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American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology:
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000088
Case Reports

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Two Cases of Shotgun Deaths Associated With an Unconventional Home Security Alarm System

Asirdizer, Mahmut MD*; Turkmen, Nursel MD; Akan, Okan MD; Yavuz, Mehmet Sunay MD§

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From the *Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Yuzuncu Yil University, Van; †Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Uludag University; ‡Mortuary Section of Bursa Branch, Council of Forensic Medicine, Bursa; and §Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Celal Bayar University, Manisa, Turkey.

Manuscript received December 27, 2012; accepted April 24, 2013.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Mahmut Asirdizer, MD, Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Yuzuncu Yil University, 65080, Van, Turkey. E-mail: masirdizer@yahoo.com.

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Abstract

Injury and death cases caused by booby traps are not common in forensic medicine practice. Besides, installation of booby traps including firearms is generally for suicidal and rarely for homicidal purposes. Although few patents were described about home security alarm system that were created by firearms in the United States, 1 sample of injury with a similar unconventional mechanism of home safety system was reported by Asirdizer and Yavuz in 2009. In the published case report, the story of an electrical technician who was invited to a summer house by the homeowner to check the home security alarm system was reported. In the so-called report, he was stated to be injured by the shotgun attached to the unconventional home security alarm system while checking the system. As a result, the homeowner was convicted of a possible intent to cause a life-threatening injury to the technician.The so-called homeowner and his wife died by the same shotgun attached to the same unconventional home security alarm system 4 years on from the first event. In the present case report, we have aimed to present the findings of the crime scene and the autopsies of these unusual 2 deaths and to discuss individual and legal factors in paving the way for the deaths of 2 people.

Burglary is the illegal or forcible entry or attempted entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offense that, usually but not always, involves theft. In the 142nd article of the Turkish Penal Code, burglary is defined among the aggravated factors of theft crime.1 Nowadays, burglary crime is an important problem in Turkey,2 as well as in many countries of the world, despite a decreasing tendency.3–5 Cases of burglary cause concern in society, and people are showing interest in various alarm systems to protect their houses and themselves. Even if these alarm systems, in parallel with the development of knowledge and technology today, are safer, more economical, and more convenient for home security, some people still prefer damaging or fatal mechanisms for the thief who enters the house, going beyond the traditional methods of deterring for burglars.6,7

A booby trap is defined to be “a device or setup that is intended to kill, harm, or surprise a person, unknowingly triggered by the presence or actions of the victim.” Lethal booby traps are often used in warfare, particularly in guerrilla warfare, and traps designed to cause injury or pain are also sometimes used by criminals aiming to protect drugs or other illicit property and by some owners of legal property who wish to protect it from theft.8 On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside of a Century movie theatre in Aurora, Colo. In this assault, 12 people died and 58 people were injured. It was described that the murderer in Colorado booby-trapped 3 different ignition systems in his apartment to kill the police on his capture or death including a thermos full of glycerine leaning over a skillet full of another chemical. Flames and sparks were to be created when they are mixed, and a trip wire linked the thermos to the door.9,10

Injury and death cases caused by booby traps are not commonly seen in forensic medicine practice. That is to say, forensic pathologists come across at most 1 or 2 in their careers here. Most of them more often tend to involve explosive or incendiary devices rather than firearms. The installation of booby traps including firearms is generally for suicidal and rarely for homicidal purposes.11 Although few patents were described about home security alarm system that were created by firearms in the United States,12–14 several booby traps are advertised on Web pages15; there are even companies that specialize in manufacturing inert devices for booby-trap training.16 A sample of injury with a similar unconventional mechanism of home safety system was reported by Asirdizer and Yavuz11 in 2009 in the literature. In the published case report, the story of an electrical technician who was invited to a summer house by the homeowner to check the home security alarm system was reported. In the so-called report, he was stated to be injured by the shotgun attached to the unconventional home security alarm system while checking the system. As a result, the host was convicted of a possible intent to cause a life-threatening injury to the technician by the region court.

