Q: I am currently working on a book that centers on a murder staged to look like an accidental death by autoerotic strangulation. Obviously the victim (who is a large man) needs to be incapacitated to the point where he is either unconscious or offers no resistance. The killer is unknown to the victim and not in a position to tamper with his food or drink, but by masquerading as a janitor he is able to get physically close. He is also able to obtain just about anything he’d need to get the job done.
Would Rohypnol do the trick? Can it be injected? Is there anything else you can think of that would serve?
A: Autoerotic asphyxia is the use of partial strangulation as part of masturbatory fantasies. Erotic asphyxia is where one partner partially strangles the other during sexual activity. The “kick” seems to be that the anoxia (decrease in blood, and thus oxygen supply, to the brain) is supposed to enhance the experience. This is also very dangerous and can lead to death or permanent brain injury. Most people believe that strangulation leads to loss of consciousness and death by preventing the victim from breathing. Not so. Strangulation compresses and obstructs the carotid arteries. These are the arteries on either side of the neck that carry blood from the heart to the brain. This is why strangulation can lead to loss of consciousness in a few seconds and death in less than a minute while you can hold your breath for 2 or 3 minutes if necessary. In the later, the oxygen content of the blood gradually declines while with occlusion of the carotid arteries the blood supply to the brain is abruptly interrupted. This makes erotic asphyxia, auto or otherwise, a very dangerous game. The victim often underestimates his capacity to stay conscious and once consciousness is lost, he can no longer save himself by releasing the rope, etc. Or his partner miscalculates when to release the pressure. Death follows.
Since you want the death to look like an accidental strangulation and since the ME can most often determine if strangulation has occurred, you would want the “actual cause of death” to be strangulation. If the killer were strong enough he could simply loop a rope around the victim’s neck, strangle him to death, and then “stage” the autoerotic scene. This is clean and simple and requires no other equipment and no chemicals. From your question, I get the impression that this would not work for you.
So, your killer must incapacitate the victim, strangle him, and then set the scene. Yes, Rohypnol would work as would GHB and Ecstasy. These are all given orally but have no flavor or odor and could easily be placed into water or any other liquid. Again, you don’t want this for your scenario so that brings us to an injectable sedative. I’m assuming that you have worked out a method for your killer to sneak up on the victim and quickly inject him with the drug (not that easy to do) and if so drugs such as Ativan, Versed, or Ketamine would fit your needs. Ketamine is currently a hot item on the Rave and drug abuse scene and is often stolen from vet clinics–often at gunpoint–since it is a useful animal anesthetic. It is an injectable liquid, but kids dry the liquid by heating it, leaving behind a white powder, which they then snort. Go figure.
All the above mentioned injectable drugs are rapid acting sedatives and if given in large enough doses could take the victim down in a very few minutes. He would become disoriented and confused, then unconscious. Your killer could then do his dirty work. One problem could arise however. These drugs are powerful sedatives and anesthetics and your victim could stop breathing. Here the cause of death would not be strangulation, which is a problem for your killer. There is a way around this however. If the victim stopped breathing, your killer would need to strangle him immediately. Why? If he dies of chemical asphyxia (stops breathing due to chemical sedation) there would not be the characteristic neck bruises that the coroner would look for to conclude the death was due to strangulation. Once the heart stops, the blood clots in the blood vessels very quickly and bruising is no longer possible. This means that strangling the victim after death would not leave bruises. If the victim stopped breathing, he would be alive for several minutes so if your killer then strangled him quickly, the characteristic bruising would be present and the ME might conclude that the victim died from an accidental autoerotic strangulation.
One important point is that the killer should use the same rope to strangle as he uses to “stage” the autoerotic death. Manual strangulation with his hands or with a rope of a different size and pattern might leave behind bruise patterns that were different than expected and these findings might tip off the ME that something was amiss.
Of course, the coroner could test for Ketamine or any other drug and would find it if he looked for it. He might not but even if he does a sophisticated toxicological evaluation might take days or weeks to perform. This could give your killer the time he needs to disappear, if that’s his plan. Also, the ME could locate the injection site on the corpse and maybe even test the tissues in the area and find a high concentration of whichever drug was injected. For these reasons, I would suggest that you find a way to use one of the oral drugs. People often use Ecstasy and GHB and other sedatives as part of their sexual activities so the finding of these drugs in the victim could be considered part of his thing. The injectable drugs would not fit this scenario and would raise an eyebrow or two. And as I said, it isn’t easy to stab someone with a needle, and hold it in place long enough to depress the plunger on the syringe and inject the medication. Possible, just difficult.