Domestic Homicide of Male Spouses by Females: A Review for Death Investigators
By Lt. Cynthia T. Ferguson, CNM, MSN
Women in intimate relationships are frequently portrayed by modern society as "the victim" when violence or a homicide occurs in intimate partnerships. These women continue to be seen by American culture as weak individuals who suffer at the hands of domineering, powerful, over-controlling men. The myth that spousal murder is committed almost entirely by husbands who kill their wives must be dispelled. In addition, there are discrepancies within the legal system, where a female is treated more leniently for murdering her husband, than when a man murders his wife.
The criminal-justice system has failed to see equality in the crimes in the sexes, allowing for biased views that women are less malevolent than men and more prone to victimization. The stigma is intractable that women are more likely than men to feel remorse for what they've done. While this may be true for some women; for others, the truth is much further away than many suspect.
Ever since the first domestic violence shelter was created in 1984, the issues of spousal homicide, statistics and numbers of homicides in the home related to abuse have become a part of historical record. The U.S. Justice Department's 1994 Bureau of Justice Special Report indicated that in the category of murders of spouses, women represented 41 percent of killers.1 Women accounted for only 10 percent of defendants charged with all murders; however, women accounted for more than 40 percent of the defendants for all spousal homicides.
Many reports of U.S. criminal sentencing demonstrate that wives who kill their husbands are acquitted in 12.9 percent of cases, while husbands who kill their wives are acquitted in only 1.4 percent of cases. Additionally, a 1988 U.S. Justice Department study found men frequently receive an average sentence of 17 years for killing their spouses, vs. a six-year sentence for the woman who kills her husband.
Probation for female spousal killers is granted to approximately 16 percent, while only 1.6 percent for males may be granted probation.4 Considerations were given to women who had been provoked, verbally assaulted and/or threatened prior to them committing homicide.
The investigator must keep in mind it is often too easy to stereotype this type of homicide as a result of abuse, jealousy or other factors. The investigator must be aware that in domestic homicide, the perpetrator is often the female partner. Knowing this, the defense will be that the woman was being abused or neglected. The investigator must understand the history, the statistics and the cases relating to domestic homicide of the male spouse to discover how the intimate died, and the motive behind the death.
Many studies historically catalogue, compare and contrast female killers in relation to male killers. It is difficult to find research that combines all typologies of women who have managed a specific means to their intimate partner's demise. In-depth reviews of historical accounts and statistics of domestic homicide may cause one to wonder: Are there any correlations between women who kill their husbands for money, and the woman who kills her husband in self-defense as the result of an abusive relationship?
One may further question whether or not there are similar factors relating to the woman who kills in a jealous rage. What are the commonalties that make homicide of the husband more of a possibility, or are the variables completely different? While there have been studies about women who kill, spousal/intimate killings by women have not been evaluated as a group to a large extent. When they are, it is more in relation to battered women's syndrome and the killing of the male partner as a result of fear and abuse.
There is also the frequently ignored aspect of victimology of the male to consider. There is a lack of study of the male victim. Many sources discuss the deficits of care of the male victim but few studies profile the male victims to analyze trends, risks and family backgrounds of men who fall prey to domestic homicide.
Women who commit homicide have been documented as killing family members more often than any other type of murder. Usually there is a historical pattern of some type of abuse within the current household; however, past childhood abuse has been linked to a woman's predisposition to kill. Killings between married couples occur at all states of relations despite social and economic boundaries. In those relationships ending in homicide, one or both of the partners often have been unemployed, therefore struggling financially and frequently under large amounts of stress. Alcohol can be a predisposing factor contributing to these homicides, as well as any history of jealously, marital violence, or past separations.
Typical motives for homicides of husbands center on:
An undetermined motive or mental illness/personality disorder
In 1976, females murdered more than 1,357 male intimates. In 1993, men were the victims of about 162,870 violent crimes by an intimate partner. In 2000, an intimate partner killed approximately 1,247 women and 440 men. Percentages compiled recently have shown an intimate killed about 4 percent of male murder victims, compared to the average of 33 percent of female murder victims.
Baseline statistics show that on the average, men murdered by intimates dropped 68 percent between 1976 and 2000. From 1993 to 2000, the number of males who were murdered by an intimate remained relatively stable, while the number of female murder victims killed by an intimate slightly increased. The reason is unclear.
