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Homicidal Asphyxia

DiMaio, Vincent J. M. M.D.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: March 2000 - Volume 21 - Issue 1 - p 1-4

Homicides due to asphyxia are relatively uncommon. To better understand the presentation of such cases, the files of the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office were reviewed from January 1, 1985, through December 31, 1998, for all such homicides. A total of 133 cases were found. The largest category was ligature strangulation with 48 deaths (21 male, 27 female). Petechiae were present in the conjunctivae and/or sclerae in 86% of the cases; fractures of the hyoid and/or thyroid cartilage were present in 12.5%. There were a total of 41 deaths from manual strangulation (27 female, 14 male). Petechiae were present in 89% of the cases. In cases of manual strangulation, fractures of the hyoid, thyroid, or cricoid cartilage were found in all the male victims and slightly more than one half of the female victims. Twenty-six cases of suffocation were found; 20 of the victims were ≤2 years of age. Only 1 of these children had petechiae and/or scleral hemorrhage. Five deaths were due to choking. Three of the deaths involved adults who were gagged; 2 deaths involved infants with foreign material pushed into the mouth. Other categories of asphyxia were as follows: 9 deaths due to more than one form of asphyxia; 1 death due to hanging, and 3 deaths due to drowning. Rape was the motive in 66% of the female victims of ligature strangulation and 52% of those due to manual strangulation.

From the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.

Manuscript received January 8, 1999; accepted August 25, 1999.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Vincent J. M. DiMaio, Chief Medical Examiner, Bexar County, 7337 Louis Pasteur, San Antonio, TX 78229, U.S.A.;

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.