Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I've seen a lot of suicides. Men, women, transgender. As young as ten and as old as 92. It is debatable whether one who commits suicide is a "victim" or not. But for the sake of clarity, that is how I will refer to them in this post.

The first suicide I went on was a young man, probably 20-years-old. He was found by his roommate when the roommate returned from a late night of partying. Roommate said he walked in and went straight to bed. In the morning, he noticed that the victim's bedroom door was wide open. He looked in and saw the man lying back on his bed, a shotgun on the comforter next to his left arm and blood everywhere.

Now, there has been some professional debate in the past as to whether it's even possible to shoot yourself with a shotgun, the barrel being so long. Believe me, it is possible. I've seen it several times.

This scene was my first experience with a gunshot wound. Mind you, I'd worked doing GSW analysis with skeletal remains many, many times before. But "in the flesh" was quite a different thing. There was no removing yourself from seeing what a gun can really do to a person.

I walk into the bedroom and note the blood and brain spatter, as well as pockmarks from bird shot, spreading about 3 feet square across the back wall. At least it was't buck shot or he probably wouldn't even have a head anymore.

I look down at the victim. He's on his back. His left arm is still loosely clutching the shotgun. His right arm is splayed out at his side. Both arms and hands are covered in splashback. This is important in determining suicides from homicides made to look like suicides. No splashback means the body has been staged.

He shot himself through the mouth. I stare in morbid fascination at his tongue, which has bloomed like a flower in his gaping jaw. His eyes are wide open in a permanent expression of shock. I look around. For anything. Something to focus on other than the body. The lead detective, Det. Grizzly, is standing next to me. "Are you okay?" he asks. He knows I'm green. He's a big, cozy, teddy bear kind of guy and I appreciate his concern. I give him a bit of a forced smile and say, "I didn't realize his face would be so messed up." Det. Grizzly nods. He tells me that he used to really feel sorry for the people that committed suicide. He said that ended real quick, though, when he saw how their actions destroyed the lives of those around them. He showed me the young man's suicide note. It was written to his mother. He told her he was sorry and that he loved her. That poor woman. I imagine giving birth to a child. Cradling him in my arms and looking down on him...wishing for him all the joy and promise that life can give. How completely devastating it must be to know that this child you loved and nurtured would be so unhappy and hopeless that they would choose to take their own life.

I turn my attention back to the body because otherwise I will cry. Focus on the puzzle. Don't think about the rest. I am afraid to roll the body, knowing that shot spreads as it travels and the back of his head is likely not going to be there.

Dwight comes in and we carefully roll the young man onto his side. Blood pours from his mouth and I have to look away. As I'd feared, the back of his skull has collapsed. The bone and brain have blown out in pieces no bigger than a dime. Skin does not behave in the same manner, however. It merely tears. So I see a deformed drapery of skin and hair covering the gaping hole where the victim's brain..the back of his head...used to be.

The mother drives up on the scene and is prevented from entering the apartment. She is not crying. She is not screaming. She is just staring off in front of her as an officer escorts her to a bench. My heart is breaking.

I have her son's personal effects and I have to give them to her. If I don't do it now she will have to come to the morgue later and that could be even more traumatic.

I look at the bag. A wallet. A ring. A gold chain with an Irish knot on it. The necklace is covered in blood. I put some gloves back on and remove the necklace and ring. I grab a cloth from the Explorer and clean them up as much as I can. Then I replace them and the suicide note in the bag. I hate giving her the note knowing the pain it will inflict. But it is hers. It is her son's last message to her. "I'm sorry, Mom." "I love you."


tamara said...

I'm glad you wrote about this.

Higgy said...

Me too - rough as it is to read.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Wow, graphic indeed. No wonder the job takes so much out of detectives.

MOTW said...

I have a friend whose family has a history of Alzheimer's. He said that if he begins to develop that (or any other) disease, he'll wrap his truck around a light pole before he withers miserably away.

mad Scientist said...

thanks for sharing Polly. If you will allow me I will share my first experience with self inflicted gunshot as well.

When I worked in Miami (my first job out of college) we use to get brains (what I told you I was a mad scientist) from the Miami Dade medical examiner office right accross the street from us. In fact, the building my lab was in use to be the old morgue and I swear it is still haunted. Anyhow, I went over one day to get a "sample" and the new arrivals of the day were being preped for autopsy. There was a young man probably about 18 who had apparently taken some very bad drugs. The report was that he had seen giant bugs crawling on the walls of his (his parents) house. He became panicked and went to get a gun to get rid of the bugs (hey it's Miami). He hallucinated one of the bugs was attacking him and in front of his mother and family blew his own brains out attempting to kill the bug. The image of that young kid (I was only a few years older at the time) lying on the table with most of his head missing will be with me forever.

thanks for sharing and letting me share.