The so-called homeowner and his wife died by the same shotgun attached to the same unconventional home security alarm system 4 years on from the first event. In the present case report, we aimed to present the findings of the crime scene and the autopsies of these unusual 2 deaths and to discuss individual and legal factors in paving the way for the deaths of 2 people.

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CASES

A 70-year-old retired electronics engineer, who was married to a 76-year-old German-born Turkish citizen, had installed several camera control and security systems in addition to a different alarm system involving a shotgun on the second floor because his summer house had been broken into approximately 5 years ago. Four years ago, an electrical technician was invited to a summer house to check the home security alarm system installed before, and this technician was injured by the shotgun attached to the unconventional home security alarm system while checking it. In the trial of the homeowner, the judges accepted that the technician had life-threatening injuries based on the medicolegal report of the Department of Forensic Medicine of Medical School of Celal Bayar University. The homeowner did not intend to cause this injury, but he foresaw the legal worth in the law when he installed this home security alarm system. Therefore, the injuries were not considered as a self-defense or an accident even if a thief was injured on breaking into his home. The homeowner was convicted of a possible intent to cause a life-threatening injury to the technician by the region court. He objected to the Supreme Court and the trial continued.

On the evening of the previous day of the event, the cable of 1 of the security systems was broken during the repair of the roof of the summer house, and the telephone of the housekeeper was given an alarm. On the day of the incident, the housekeeper phoned the homeowner. The owner told him that he was aware of the broken cable and he had called the technique service. When the housekeeper did not receive a reply, despite of the repeated calls to the homeowner, he called the gendarme. The gendarme accompanied with a locksmith, who opened the door on the ground floor balcony of the house, entered the living room. They saw that there was a shotgun in a black box that was hanged on the wall, 61 cm away from the west wall of the living room, and was camouflaged with flowers. It was 80 cm above the floor and measured 80 × 22 cm in size. In this box, there was a shotgun without a butt. Electronic and mechanical mechanisms were set up under the shotgun. The barrel was 100 cm above the floor. After turning this system ineffective, gendarme saw that the shotgun barrel was directed toward the corridor and the entrance of the house. There was a camera near the box. In the hall, 5 pressure sensors were detected under the carpet. In the distance of 1105 cm from the barrel, multiple pellet holes were detected on the door of the north room that was coated with steel. In the scene investigation, the sketch of the first floor was drawn (Fig. 1) and the evidences were elaborately photographed (Fig. 2).

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1
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FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2
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When they saw that the 2 corpses were in the second floor corridor, they entered the bedroom from the second floor balcony. There was a shotgun mechanism that was hanged on the bedroom wall with the same characteristic of the lower ground floor. After turning the system ineffectively, 5 blank cartridges with 12 calibers were seen in this box and a pellet hole in diameter of 10 cm on the door of the bedroom. In this bedroom, there was 1 plastic wad in front of the nightstand. When the door of the bedroom was opened, it was seen that there were 2 corpses on the other side of the corridor. In the room next to the bedroom, on the north side of the house, there was the center unit of the alarm system and cables were extending from the center to the shotgun boxes. Other plastic wads, a piece of wood that belonged to the door, and several buckshot pellets were found in the hall. Multiple pellet holes were detected on the door and on the north wall of the north bedroom and also on the wardrobe in this room. In the scene of investigation, the sketch of the second floor was drawn (Fig. 3) and the evidences were elaborately photographed (Figs. 4 and 5).

FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3
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FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4
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FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5
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In the investigation of the camera images on the ground floor, the homeowner and his wife were seen walking to the second floor from stairs at the 13th hour, 41st minute, 10th second. At the 13th hour, 41st minute, 23rd second, fume, light, and pieces of wood were seen in the images on the second floor, simultaneously with the operation of the mechanism of a firearm. It was estimated that the victims stepped on 1 of the pressure sensor at the time of firing.

