The Mysterious Ligature Marks On Raudha’s Neck

Dr Mohamed Athif
Thursday, May 18th, 2017


 

We here present Raudha’s case that was made to appear likes suicidal hanging due to the presence of a ligature mark around the neck. On detailed examination and from circumstantial evidence it was found to be homicidal. A thorough autopsy examination of the body and meticulous examination of the scene are crucial in such cases where there is doubt regarding the manner of hanging.

 

The officials of Islamic Bank medical college, Rajshahi, Bangladesh alleged  that Raudha Athif  committed suicide by hanging in her room with the help of a scarf tied to  a ceiling fan on 29.3.2017.  On receiving the information, police investigation team went to the scene of crime and observed that Raudha was removed from the noose and kept across the bed in her room and the ligature material was hanging from the ceiling fan. The body was sent to the mortuary of Rajshahi Medical College, Rajshahi for the post-mortem examination on 29/03/2017 at 5:00 pm.

 

Ligature marks are those marks made by an item of cord, rope, silk or some such material that has been used for the purposes of strangulation. Ligature marks come in many different patterns and sizes and can be unique to certain fabrics and materials and this is why they are so important in criminal investigations that revolve around the strangling of a deceased individual. Investigations of a hanging case starts with ligature mark and crime scene findings. The ligature marks should match with ligature material. Forensic doctors and Scene of Crime Officers (SOCO) will normally look for these ligature marks around the neck and will photograph them at the scene of the crime before the pathologist looks at them in more depth at the autopsy stage.

 

Numerous facts can be established by examining ligature material. It produces a particular pattern over the skin and the characteristics of the mark broadly depend on material used.

 

Raudha’s post-mortem examination conducted on 31/03/2017 at 12:00 pm. The autopsy team states that during the post-mortem examination, ligature mark was observed around the neck and no other external injuries and internal injuries were found except ligature mark. But the ligature mark does not match the ligature material.

 

Ligature

 

Investigating officers who tried to convince me the case as suicide trying hard to prove the scarf was the ligature material. The scarf was brought in the middle of the night to my hotel by the duos and they by handling the ligature material with bare hand also did DNA contamination of the evidence. The plastic beads cannot produce those two circular impressions on either side of ligature mark because the impressions do not match with the size of the beads and they do not come within the ligature noose.

 

The nature of ligature mark depends upon the material and position of ligature used and the time of suspension of body after death.

 

If the ligature material is soft and is removed immediately after death, the mark might be absent in such cases. The statements issued by the hostel warden states that they found her hanging and then they removed the ligature. Here in Raudha’s case based on the time of death and removal of ligature did not take much time. Hence a soft material like a scarf cannot produce such a deep mark and the width of the ligature mark is continuous around the neck .This also shows that the ligature mark was not by scarf.

 

This ligature mark was unusual in appearance with multiple bruise marks of manual strangulation, which mimic the strangulation by ligature even though autopsy team states it is case of suicidal hanging. This unusual appearance of ligature mark is due to application of a ligature a material which is other than a scarf. The ligature mark is more detectable in cases where the ligature is narrow and material is hard. The suspension time is directly proportional to the detect ability of ligature mark.

 

Here exists another challenge in front of forensic experts to qualify the case of hanging as antemortem or post mortem i.e., fabricated scene of hanging in case of homicides. The diagnosis of ante mortem hanging is only a measure of probability when only gross features are observed that too in the absence of strong proof to the contrary. The triad of probability consists of – (i) Streaks or bands of reddened or pink tissue (ii) a pattern that may disclose imprint of ligature (iii) canting / sloping of the markings upwards towards the back of neck.

 

Even though the triad of features is considered to be characteristic, the measure of probability lacks a fair ground to lay a foundation of differentiation between antemortem and postmortem hanging. The ligature mark and gross features only may not be necessarily the deciding factors. Similar ligature mark as of hanging can also be produced by means of fabrication by applying a ligature within 24 hours or even later after death of an individual. Thus, any kind of mark may not be conclusive evidence to that – the hanging took place during life [3]. Hence, a detailed internal examination of neck structures (soft tissue, bones & cartilages) and histopathological examination of the mark and internal neck structures gives additional and necessary information in these cases.

 

Standard protocol for doing medicolegal autopsy was not followed bt the doctors of the 3 member autopsy team.

 

Radiological investigations like x rays, CT and MRI not done. There is no documentary proof or evidence of their positive and negative findings. Proper photographic and video documentation of the post mortem autopsy procedure was not done. Histopathological examination of soft tissue under ligature mark was not done. Toxicological investigations of viscera is not declared. The medical board gave opinion in favour of ante mortem hanging which was suicidal in nature .The document was prepared for a name sake only.

Ligature marks come in many different patterns and sizes and can be unique to certain fabrics and materials and this is why they are so important in criminal investigations that revolve around the strangling of a deceased individual.

 

Ligature marks also appear during what are called manual strangulation; this is when the assailant strangles the victim with nothing more than his or her bare hands. These ligature marks can sometimes be in the exact shape of the fingers that have applied the force to the neck area and it may be possible to extract skin samples for DNA analysis at this time.

 

There have been reported cases where people have tried to stage a homicide as suicide. There are also reported cases where the scene prima facie appeared as that of homicide but on a closer look turned out to be suicidal. In all such cases a detailed investigation of the scene, reconstruction of the position of the suspended body, examination of the ligature material, type of knot, and direction of the fibers in case of rope helps in establishing manner of hanging. To differentiate various types and manner of hanging a meticulous examination of the neck of the deceased with the internal structures is of immense value. Such findings assume tremendous importance whenever in doubt regarding the manner of hanging. In the case presented here, there were multiple turns of ligature around the neck. The findings aroused the suspicion of homicide but the examination of scene of crime and other circumstantial evidences were of crucial importance while deciding the manner of death in this case.

 

The ligature mark does not match with ligature material and there was not even one positive signs  of  hanging on her body. The only explanation stated by the autopsy team about the ligature mark was its discontinuity and obliquity in the course of ligature mark. Obliquity in the course of ligature mark being directed upwards to the knot position is a better criterion for diagnosis of hanging than the factor of discontinuity which may not be present in all cases of hanging. In strangulation, unlike hanging, the mark tends to encircle victim’s neck horizontally. However, the mark may be oblique as in hanging, if the victim has been compressed by a cord while in recumbent posture, or if the victim was sitting and the assailant applied the ligature on the neck while standing behind victim, thus using the force backward and upward.

 

The ligature mark needs to be evaluated along with other external features, internal findings and histopathological features. This in turn helps to distinguish ante mortem ligature mark with post mortem ligature mark and to establishing the cause and mode of death. Hence, a perfect pathway can be made out to derive appropriate means in the administration of justice. The investigation of the scene, victim and witnesses revealed findings that supported the manner of death as homicide. Also there was no forced entry in the room. The autopsy findings stated by the team were not consistent with antemortem hanging.

 

Mohamed Athif, Raudha’s father, did his MBBS from Bhopal Medical College, during which he studied forensic medicine and toxicology. He has been in Rajshahi, staying at Parjatan, since his daughter’s death.

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