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Patterns in Forensic Decapitations

A Review of the Literature and Case Report

Pilloud, Marin A. PhD, D-ABFA*; Swenson, Victoria M. MA*; George, Rebecca L. MA*; Knight, Laura D. MD†,‡

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2019 - Volume 40 - Issue 3 - p 246–250
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000490
Original Articles

Separation of the head from the body can occur for a variety of reasons and in various locations across the neck. This study presents a review of the literature to identify the patterns of decapitations in forensic cases in relation to manner of death, age, and anatomical location (n = 88). The most common manner of death was suicide, followed by homicide and then accident. Ages ranged from 32 weeks prenatal to 85 years. Decapitation is reported at higher rates for individuals between 19 and 65. The majority of decapitations occurred at the midneck (second to fifth cervical vertebrae), followed by the upper neck and then the lower neck. This pattern holds true for all manners of death; however, in homicides, the percentage occurring at the midneck decreases. The findings of this study indicate some patterns in terms of manner of death, age, and location of decapitation, which could aid the medicolegal community in interpreting neck trauma. A case study is also briefly presented to illustrate findings.

From the *Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Reno

Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office

Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, University of Nevada, Reno, NV.

Manuscript received January 4, 2019; accepted March 26, 2019.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Marin A. Pilloud, PhD, D-ABFA, University of Department of Anthropology, Nevada, Reno, 1664 N Virginia St, Reno, Nevada 89557. E-mail:

Online date: June 13, 2019

© 2019 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.