On average, women charged with the death of a mate have the least extensive criminal record of anyone convicted. Because of their little to non-existent offending history, their sentences tend to be more lenient overall. At other times, the criminal sentences may be harsher. In two Maryland cases the inequality in sentencing was demonstrated when in one case, a judge in Baltimore County gave a man an 18-month sentence for "killing his unfaithful wife." The next day, a different judge from the same county awarded a three year prison sentence to a woman for the homicide of her abusive husband.
According to Uniform Crime Reports, of the 22,636 homicides committed in the U.S. in 1992, 1,288 (6 percent) were committed by a spouse or ex-spouse, and 762 (3 percent) were committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend.2 There is no doubt that some of the homicides in which the offender is not identified, involved spouses or boyfriends or girlfriends. Actual percentage of homicides committed by intimates is between 9 percent to 15 percent.
Wives or girlfriends kill 3 percent and 5 percent of male homicide victims, respectively. Marital violence is highly underreported, as many people underestimate the amount and seriousness of family violence per surveys done by Strauss in the 1990s. It has been noted that female-to-male violence has the potential of increasing male-to-female violence, in that men will frequently respond by escalating their use of violence.
The Investigator's Role
An investigator will be called to the scene of a sudden death whether or not it is viewed as occurring from natural causes, or is violent and/or unexplained. When the investigator arrives at the scene, he/she must continuously ask whether or not there is any indication this death was not from natural causes. The investigator should have a high degree of suspicion as he or she enters the scene, and view everything in great detail — including physical surroundings, people involved in the household, intimate partners and friends.
The investigator's role is to evaluate the reported death. If it is unclear whether or not the death was of natural, accidental or unnatural causes, there must be an investigation as to its true origin. If the death is determined to be a homicide, the investigator will work with a team of individuals to solve the questions surrounding the death.
The investigator must observe and document the death scene. He or she discovers, collects, prepares, identifies and preserves evidence that will assist in determining what, when and why something happened. The experience of a death investigator can be invaluable to the multidisciplinary investigation team.
A person with a strong background in this area is one of the major backbones of any investigation involving sudden death. There are many things to consider when investigating a domestic homicide committed by a female. Knowing that females who kill have the greatest incidence of being the perpetrators of domestic homicide, should cause investigators to have a higher degree of suspicion of a woman whenever there is a death in a family that appears illogical. Homicides are seldom committed without a motive.
It is well known that the scene of a death should not be disturbed until the death investigator arrives. There are people who feel the death of an individual is easily explained and the scene becomes quickly contaminated by overconfident officials who arrive before the investigator. If it is found that the death is indeed wrongful after further examination of the crime scene or the body, then valuable evidence can be lost. No one should go near a crime scene until the proper investigative team has arrived.
The first key step is photography. Photographic documentation is not only irreplaceable for studying the death scene later, and if the death is determined to be wrongful, it may be submitted as evidence. In a known domestic homicide, it is important to photograph the exact location of the deceased body, and later obtain up-close photographs of the injuries. Photographs assist in proving or disproving the consistency of a story from a defendant. All angles should be considered, as well as areas that do not necessarily correspond directly with the death scene.
It is important to make sure that if the attacker or suspect is known and is claiming self defense or a history of abuse, that photographs of any injuries she may have sustained as a result of an alleged attack or of historical record, be taken. Follow-up photographs should then be taken every few days for one to two weeks in order to observe for increased evidence of ecchymosis or pattern injury. The photographs may also be used in the event that the defendant later becomes unwilling to testify.
Photographs will also assist the investigator in determining cause of death. Whether or not it is apparent that the death is due to homicide, the question should always be "Why is this person dead?"
Perpetrators of domestic homicide have often been known to attempt to make a murder appear either a suicide, an accident, or to have occurred from a natural cause. The investigator must evaluate whether or not the victim could have produced their own wounds, whether or not the position of the body is consistent with suicide, homicide or accident, and whether or not there were any signs of a struggle. Experienced investigators have a keen awareness of "staged" homicides. There is little evidence in the reviewed literature to suggest that many women stage homicides of intimates, but it must always be considered a possibility.
Location of the weapon is important. The presence of a weapon may be consistent with suicide; however the absence of one when it is apparent a weapon was used correlates with homicide. If there is an absence of a weapon and no sign of injury, it is important to consider things such as drug overdose, smothering or poisoning. It is critical that the death scene be meticulously processed. Even though toxicology may show the victim died of poison or drug overdose, there is virtually no way to prove that the victim did not do this to himself without proper gathering of evidence at the scene.
