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Diagnostic Methods in Forensic Pathology: A New Sign in Death from Hanging



Purpose: To evaluate the usefulness of studying vital injuries at the sternal head insertion of the sternocleidomastoid muscle in the medico-legal assessment of death by hanging.

Materials and Methods: Study material was obtained from eight bodies of people who died from hanging. The control group included as many specimens collected from people who died from traumatic causes other than hanging (precipitation from medium to large heights and traffic accidents). The structures under study were examined histologically with a BX-51 light microscope (Olympus). An analysis of the extravasated erythrocytes was performed by counting the number per mm2 in the histologic section on 10 HPF (400×), and Student’s t-test for a comparison of the averages was applied for all parametric values. The authors noted that the key finding, indicative of the subject’s viability at the time of discontinuation, was the presence of recent hemorrhagic infiltrate (in the absence of hemosiderin) at the tendon insertion of the sternocleidomastoid muscle and the proximal part of the muscle itself.

Results: All specimens tested were positive for the presence of hemorrhagic infiltrate at the portions tested in a statistically significant manner. In contrast, in the control cases there was no or, where present, no statistically significant (p < 0.05) presence of recent hemorrhagic infiltrate. The limitation of the study is the low number of samples examined. In any case, the results obtained are strongly indicative of the possibility of using this type of forensic pathological investigation in cases where there is a doubt in terms of a differential diagnosis between hanging (suicidal type) and suspension of a corpse in a simulation of hanging.


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