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Nonterrorist Suicidal Deaths Involving Explosives

Shields, Lisa B.E. MD; Hunsaker, Donna M. MD; Hunsaker , John C. III MD, JD; Humbert, Karl A.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2003 - Volume 24 - Issue 2 - p 107-113
doi: 10.1097/01.PAF.0000069850.97350.37
Case Report

Suicidal deaths involving explosives unconnected to terrorism are rare. The investigation of deaths from explosive devices requires a multidisciplinary collaborative effort, as demonstrated in this study. Reported are 2 cases of nonterrorist suicidal explosive-related deaths with massive craniocerebral destruction. The first case involves a 20-year-old man who was discovered in the basement apartment of his father’s home seconds after an explosion. At the scene investigators recovered illegal improvised power-technique explosive devices, specifically M-100s, together with the victim’s handwritten suicide note. The victim exhibited extensive craniofacial injuries, which medicolegal officials attributed to the decedent’s intentionally placing one of these devices in his mouth. The second case involves a 46-year-old man who was found by his wife at his home. In the victim’s facial wound, investigators recovered portions of a detonator blasting cap attached to electrical lead wires extending to his right hand. A suicide note was discovered at the scene. The appropriate collection of physical evidence at the scene of the explosion and a detailed examination of the victim’s history is as important as documentation of injury patterns and recovery of trace evidence at autopsy. A basic understanding of the variety of explosive devices is also necessary. This investigatory approach greatly enhances the medicolegal death investigator’s ability to reconstruct the fatal event as a means of separating accidental and homicidal explosive-related deaths from this uncommon form of suicide.

From the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (L.B.E.S., D.M.H.), Louisville, Kentucky; Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (D.M.H.), University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky; Office of the Associate Chief Medical Examiner, Frankfort, Kentucky and Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, Kentucky (J.C.H. III); and Cook County Sheriff’s Police Bomb Squad, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. (K.A.H.).

Manuscript received December 27, 2002; accepted March 10, 2003.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Donna M. Hunsaker, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Urban Government Center, 810 Barret Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky 40204, U.S.A.; E-mail:

Presented at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the National Association of Medical Examiners in October 1999 in Minneapolis, MN.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.