Anon said...

Did you ever run across any stats on a relationship between un-treated or poorly treated clinical depression and suicide?

Polly P.I. said...

First, Mad, thanks for sharing. It's tough keeping stuff like that inside because it does sort of eat away at you. I think that is part of why I get so descriptive...it really deeply affected me and this is an outlet that I never had when all that stuff was happening. So, share. Please. Maybe it will help.

I don't have any stats. But I can say that we got a lot of "repeat" suicide attempters and very often the victims were on some sort of med for depression or another mental illness.

What was of interest to me at the time was whether it was purely a mental illness or if it was brought on by circumstances. Most of the suicides I saw were the result of relationships gone bad or a midlife crisis...one of those "I was supposed to have done x,y, and z by now and instead I'm unemployed, divorced and my body is breaking down.."

Nancy said...

It seems that everyone is on some sort of medication though, right? I mean, what makes someone go through with it?

Thanks Polly, for the post...


Eleanor said...

One of the worst things about suicide, IMO, is that the person killing him/herself thinks they're doing their family a favor - really. When in fact it's just the opposite.
So Sad.

Eleanor said...

One of the worst things about suicide, IMO, is that the person killing him/herself thinks they're doing their family a favor - really. When in fact it's just the opposite.
So Sad.

Eleanor said...

woo - hoo! A double post on a "comment" place - takes a special talent! But I was going to add that in a way I was fortunate to only deal with homicides when I was a CDA - at least that way the family had someone to focus their anger on; i.e., me and my client, instead of having to look inward and for the rest of their lives wonder what they did wrong, or if they could have prevented it, or 100 other things....

kibby F5 said...


Olga said...

Wow, Polly. I knew that you had seen your share of bad things, but I guess I never imagined my best friend doing this kind of stuff.
It wasn't what we imagined for either of us (you: forensics, agent, and PI work; me: teacher, youth director, now editor- much less impressive) back when we were clueless high schoolers.
I'm glad to read about all of this, though. I understand why it was so hard for you to talk about it. Thanks.

Marie said...

I can't say anything that hasn't already been said here... Thanks for writing about it all and trying to explain what you saw. Trust me, when you write graphic accounts of crime and suicide scenes, it isn't a downer because it just makes us realize how precious life is and that we should enjoy all the time we have left here in this world.

OK, that was way too deep for me. BOOGER.

Jeff Meyerson said...

There was just an article in today's newspaper about an 11 year old girl who - as they put it - went quietly upstairs and hanged herself.

Her parents are devastated, of course, and everyone says there was no sign, no reason, etc.

There had to be something. I wish she could have told someone what was bothering her, whatever it might have been.

Slyeyes said...

I've been trying to avoid this until the subject changed, but Jeff's post drew me in.

There are ALWAYS signs, IMHO. Sadly, we don't always recognize them until too late.

Several years ago, the son of former classmates of mine committed suicide at age 11. They said there was no sign.

They were blind.

They were at a party and their 15 year old daughter called them to say her brother had sewed his fingers together on the sewing machine. They took him to the ER, brought him back home, gave him pain meds and went back to the party, again leaving him with his 15 year old sister.

A little while later, they got another call. He had shot himself.

The parents later divorced and she died of cancer. They were always in charge of putting together our class reunions, but after that, no one has wanted to go. There's still too much anger at him for partying when the son was yelling out for help. The finger sewing was just the last instance of his trying to get help. It wasn't until after his death that all of the other instances came out. THe family just never let anyone else know.

As it is, I've been fighting my own battle with guilt for a number of years about not seeing the signs in someone else. That person is still alive, but suffered brain damage in the attempt to end it all by hanging. There are others who were closer and missed the signs as well, but in the middle of the night, when I'm all alone, the "if only's" come haunting me.

Anonymous City Girl said...

the sadness, the anger, and the guilt that the ones left behind go thru... i had a thought but i don't know how to put it down, but those who have gone thru it know what i mean.

JD Rhoades said...

Pol, if you don't write a book, the world will be a poorer place.

No pressure or anything. I'm just sayin'.

MeL said...

That is some heavy stuff. My great granddad shot himself. Luckily, for me, I was only two so I didn't know what really happened. Mom and Dad didn't tell me until I was 16. Apparentally it has something to do with a mental illness that was passed down through the males in the family.