It is an additional recommendation that the investigator always carry a small cassette recorder for personal notation and future reference. It is advisable to make sure that indispensable notes are written down in hard copy. Descriptions of body position, room temperature/ outdoor temperature, surroundings, clothing, items in pockets, detailed examination of the body and the crime scene can be more complete when verbalized and later transcribed. Time of death is a crucial question to answer, as it may either show consistency or inconsistency in the story of the partner or intimate. Items such as postmortem signs of death, changes in the eyes, temperature of the body, rigidity and lividity of the body should be accurately noted and described.
Offender relationships are unknown in about 41 percent of male homicides and 31 percent of female homicides, which can render homicide data as insufficient when looking at the entire picture of data. Among the 10,351 murdered men, a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend killed 1.4 percent of them. There is some evidence that rates of courtship violence are actually higher than rates of marital violence, but that marital violence may be more severe. Despite intense time and devotion to each case, investigators fail to identify the offender in approximately 40 percent of cases. Because of this fact, it is virtually impossible to know exactly how many murders are truly committed by intimates.
A review of research resources on the subjects of domestic homicide and spousal homicide shows an exaggerated trend in the assumptions that spousal or intimate homicide pertains to the murder of the female partner. Very little is written concerning investigations of intimate male murders, and when there are written resources they are frequently in regard to the assumption of the male partner has a history of being abusive. Based on literature review it appears there is a group within this homicidal trend that remains fundamentally ignored.
When one considers a woman's capability of committing murder, the investigator of a spousal/intimate crime should consider analyzing what the home environment of the female partner was like when she was a child.
Questions should be asked such as:
What was her relationship as a child with her own parents?
What was her home life like, and what type of environment did she grow up in?
Was there any history of physical and/or sexual abuse in her past?
Women who have suffered abuses in childhood may be lacking the basic emotional foundation that allows them to participate fully in society. Emotions such as sympathy, empathy, caring and remorse are strangers to the woman who has suffered the separation of ties with society that made them feel safe and secure in the world.
When considering a woman who has suffered multiple abuses, there is difficulty in the ability to define right and wrong for themselves. Societal norms do not hold definitions that mean anything to them.
The person who investigates spousal/intimate homicide should ask questions such as: "Does the woman have a childhood history of coming from a broken home?" A broken home is defined here as a home in which at least one parent has left the family. A broken home may also include a home life where one or both parents is mentally ill, and/or has a drug/alcohol addiction. It is known from studies that persons convicted of homicide in the past show a greater incidence of coming from homes plagued by serious problems in their parents' marriage. Other questions that should be considered include whether or not the relationship was a teen marriage or partnership, since there are higher incidences of intimate homicide in teen relationships. Statistics show greater incidence of homicide in partnerships where there is a large age difference, an average of 7 to 14 years, between the two individuals.
Based on what is known about juvenile violence, it is reasonable to assume that women who are exposed to extreme violence in their own childhood learn violence as an acceptable and primary response to problematic situations. The most consistent juvenile research finding is that young people who kill have either been directly victimized by domestic violence or witnessed it on a frequent basis.
There are some who kill who suffer from a range of mild to severe personality disorders. Most personality disorders affecting women who kill are characterized by inflexible, maladaptive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself. Some of the most common personality disorders associated with women who kill include antisocial, paranoid, borderline, avoidant and dependent behaviors. The experience of extreme poverty or extreme wealth during childhood is another factor that may contribute to aberrant behavior. Family tendencies toward the escapism of alcohol and drugs, and unresponsive neglectful parents are a commonality.
Children who have suffered under parental emotional abuse and neglect have a higher incidence of becoming killers in the future. Researchers have discovered that the emotional ties children have with their parents are extremely important developmentally. When these ties are compromised or severed, it can contribute to antisocial tendencies, some so extreme that they may also preclude the ability to commit homicide. The feelings of abandonment, and not feeling wanted or cared for causes a child deep shame, depression and anger that expresses itself in rage and violence.
Impairment of the physical development of the brain's cortex, allowing the feelings of belonging and attachment, are also possibilities that may occur for the neglected child. The woman who suffered in this environment could potentially have failed to develop the neurological circuits that orchestrate the ability to feel emotional attachments and form healthy relationships. Those suffering from a neglected lifestyle become convinced they do not matter to those who raised them, and therefore feel they do not matter to the world. Violence becomes the primary mechanism through which they gain some type of attention.
When compared to men, women are most often emotionally tied or related to their victims in some way; however, it is important that the facts of accessibility be considered in these cases.
