaries—that is, by helping to establish the outer limits of what one human being can do to others.

Doc Bonn believes that it is quite natural for people to be fascinated by why serial killers commit their murders and for their grizzly exploits to become media spectacles.  Let us know what you think about this topic. 


Dr. Scott Bonn PhD

www.docbonn.com

Dr. Scott Bonn (“Doc Bonn”) is a Professor of Criminology, media expert and analyst, public speaker and author. He is an expert on criminal behavior and the motivations of criminals.  He offers insights into various types of crime, including white-collar, state crime, bullying, domestic violence, sexual assault and serial homicide.  His expert commentary frequently appears in the popular news media. 

Doc Bonn is the author of “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq,” a critically acclaimed book on war crime and terrorism from Rutgers University Press (2010).  His latest book is on the public’s fascination with serial killers in which he offers insights into the minds of infamous predators and explains how and why serial killers are often transformed into ghoulish popular culture celebrities by the media. Titled “Why We Love Serial Killers” the book is published by Skyhorse Press and released in October 2014.

Professor Bonn is not your average academic. He combines the knowledge and skills of an academic scholar with more than twenty years of senior-level corporate experience in advertising and news and entertainment media. As such, he has unique insights into the public’s attitudes and beliefs, how they are shaped, and the agenda-setting powers of political leaders and the news media.

Doc Bonn has developed a unique, integrated, and interdisciplinary theory called “critical communication” to explain how state officials and the news media actually shape public opinion on complex issues such as homicide, capital punishment, drugs, abortion, and terrorism.

Doc Bonn received a doctorate in sociology (criminology) at the University of Miami, FL, and a master degree in criminal justice administration at San Jose State University. He teaches courses in criminology, sociology of deviance, media and crime, and criminal justice. His primary research interests include white-collar crime, state crime, domestic violence, serial homicide and how the media influence society.

Prior to his academic career, Bonn held high-ranking corporate positions such as Vice President at NBC Television Network, and Executive Vice President at SonicNet, a leading music website, now a part of MTV Networks. He resides in Manhattan, New York.


Charles Lundquist is chaplain at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County, New York, located forty-five miles northwest of Manhattan. He is also a serial killer who preys on teenage girls. Lundquist is a cold-blooded psychopath who calls his murderous alter ego the guardian because he believes that he is serving God and protecting innocent females from evil by killing them. Ironically, he loves to kill and his lust for blood is insatiable.

When New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton realizes that a serial killer is on the loose in Manhattan, he assigns homicide captain James Pritchard to lead the manhunt. Pritchard is a talented but troubled detective who is dealing with the deaths of his wife and teenage daughter killed by a drunken driver.

The hunt for the guardian quickly becomes a personal obsession for Pritchard. Joining him in his quest to find the guardian is a brilliant and attractive FBI special agent named Julia Cassidy. Cassidy, too, becomes obsessed with stopping the guardian, and she and Pritchard quickly form a powerful, intimate bond.

By the time that the guardian has claimed his fifth victim, the city of New York is in a state of complete panic. Making matters worse, the killer is taunting James Pritchard in letters he sends to the news media; daring the homicide captain to catch him. Pritchard and Cassidy become desperate in their investigation due to the absence of leads. They soon recognize that they are facing an adversary unlike any other they have ever encountered.

The guardian is cunning, meticulous, arrogant, compulsive, unremorseful, and he will never stop killing.


A Homicide Love Story – Ron Franscell



Would you kill for love? True-crime master Ron Franscell tells the grisly story of a loving couple who killed at least four, and lived happily ever after–while cops desperately tried for decades to piece together a petrifying tale of murder and secrets. The appalling details are made even more vivid by the author’s familiarity with the Wyoming times and places that formed the backdrop of his national bestseller The Darkest Night.

After Alice, a desperate young mother in a gritty Wyoming boomtown, kills her husband in 1974 and dumps his body where it will never be found, she slips away and starts a new life with a new love. But when her new love’s ex-wife and two kids start demanding more of him, Alice delivers an ultimatum: Fix the problem or lose her forever. With Alice’s help, he “fixes” the problem in an extraordinarily ghastly way … and they live happily ever after. That is, until 2013, almost forty years later, when somebody finds a dead man’s skeleton in a place where Alice thought he’d never be found.

Featuring a femme fatale whose manipulative, cold-blooded character rivals Lady Macbeth, this page-turner by bestselling true-crime author Ron Franscell revisits a shocking cold case that was finally solved just when the murderers thought they’d never be caught.


