Thursday, September 17, 2009


My questions are all about that lovably utilitarian murder weapon, the icepick:Icepick stabbings--if there are under five strikes to the chest (aiming for the heart), and the victim is a healthy young female, any sort of blood pattern? Spurting? Oozing? Let's say she's found within fifteen minutes of death.And if the heart is hit with a typical icepick (wooden handle, narrow 7 inch prong) would death be fairly instantaneous?

First of all, a wound from an icepick or a small pocketknife can resemble a small caliber gunshot wound.

I haven’t had any experience with icepicks (can one still buy such a thing?) but I have worked a boatload of stabbings, and I can tell you this: it’s not so much the weapon, but where it lands.

One summer, in each month of the summer, I had a full-sized man dispatched by a single stab wound to the shoulder--thrust, in each case, by his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. When a right handed person stabs someone she’s facing, slicing downward in the classic Psycho style, she hits the upper left chest. All three men died before help could arrive, even though in at least one case the new girlfriend (possibly the reason for the attack?) was right there to call 911. All three women hit the heart. None of them went to med school—a good reason to doubt those who like to intone, “The killer must have had some knowledge of anatomy, like a doctor or a butcher.” No, it was just one really ticked-off chick.

Then only a month or so ago I had a guy killed by a single wound to his side, delivered by a really ticked-off boyfriend. It did not hit the heart but the liver. (It was also a really big knife.) In this case and at least one of the cases above, what made the situation even more dangerous is the person doesn’t realize how severely they’ve been injured. It hurts, but they don’t fall down right there. They tend to wander into the bathroom to check out the damage, planning to clean up and get a bandage. They barely get started before they feel woozy, lie down and bleed out.

So from what I’ve seen—and I am not a doctor—my best guess is that if the pick does not hit any vital organs, the victim would have a chance of surviving. If it hits the heart or the liver, then they would eventually bleed out, but slower than with a large knife wound. This could make things worse, however, in that they might not think they’re that badly hurt and delay getting help. But after five strikes to the chest your victim would most likely call 911, and I think the odds are good she’d die before they get there. The heart keeps pumping and will pump the blood right out the holes in it.

Now, let’s talk spatter. The fact that she’s young and healthy would not affect the spatter all that much. The heart in someone old and out of shape is still going to be pumping mightily and that’s all that really affects the spatter. An icepick is a thin item so it will leave a thin cast-off pattern. I would expect not too much in the way of cast-off patterns anyway, if the attack is fast and there isn’t time for blood to soak the surface of the body and coat the weapon. It will scatter drops, certainly, but the walls won’t appear as if someone got medieval with a baseball bat.

The surrounding area will depend on the size of the wounds, the position of the body and the surface of the area. If she’s on a lawn, you’re going to have a much harder time making sense of any pattern than if she was in an uncluttered room tiled in nice white ceramic. If she’s stabbed, falls to her feet and then collapses on the floor, you’re just going to have a big puddle underneath her and no real pattern to speak of. If she’s upright long enough near a wall or a floor you might get some spurting, if they hit something vital, but with such a small wound I suspect it would not look like the clear arterial spurting pattern you get with a cut jugular vein.

She will certainly live long enough to clasp her hands to her chest, get them covered in blood, and then transfer that blood to whatever she touches. Not for nothing do very bloody scenes often resemble a child’s finger painting—just as dramatic, and often just as difficult to interpret.

Lisa Black spent the happiest five years of her life in a morgue. Strange, perhaps, but true. In her job as a forensic scientist she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s as a latent print examiner and CSI working with fingerprints and crime scenes. She has been published in Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan.


Jen Forbus said...

I happen to know that Lisa can definitely tell you about blood splatter when there's a wall, the floor and a desk involved! ;)

Lisa's examples seem to re-inforce the idea that stabbings are very personal attacks...all those irate girlfriends, YIKES! Good thing those knife-wielding gals weren't in cahoots with Rebecca, huh? ;)

Sophie Littlefield said...

"It’s not so much the weapon, but where it lands" - - words to live by, sisters, words to live by....

Kelli Stanley said...

Wow--thank you, Lisa! Your examples were chilling ... and the finger-panting metaphor just so sadly evocative.

Once upon a time, ice picks were readily available, particularly since people still used "ice boxes" rather than refrigerators even up through the '40s ... I've got a San Francisco World's Fair souvenir ice pick with an extremely long and wicked prong ...

Soon to be a weapon of murder in an upcoming book. Thanks again for all this amazing info! :)



Lyn said...

My housemate was a cutter, though we didn't have that word back then. One night while I was asleep she hit an artery. Luckily, she was on the phone at the time and the operator (remember those?) calls the police. I woke up to pounding at the front door, and a gosh-awful amount of blood puddled everywhere, on the walls, on the ceiling!

I slept in my car till she got out of the hospital, then I drove her home and told her to clean it up. She kept saying, "I did this?"

She did it with a little paring knife, not even a very good one. So, yeah, it matters where the wound is. Funny, I've never considered using this in a story.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Once again, right-handers have it easier.

ICe picks? Torture? At least the guy in my
question was dead when I got to him.

You guys creep me out. ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Lyn, that's a gripping story ... and I hope your housemate successfully banished sharp objects from her life. Thanks for sharing the story.

It's amazing what damage small, everyday objects can do. And just as amazing what violence can lurk in the garage ... or basement ... or backyard next door.


Kelli Stanley said...

All right, Ms. Cantrell, I don't think Ms. Sperm Extraction from a Dead Guy has any right to be creeped out by a little righteous torture and an ice pick stabbing! ;)

Thanks to you, I'll never look at a wet sock the same way again ... ;)


Shane Gericke said...

This is an excellent explanation, Lisa. You are a gifted storyteller, no kidding.

Would an icepick wound close up immediately and seal off the bleeding, since the skin is so elastic? Or does the majority of the bleeding occur inside the body even if the hole has closed up?

As for the nickname for the, er, gum in question of the other day, it's amazing what 13-year-old boys come up with for nicknames, isn't it? Back then, everything we talked about seemed to revolve around sex. Can't imagine why :-)

Shane Gericke said...

Sophie, dang tootin' :-)

Shane Gericke said...

Jen, I think there's a story in the wall/floor/desk thingy you need to share with the class!

Jen Forbus said...

Hehehehe...Lisa was in NE Ohio last week and I went to her event at the Hudson Library where she told us about the advanced blood spatter training course she took. The course taught them about blood splatter with a wall, the floor and a desk in the room. Then she went to a crime scene in a....garage...with "stuff" everywhere!! Not quite what the course prepared her for!

Lisa Black said...

That's a good point, Shane. I believe that's why weapons makers in the 19th century invented the triangular-shaped bayonet so that the wound couldn't close up as quickly as with a knife-type bayonet.

But yes, internal bleeding is just as deadly as external. Sometimes more so, because the victim doesn't realize how dire the situation is.