Women tend to have more access to loved ones at home, whereas men have a higher accessibility to strangers. Women may not be inherently prone to killing intimates as much as it may be a combination of stresses, mental state, past history, drugs/alcohol and who the available person is at the time.
Studies have shown that, gender aside, the compulsion to commit murder under the right set of circumstances is not a male- or female-based crime, but a human crime that needs to be viewed and dealt with in the same manner, regardless of sex and depending on individual circumstances.
Women Who Kill Their Batterers
The woman who kills due to being battered is the most notorious among female spousal/intimate killers. According to Alt and Wells, "Statistics suggest many women who kill have been victims of battering, and that 50 percent to 85 percent of homicides by women were committed in self-defense (or at least that was the reason furnished by the woman)." Since 1974, violent crimes committed by men against women in the United States have increased 50 percent, and as many as 90 percent of the women in prison today for killing men are there due to being abused by the men they had killed. This motive was self-reported most frequently. Alt and Wells postulate whether or not women are so cunning as to utilize this particular motive of abuse in order to get away with murder.
Historical accounts of murders two to four centuries ago reveal that women who murdered their husbands by justifiable homicide were seen as mentally unbalanced or insane. These women were more commonly locked away in a mental institution or sentenced to death. In 18th century England, women were burned at the stake for murdering their husbands, as opposed to women in the Victorian era who could be declared insane and acquitted if they were discovered to have poisoned their husbands. Current methods of homicide for women who have killed their batterers most frequently involved the use of a handgun. Stabbing the abuser to death is the second most utilized method of homicide in this group. Statistically, women are three times more likely than men to use weapons in spousal violence/homicide.
The U.S. Department of Justice states that as many as 4,000 women are killed annually by an intimate. In comparison, crimes women commit against men have decreased by approximately 12 percent in the past few years. Killings related to abuse/battery have not been the results of premeditated killing, but "crimes of passion" where often the woman describes that she felt killing the intimate was the only way to survive. There are more than 2,000 battered women in the U.S. today who are serving time in prison due to murder of an intimate in self defense. These murders reportedly occurred during the violence of an attack, where the woman was trying desperately to save herself or her family member. No underlying motives have been discovered in most of these cases, other than survival, and it seems many women are devastated at the result of a murder stating that their intent was not to kill their abuser, but only to be able to get away. Some have even been known to express continued affection and/or love of the abusive intimate.
Angela Brown's 1987 research discovered more than half of the women imprisoned in the U.S. killed their husbands and/or intimate partners in self-defense. The common thread was that men killed by their female partners had the tendency to use drugs or alcohol more often. Substance abuse reportedly decreased male inhibitions and impulse control, and increased their potential to be abusive. These men usually came from childhood backgrounds that also had a pattern of family abuse, predisposing them to the abusive behavior.
Women who suffer living in an abusive environment frequently react with the instinct to protect themselves. A woman under these circumstances will tend to fight back when their spouse attacks them. Brown lists the major motivations to murder:
Greater frequency with which the abusive incidents occurred
A greater severity of the woman's injuries
An increased frequency of forced or threatened sexual acts by their abuser
A greater intensity of drug use by the abuser
A greater frequency of the abuser being intoxicated
The abuser's threat to kill their wives becoming more real
A higher likelihood for the women to threaten to commit suicide
Other factors that contribute to the pathology of the abusive relationship are:
The woman's emotional and economic dependence on her partner
The woman's lack of marketable skills
Whether or not she is still in love with her partner or whether she has several children and no place to go.
Legal factors, such as child custody or loss of material property, are a major source of concern for many women, as well as fears that a husband or intimate may track them down and kill them and/or their children.
Women Who Kill Intimates for Money
People have committed murder for money, power and material gain since the dawn of time. It should be expected that women are not absent from this group. To deny that a woman could kill for money is to both deny historical accounts of women who have done this in the past, and to deny the nature of the human being who does not always make the wisest of choices.
There are two basic styles of women who kill for money. The black widow and the contract killer or manipulative killer have not been studied in depth; however, their crimes most assuredly occur, and their deeds have been documented as the aberration of all that defines womanhood, motherhood and life partner. These women are considered to be some of the most intelligent, resourceful and careful killers in the realm of domestic homicide, and it is theorized that many of their crimes go undetected. The true numbers of their successful homicides are not reflected in history and crime reports. They are known to use a variety of methods to kill, and are highly dispassionate about the murders they commit.