Duct Tape Killer – Phil and Sandy Hamman ep255



“MY MOMMY IS GOING TO DIE,” SHAINA SOBBED INTO THE PHONE.

When Piper Streyle failed to show up for work, a coworker called her home. Piper’s three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Shaina, answered and said, “A mean man carried Mommy away.” Then the line went dead. In the tranquil region of southeast South Dakota, word of the young mother who was brazenly abducted from her home in broad daylight shocked residents. Piper was the second woman to vanish, following the startling incident of a young woman who narrowly escaped abduction by fighting for her life on a dark and secluded highway.

An intensive search by an elite team of investigators uncovered a secret crime location, but the discovery of a nightshirt cut in half, a burnt candle, and a homemade bondage board revealed the chilling truth behind the missing women. With the help of a quick-witted and streetwise maximum security prison inmate, prosecutor Larry Long and his team were able to piece together the sinister facts of the diabolical crimes.

Bestselling authors PHIL AND SANDY HAMMAN, along with former Attorney General LARRY LONG, dive into the grim and demented world of Robert Leroy Anderson,  a sexual sadist, rapist, and murderer. Duct Tape Killer is also the story of perseverance and proof that love will not be extinguished by the ruinous evil that seeks to take root in our world.



Dead Reckoning – Caitlin Rother


“Rother gives readers compelling insight to an unthink- able American nightmare. A gripping read . . . frank and frightening . . . it sizzles.” —Aphrodite Jones, host of True Crime for Investigation Discovery Network

Tom and Jackie Hawks loved their life in retirement, sailing on their yacht, the Well Deserved. But when the birth of a new grandson called them back to Arizona, they put the boat up for sale. Skylar Deleon and his pregnant wife Jennifer showed up as prospective buyers, with their baby in a stroller, and the Hawkses thought they had a deal. Soon after a sea trial and an alleged purchase, however, the older couple disappeared and the Deleons promptly tried to access the Hawkses’ bank accounts.

As police investigated the case, they not only found a third homicide victim with ties to Skylar, they also uncovered an unexpected and unusual motive: Skylar had wanted gender reassignment surgery for years. By killing the Hawkses with a motley crew of assailants and plundering the couple’s assets, the Deleons had planned to clear their $100,000 in debts and still have money for the surgery, which Skylar had already scheduled.

Now, in this up-to-the-minute updated edition, which includes extensive new material, New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother presents the latest breaking developments in the case. Skylar, who was ultimately sentenced to death row for the three murders, transitioned to a woman via hormones while living in the psych unit at San Quentin prison. Recently, she legally changed her name and gender to female, apparently a strategic step in her quest to obtain taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery and transfer to a women’s prison. Combined with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent moratorium on executions, this only adds insult to injury for the victims’ families, who want Skylar to receive the ultimate punishment for her crimes.


Frozen Tears: The Fort Leonard Wood MP Murders

In 1977, four teenagers were kidnapped and attacked near and on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Only one survived. This book is written by the first responder to the call, Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper J.B. King. He goes back in time to tell it how it was from the moment of the crime until the conviction of Military Police Game Warden Johnny Lee Thornton. Riveting!

His purpose is to tell the story of Pulaski County Missouri’s ‘Crime of the Century’ in detail and with clarity. From the first minutes after this attack was reported, the United States Army, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID), and the United States Attorney’s office worked together to bring the killer to justice. This book is a first-hand, comprehensive look into the investigation–and the story is riveting!


Overcoming Conflict Drains-Live Presentation

Communication is not cliche and conflict does not just go away—on its own. Effective leaders are committed to improving communication and resolving conflict with courage, intentionality, and commitment. Yet, communication is continually an invisible drain for most people, stealing time, energy, money, resources, and even relationships from individuals and organizations. 

In this session, you will learn how to plug the drains keeping you from the results you want and need. Influencing well begins by communicating well. It’s not enough to know what you need to do, wisdom means implementation.

We will discuss the best approaches for having difficult dialogues, how to diffuse emotions that magnify conflicts, and insights on invisible drains hiding beneath the surface. Real people asking real questions real-time about their real-life conflicts, make the content in this session especially relevant to the 21st-century woman or man. When you learn how to relate more effectively in your personal and professional relationships, you will increase your productivity, profitability, and peace, at work and at home.