Dismemberment: from Metamorphosis to Headless Corspe Pt.1

In September, I was invited to the premiere of a horror short film entitled Metamorphosis, directed by a Hong Kong local young director Ms. Elanie Xia. Metamorphosis lasts for only short 15 minutes, yet it has successfully demonstrated the hidden dark side of a person. In the film, the main female character used one knife, dissected and dismembered two people into grounded meat (I’m not gonna say who though!). The psychological conditions and aspects are exactly the approach one should focus when trying to understand dismemberment.

Dismemberment, in general perception, is already conceived as a more cruel act then plain homicide. For, this term per se has already excluded the possibility of accidents as the manner of death . Echoing existing literature and perspective, dismemberment has briefly divided into four categories in total. And they are categorized according to motives and goal of the act.

Defensive mutilation is the most common type among all. The term “defensive” here does not refer to the concept of trying to protect oneself. RAther, it refers to the act that the perpetrator trying to avoid prosecution and thus mutilated the corpse. This act aims for easier hiding and transports the dead body. If the perpetrator mutilated the body impulsively, this act is categorized as “Offensive mutilation.” While “aggressive mutilation” refers to such act as the M.O. (Modus Operandi). Lastly, “Necromaniac mutilation” refers to the perpetrator hides the body or mutilated body parts for own sexual pleasure.

Regardless which aforementioned type of dismemberment, all the tools used are rather sharp (i.e. includes all sorts of saws and knives). These sharp tools would leave marks and traces on bones during the cutting process. These marks would allow experts to carry out tool mark analysis. By comparing the marks from the sample with the database, experts could narrow down the search for the tools or even murder weapons. Furthermore, experts would also be able to tell the direction of the cut from the wound. On top of all these, experts are trained to pay attention to traces of hesitation mark, or false start. These marks could suggest hints for the psychological condition of the perpetrator, for example, if this is a rather decisive cut? Any hesitation or trials before one complete cut? In general, hesitation mark’s starting point and force used would be rather different; it is shallower and in varies length. If a mutilated corpse is missing these, it might be beneficial to consider we are dealing with a rather experienced perpetrator or a well-planned crime.

Postmortem dismemberment or corpse mutilation only happens after a person died, mostly is used to hide all crime-related evidence and the body. In late August 2017, a headless woman corpse was found in Denmark. At first, it was only the torso without the limbs and a head. It was later proved that the body belonged to a Swedish journalist Kim Wall. She worked for a lot of well-known papers around the world, including the Guardian and the New York Times. The law enforcement learned that she was working on a story of an inventor, Peter Madsen regarding his crowdfunding and submarine invention. In the latest investigation, law enforcement state that they found a decapitation and woman torture video in a hard drive in Madsen’s office. Also, they were able to locate Wall’s head and part of the limbs from the nearby water.

Though the suspect was trying his best to hide this hideous crime, yet the dead are still telling us the story, just through the scientific channel.

Next, we will talk more and discuss in details of distinguishing dismemberment cases with help of existing case studies, including the Wall case.

BBC News. 2017, August 23. Kim Wall: Headless body identified as missing journalist. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41021223

BBC News. 2017, October 07. Journalist Kim Wall’s head found in sea near Copenhagen. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41536552

O’Neill, M. 2017, October 13. Did Kim Wall’s accused murderer first kill at 15? News.com.au. Retrieved from: http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/did-kim-walls-accused-murderer-first-kill-at-15/news-story/81e2780a0359ec9f7826c34a3829c7d8

Porta, D. et al. 2015. Dismemberment and disarticulation: A forensic anthropological approach. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 38(2016) 50-57.

Xia, E.2016. Metamorphosis.

Forensics Daily #5: Hanging

*sorry that I had been away for a week as I flew all the way to Cyprus for a field school. Now everything is settled, and back with the daily Q&A 🙂

Q: what are the signs of a victim from hanging?
A: osteologically speaking, the hyoid bone is broken. However, if you are looking at a fresh body- with soft tissues, should find the following symptoms:-
1. Arms and legs are angled outward.
2. May find the neck has stretched few inches.
3. Face downcast.

Also, if you are looking for the validity of the MO, may also look for the stand or footstep for getting up to the thing they hung with. If that was absent, and the above symptoms are not found, together with the livor mortis(pooling of blood due to gravity kicked in not long after death), then it is possibly just staged and faked as hanging.

Forensics Daily #4- On suicide

Q:any relevance on using your favoured hand (i.e. Left- handed more likely on using left hand) on committing suicide? Also can manner of suicide tells you about the person?
A: No and yes. For the first half, there are studies showed that hand preference DOES NOT count as the factor of using which hand to pull the trigger. So do not simply judge the entry wound from the side of hand holding the gun. As for the second part, there are some we called more feminine way of dying and more masculine way. Usually feminine ways are taking pills, cutting wrist, while masculine contains putting the short gun into the mouth and blow the head off! Yet this remains controversial as it is 60% chosen by men and 30% chosen by women.

Note: this does not mean that simply by judging the manner of death/ suicide will be able to categorize the deceased. It just gives the investigators some ideas on the victimology, and the psychological condition of the dead.

**And of course, this is not to encourage you to suicide. I always say if you have the courage to die then you def have the courage to live on!