Things I’ve learned about strangulation…
Now that’s a statement I never thought I’d ever write. But here I am…reading forensic pathology papers on the subject of homicidal strangulation.
I was re-reading investigators’ and autopsy reports after Theresa was found on April 13, 1979. John discussed those events on this blog in April of this year. Three statements from those entries have always stuck in mind:
1. Detective Roch Gaudreault noticed “marks of strangulation” on Theresa.
2. “Gauldreault and Durand do not make mention of the strangulation marks that were observed earlier.” (in a meeting with Theresa’s father on April 14, 1979)
3. “The gullet contains “a little vomiting matter” ‘. ..Sourour observes the absence of visible traces of external traumatic lesions on the body.
— Teresa Sourour, pathologist who supervised Theresa’s autopsy
Here are some facts that relate specifically to those comments:
– Prolonged submersion and decaying may dim or destroy the external signs of asphyxia. Signs of violence or other cause of death may also be lost.
– Oftentimes, even in fatal cases, there is no external evidence of injury. While patterned abrasions and contusions of the skin of the anterior neck are typical of strangulation cases, some cases have no externally evident injury whatsoever.
– The summary experience with choking for control of suspects — also called the “carotid restraint hold” , “shime waza”, or “the sleeper hold” — is that death can ensue without the intent of the officer, and without leaving external marks on the body.
– The common scenario for homicidal strangulation is that the individual is found dead… There being no externally-evident injury, the body is taken for autopsy with a suspicion of drug overdose, and the injury of strangulation is not found until the neck dissection is carried out at autopsy, ordinarily at the end of the case. Therefore, photographs and trace evidence collections are not made.
Source: Death By Strangulation, Dr. Dean Hawley, forensic pathologist
– “Sometimes the victim may vomit. And it’s important if the victim does vomit, that the officer photograph the vomit if he can find it. He should keep it as evidence. Nausea and vomiting is one of the pieces of evidence that the victim was strangled.
Source: Dr. George E. McClane, Emergency Room Physician at a San Diego hospital.
– Ligature marks are a clue that the hyoid bone may be broken. As a general rule, on a post
mortem exam, if a hyoid bone is fractured the death will be a homicide from strangulation until proven otherwise. However, because the two halves of the hyoid do not fuse until age 30, the hyoid may not break in younger victims who die as the result of strangulation.
Source: How to Improve Your Investigation and Prosecution of Strangulation Cases by Gael Strack and Dr. George McClane
I may not be a coroner, pathologist or doctor, but if I were writing Theresa’s autopsy report, I would add “Theresa Allore was a healthy, young woman with no signs of drugs, blunt force trauma or gunshot wounds. I would therefore suggest that Ms. Allore’s cause of death was most likely due to homicidal strangulation.”