Black widow killers are frequently young, often starting their criminal pattern in their early to mid-20s. Named after the poisonous spider that kills her mate and eats him, black widow women have been known to kill other individuals in addition to their husbands and intimates, such as children, other family members or anyone else with whom they've developed a close relationship. The most common method of homicide for the black widow involves using a variety of poisons. Some poisons may be those of convenience, such as rat poison. Others may be obscure, and be difficult to obtain and utilize. A woman of this intellect will have spent hours studying the reactions and effects of poisons and have searched for ways to have the poison mimic other diagnosable illnesses.
Still other women have utilized poisonous snakes and insects to make a death look like an accident. Though not a poison per se, black widows have utilized specific agents that a partner is known to be violently allergic to such as nuts, shellfish or bee stings in order to cause the deaths of their husbands. In addition, drug overdose has been utilized a simple method for some of these women who find ways to coerce or trick their partners into committing what appears to be suicide by ingesting too much of the drug.
The dominant motive for the black widow is the inheritance of the spouse; however it may not be the only motive. There are instances where the motive could not be determined, and the possibility of some sort of underlying mental pathology was assumed by investigators. The typical pattern of a black widow killer is to murder six to eight victims in a period of 10 to 15 years. Numbers of victims have been known to be higher in areas where law enforcement is minimal and investigators are either less vigilant or less suspicious.14, 11
Historical examples of Black Widow killers include women such as Belle Gunness, nicknamed Lady Bluebeard, who killed 49 people, including multiple husbands. This 20th century black widow used various poisons or caused freak accidents to occur to her victims. She was never brought to trial or convicted of her crimes.
Lydia Trueblood, who lived in the early 1900s, poisoned and killed five spouses, a brother-in-law, and her own child. What seemed like typhoid or influenza at the time was actually discovered to be the great mimicker of illnesses — arsenic. Another black widow, Rhonda Bell Martin (1932-1956) killed two husbands, her mother and five of her own children. She eventually confessed to her crimes because of autopsy results, and was sentenced to the death penalty, carried out in 1957. 11
The Manipulator: Hired Help or Hopeless Love
There are recognizable patterns within this subset of killers. It is notable that in the past, most women have hired men or adolescent boys to kill for them. Their victims are often husbands or ex-husbands. Some have been boyfriends and occasionally this group of women has contracted to kill their fathers. The greatest commonality among this group is the existence of a fairly large insurance policy on the person the woman wishes to kill.
Women who form this group of killers are never serious suspects in murder cases. It takes some shrewd investigator or subtle evidence to expose their culpability. Women who kill for money in this fashion often use the manipulation of a lover's affections in conjunction with a web of lies in order to convince the lover that there is no other way out than to kill her husband. Other women in this category simply commandeer the assistance of young adolescents or men from disadvantaged backgrounds to kill their spouse, while still others take no chances and hire a professional killer.
Women Who Kill Spouses Due to Jealousy
Women who kill due to feelings of jealousy kill partners who they perceive as desirable by others, or they feel inadequate in their own value as a mate. The overall motives for killing include the perceptions their partners are unfaithful in the marriage or prone to cheating in the relationship. If these feelings rise up and if they reach a pathological level, or there is no reason or impulse control within the person's grasp, jealousy may result in homicide.
Pathological jealousy has been differentiated from normal jealousy by researchers such as White and Mullen in 1989. Their studies have shown that the person who is pathologically jealous, "...searches for jealous conflict, in contrast to the normal person who has it thrust upon him ... and takes a morbid pleasure in willfully prolonging the suffering." The normal person may express jealousy when there are concrete reasons to feel jealous, as opposed to the pathologic jealous person who may imagine that reasons for jealously exist, or who may be violent at the slightest hint of infidelity. The desire to hurt the partner comes from the inner need to express their intense feelings of anger and humiliation. This jealous person has already had a predisposition to be aggressive, and the feelings of possible abandonment, desire for control over the victimized/non-jealous partner, the possibility of a rival in the affections of the "loved" one contribute to a pathologic situation that can lead to violent conclusions.5
Females who are revenge killers are rare. Overwhelming anger, teetering on the pathological edge and exploding without reprieve is what drives these often one-time crimes of passion. Obsession is a factor in revenge killing, which often begins in the early 20s. Victims of revenge killing may be family members, or members of an organization that has outraged the killer. Those who kill more than one victim may kill several victims in a period of two years or less, although some careers may extend up to five years.5 A revenge killer may be highly organized and able to control violent emotions to avoid detection of their crimes. There are some who do not demonstrate such sophistication in their planning and their mistakes lead to a quick apprehension.