Medicolegal autopsy of the deceased homeowner revealed a total of 16 firearm wounds on his body caused by the penetrating and abrading of buckshot pellets. Pellet entrance wounds were located on the back and left side of the thoracic and abdominal region and left leg of the victim. Five buckshot pellets entered the body and damaged the lungs, thoracic aorta, pancreas, and the spleen. During the autopsy, 3 buckshot pellets (no. 4) were removed from the chest cavity. Additionally, 2 blunt traumatic lesions on his head and hand, which occurred at the time of falling onto the ground, were detected in the corpse. In the toxicological analyses, alcohol or other toxic substances were not detected. The manner of the death introduced that he died because of the injuries of the internal organs, including lungs, aorta, pancreas, and the spleen, associated with buckshot pellets of the shotgun. All lesions that are identified during the autopsy were shown in Figure 6.

FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6
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Medicolegal autopsy of the deceased homeowner’s wife revealed a total of 14 firearm wounds on her body caused by the penetrating of buckshot pellets. Pellet entrance wounds were located on the back and right side of the head, thoracic and abdominal region, the right leg, and right arm of the victim. Four buckshot pellets entered the body and damaged the brain, abdominal aorta, liver, stomach, and the colon. During the autopsy, 5 buckshot pellets (no. 4) were removed from the cranial and abdominal cavities, abdominal wall, and under the skin of the right leg and right arm. In the toxicological analyses, blood alcohol concentration was determined as 25 mg/dL. Other toxic substances were not detected. The manner of the death introduced that she died because of the injuries of the brain and internal organs, abdominal aorta, liver, stomach, and the colon, associated with buckshot pellets of a shotgun. All lesions that were identified during autopsy were shown in Figure 7.

FIGURE 7
FIGURE 7
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DISCUSSION

Injuries caused by a distant range of fire are due to homicidal acts in most cases, whereas suicidal and unintentional injuries related to shotguns are uncommon.17,18 In the classic knowledge about forensic medicine, it was defined that some victims used unusual devices by suicidal aims such as string, toe, stick, etc, to shoot themselves at a distant range or in unusual regions of the body.19–21 Di Maio19 reported an example of the former case in which the victim shot himself on the back with a 12-gauge shotgun by wedging the gun partly under a mattress and inserting a baton in the trigger guard. Similar cases of suicide that were applied by unusual methods were reported by Durak et al22 and de la Grandmaison et al.23 Henriksson et al24 reported that in nearly 10% of suicide by shotgun or rifle cases, the victims used a string, a rod, or their toes to pull the trigger. The setting of shotguns as a part of a murder device has been rarely used by some murderers.11 These devices were usually activated by attaching a wire to the trigger of a gun and running this wire along the ground where the trespasser would stumble against or step on it and discharge the gun.25 However, this method has been used for home security.11 In this situation, usually a wire or rope is fastened between a window handle or doorknob and the trigger of a fixed shotgun, and the shotgun fires when a person opens the door or the window.25 In the literature, an unusual case of unintentional injury by a shotgun used as a part of unusual home security alarm system was described by Asirdizer and Yavuz.11 However, in an event in Colorado in 1990, the 24-year-old warehouse owner, who set 2 shotgun booby traps to his warehouse, was sent to court for the death of a 19-year-old intruder who broke into the warehouse.26 In another case in Lancashire, a skip hire owner set up the device after a number of break-ins and vandalism at his mill. The homemade device could be triggered by walking into a trip wire that would fire a shotgun cartridge from the barrelled contraption into the ground. A 12-year-old boy who entered the mill without permission was injured, and he needed surgery on his damaged hand after the incident.27 In Belgium, a reclusive pensioner, who booby-trapped his home with the intention of killing his estranged family, died himself when he inadvertently triggered 1 of his own devices.28 Similar stories turn up every few years worldwide.29,30

In daily life, forensic pathologists sometimes come face to face with some tragic events such as a person who survives an earthquake, dies in another one or a person getting injured in a traffic accident, dies in another traffic accident or in an ambulance on the way to hospital. In the criminal literature, there are many stories about people falling into traps that are set up for other people by them. In these situations, the title of the classical crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice comes to mind.