Just last year, my neighbor, who was only 3 years older than me killed himself with a shotgun. That really shook me. Up until that time, suicide was just something that happened to other families and their friends. Not people I actually knew.

Anon said...

Being a guy, I tend to "see" images of situations and emotions ("they" say guys are more likely to use images to conceptualize "stuff”). The image I have of my own consciousness varies from day to day.

Sometimes there is bright sunlight and blue skies. Sometimes it’s a dark and stormy night. At times, its gotten close to that 3 am. blackness that could claim any of us.

The human psyche is pretty un-charted territory. The accumulation of stress, anger, pain and disappointment we repress consciously, can still bubbles up and drive us in ways we mostly do not comprehend. You mentioned that Polly, and you were correct. We should all tread softly when we judge the motivations of another.

Understand that being driven over the knife edge choice of dealing with the pain or ending it, compresses your universe to just YOU. So if you think of the suicide as a person who has no feeling for the consequences of their act on those around them, you may have misunderstood.

At that moment, there may be no one else. They are alone.

Polly P.I. said...


You make good points. And I agree with you when you say that the world of a person that is contemplating suicide is compressed to just them.

It is a form of self-centeredness.

Now, please don't get angry with me for saying that. It's just an observation I've made and I'm not casting judgement. I KNOW there are those with chemical/hormonal issues that make it so the person physically can't climb out of the abyss. I also know that in other cases there is a lot of pain and helplessness involved. I am not saying I have no compasssion for people who hurt that much. In fact, it is disturbing for me to contemplate, but I can imagine that a few twists of fate could put me in a depression I might not be strong enough to climb out of.

I think that people who get to that point ARE mentally ill in that they cannot see any possiblility of light in their future. And that is sad because life is constantly in flux and just as there is sorrow, there is bound to be joy.

I am in no position to tell a severely depressed person what to do, but I have found that for me helping other people and focussing on somebody else really helps me get over myself.

Higgy said...

Polly, if you need any help getting over yourself, just let us know - there'd be dozens of volunteers!

Thought a hint of levity could be useful here....

Anon said...

Polly - No anger from this quarter. All I was trying to do was balance the equation a bit about how people see this illness.

If you visualize the ups and downs of life as a kind of graph, with "normal" being the median. A depressed person's median is about 1/3 of the way up a "normal" person's scale. The trick is, getting through the down cycles, and moving the median UP. You are right about actions (helping others) changing emotions. That really works.

A person's faith can also come to their rescue. Remembering that no matter how alone we feel, we aren't really. We are here for a reason. One of the most ironic things about the Christian faith is that to find yourself, you must loose self in love for God and Others.

Begin outrageous flattery ....

Reading your accounts, it pleases me to see someone who has had some much life experience... to paraphrase Jeff's words, live life the way is should be .... with zest.

End outrageous flattery ..

Oh wait... a little more flattery "you look marvelous, daaaahling"

k said...

My best friend hung himself, a month or so ago. he was in all senses of the word,an angel. Soft, gentle and compassionate for all others around him, regardless of being his equal, or below him. I know in my heart by taking his life he never meant to hurt those around him, but his problems just overwhelmed his soul. God bless him. thanx for sharing your accounts with me.

Mike D in SC said...

I vividly remember hearing the phone ring in the wee hours of a spring Monday in 1975. Easter Sunday had just ended about ninety minutes before. At that time of night, ringing phones almost always bring bad news.

I was still a few months from my 13th birthday. I remember entering the kitchen, where my father had already answered the phone, and was receiving the news that his friend and colleague, Leonard Rupert, had been murdered along with his mother, wife, and eight children, by his brother James.

This was my first experience with death.

Leonard Rupert worked alongside my father at the Victory Parkway office of General Electric in Cincinnati. He and his family were close friends of our family. We often visited each other's homes. Leonard and his two oldest sons helped shingle the roof of our addition.

I always thoroughly enjoyed a trip to the Rupert home. Leonard Jr., the eldest, was about the same age as my older brother. Carol, one of the middle children, was born the day before I was. There was always a houseful of fun and activities in the home of the eight Rupert children.

I remember seeing the shock in my mother's face, as she asked out loud while weeping, how anyone could shoot a three year old (John, the youngest).I remember the shock I felt as I went back to my bedroom to dwell on the news that this wonderful family had been brutally murdered by one of their own family members. My pillow was thoroughly soaked with tears before I managed to fall back asleep.

The memory of that night will live with me for the remainder of my days.