Asphyxia homicides in Denmark 1992–2016

Asser H. Thomsen*, Peter M. Leth, Hans Petter Hougen, Palle Villesen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In this retrospective study, we present the findings in 250 homicides by asphyxia in Denmark in a 25-year period, with a particular focus on the autopsy findings in strangulation. Our intention is for the results to be used in future death investigations, where difficulties in interpretation of findings in potential asphyxial deaths arise. Asphyxia homicides showed a strong bias with respect to sex, age, and homicide type. The frequent female victim was typically an adult, whereas the rarer male victim was most often a child. Female offenders most often killed their children, and male offenders most often killed their female partner. Generally, most asphyxia homicides took place in a domestic setting. Manual strangulation and ligature strangulation were the most common mechanisms of asphyxia homicides (81.6%). A lack of petechial hemorrhages, especially in the conjunctiva, was rare in homicidal strangulation, but there were exceptions, especially when there was postmortem decomposition, making it impossible to verify them. Most victims of strangulation had skin lesions in the face (including the jawline) or on the neck, with accompanying hemorrhages in muscle and connective tissue, but the findings could be subtle or compounded by decomposition. Fractures of the laryngo-hyoid complex were common in strangulation, particularly in manual strangulation (chi-sq = 4.0993, df = 1, P < 0.05) and were clearly related to the age of the victim (chi-sq = 82.193, df = 4, P < 0.001). In children and young adults dying from homicidal strangulation, a lack of fractures is to be expected, while a lack of fractures is unusual, but not entirely unexpected, for adults and aged people.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Legal Medicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3. Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Asphyxia
  • Forensic autopsy
  • Forensic medicine
  • Homicide
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Strangulation


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