Victimology of the Male
"Crime victim" can refer to any person who has suffered from any form of injury or loss due to illegal activity, including psychological, physical, material or economic trauma or a combination of these.
A legal definition of "victim" is a person who has suffered direct or threatened physical, emotional or pecuniary harm as a result of the commission of a crime; or in the case of a victim being an institutional entity, any of the same harms by an individual or authorized representative of another entity. 20
"Victimologists" are scientists who study the behaviors and vulnerabilities of victims. Two wellknown victimologists, Mendelson and Von Hentig, created theories about why victims became the targets of crime. Mendelson's research led him to theorize that most victims had an "unconscious aptitude for being victimized." He devised a typology of six victim categories. The first type of victim, "the innocent," is the individual who is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other five types are theorized to contribute somehow to their own injury, and represent what Mendelson termed "victim precipitation."
When Von Hentig studied homicide victims, he theorized the most likely victim is one who falls in the "depressive type" category. They are easy targets, often careless and unsuspecting. The "greedy type" of victim has motivation for easy gain. The "wanton type" is vulnerable to stresses that occur over a period of time. This is particularly true of juvenile victims. The "tormentor" becomes the victim of attack from the person he or she abused. This type of person would sustain injury from a battered woman.20
Statistics show 1 out of 6 American boys are molested by the time they reach 18. The impact of these molestations is unknown because they are dependent upon so many variables; however, there is a degree of certainty that shame, anger and a lasting emotional burden for the male to carry in these instances are the results of violation in these cases. The young male may have also suffered neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse or a combination of all of these.
Common Implements of Spousal Homicide
The firearm has been noted to be the No. 1 weapon used in domestic homicide. Research has shown firearms are more likely to result in serious injury and death than any other weapon used. A victim is three times more likely to die from an attack with a firearm, than an attack with a knife.23 A study by Saltzman, et al. found that firearm-associated family and intimate assaults were 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm incidents.24 Generally, the firearm is owned by the male, although with increased advertisement of self-defense schools, shooting ranges and firearms dealers, more women have begun purchasing and carrying a firearm. Investigations have shown that in over 88 percent of homicides by firearms, the victim was known by the assailant.
The most common guns purchased by women today include .380s, the 9mm, the .38 and the .45. Statistics have not shown a preference for a brand of gun in particular. Self defense is the most common verbalized reason for the purchase of the firearm. The other most common weapon utilized in domestic homicide tends to be the knife. More often it is some type of kitchen knife that is described as the implement utilized in a domestic homicide. Knives frequently tend to be used in alleged self-defense.
After the crime, they are picked up, cleaned, and placed back in the kitchen drawer. An investigator arriving at the scene of a stabbing should evaluate all sharp implements in the home, but consider taking kitchen knives into the lab for forensic evaluation. If a series of knives in a knife block is noted and one knife is missing, the investigator should attempt to locate it.
The investigator should take notes and/or pictures of the types of products that are in the house; insecticides, herbicides, medications, household cleaning agents and indoor/outdoor plants are crucial. Colchicine, a water-soluble alkaloid within the cells of the autumn crocus, has caused deaths from oral ingestion. It is a poison occasionally associated with suicides and therapeutic toxicity. It is rare to see a homicidal death related to the drug; however, there have been cases where it has been used. The poison causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and death. Some poisons decompose quickly with the putrefaction of the body while others remain substantially recoverable as evidence. Metallic poisons, arsenic, scopolamine, atropine, morphine and strychnine can be detected within the body tissues after several years. Substances such as hydrocyanic acid and phosphorous are virtually undetectable shortly after death.
Interviews of Spouse/Suspect, Family and Friends
If possible, the investigator should interview the spouse to gather the initial story. The death should be discussed, and as the investigator listens to or talks with the spouse, body language should also be noted, such as nervous ticks, voice tone and tremor, demeanor, consistency and pattern of story, and emotional display. Questions to be asked include: How long had you been together? How did you first meet? How many children do you have? What is your job? Did your spouse work? How long have you lived here? How was your relationship? It should be noted that due to the nature of these questions, direct questioning is not recommended. It is better to gather the spouse into a conversation that lets them lead it. Begin with the phrase, "Tell me about when you two first met." To simply say, "Tell me about..." is much less threatening to the person than the mechanical "how's" and "why's" of police investigation.