In this case report, the postman ringed twice; 2 people fell into traps that are set up for burglars and they died.

In the present article, the homeowner did not take a lesson from the previous event, despite his trial in process at the Supreme Court. Successively, he was convicted of a possible intent to cause a life-threatening injury to the technician by the region court. On the contrary, a new firearm mechanism and new pressure sensors were installed on the ground floor of his summer house. There was no any psychiatric report about him in the court file that was sent for our investigation. However, in the court file, there were dozens of letters and e-mails and documents of dozens of telephone messages written by his brother and sent to the several bureaucrats and politicians, including the prime minister and leaders of opposition parties of the Turkish Republic. In these letters and messages, it was claimed that a number of very large discoveries such as an unemployable tank even with atomic bomb, a no-fuel engine, a flying military, and an intercontinental missile defense system are invented by him; there were various relationships between him and several senior bureaucrats and politicians; there were various enemies of them, some of these enemies knocked their project from his brother’s summer house and some of them planned to kill them, and finally their enemies got help from jinn. It is not possible to reach a definitive diagnosis without the clinical findings of the psychiatric examination; his disordered behavior presents important hints of delusional disorders in mixed type of grandiose and persecutory subtypes.31,32 According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, the prevalence of the delusional disorder increased in the first degree relatives of individuals with the disorder.33 We speculated that, perhaps, the homeowner experienced the delusional disorder so much that the increasing number of the unconventional home security alarm systems that were created by using the shotgun in this event, despite someone getting injured from this mechanism in the previous event, could be accepted as a possible clue of this delusional disorder.

In the previous event, the judges of the region court accepted that the victim had life-threatening injuries. The host did not intend to cause the injury, but he foresaw the legal worth in the law when he installed this home security alarm system. Therefore, the homeowner was found guilty of possible intent to cause life-threatening injuries to someone according to articles 87/1d and 21/2 of the Turkish Penal Code.1 He had objected to the Supreme Court and the trial continued. Even if his court process was finalized, 2 probabilities were possible to come to the fore; in the first one of which, he would receive a prison sentence between 1 and 4 years, or he would be sent to psychiatric treatment of his individual disorder. Because of these legal implications of the previous event, perhaps, the homeowner and his wife could be still alive. In fact, this trial would have resulted within past 4 years in accordance with the common trial periods in Turkey. According to the statistics of the Turkish Republic Ministry of Justice, average trial periods were defined as 365 days (for the year 2007) for region courts and totally as 569 days for the Supreme Court (including the periods of the Criminal Chambers and General Assembly for the year 2009). These periods were 358 days for region courts and totally 744 days for the Supreme Court in 2011.34

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CONCLUSIONS

In the case report, the findings obtained from the crime scene and the autopsies of unusual deaths of 2 persons by an unconventional home alarm system involving a shotgun were reported; these findings were a probable relationship between the mentality leading to the establishment of these mechanisms and the psychologic status of the homeowner, and finally, the possible consequences rising from the delay in the trial process. We predict that the trial period will be shortened further in the near future in Turkey according to the changes in the law of judicial reforms that are put into effect by the Ministry of Justice, and we hope that “the postman will not ring anymore” and these cases will be considered as a precedent for similar cases in the future.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENT

This study is carried with the permission of the Presidency of the Council of Forensic Medicine. The authors thank the Presidency of Council of Forensic Medicine for their help in material support.

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REFERENCES

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673. (Abstract)


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Keywords:

unusual deaths; home security alarm system; shotgun; legal assessment; unintentional firearm injuries

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