Solving the Puzzle – The ‘How’ of Death

How and why of death

If I had to take an educated guess, victims’ families are most interested in the “how” of death, followed by the “why,” which may or may not be revealed or known over time.

When a detective, criminologist or medical examiner reports for work each day, chances are, they are confronted with the four pronged question that is referred to as the manner of death.

  1. Natural Causes – when the body ceases to function on its own without mitigating medical factors.
  2. Homicide – the generic term to describe when one person kills another, regardless of whether or not there was intent.  Murder- Is more specific and deals with the malicious intent to commit a killing. All murder is homicide, but not all homicide is murder. 
  3. Accidental Death – This category can include an involuntary manslaughter, the unintentional killing of another person, first or second degree murder, the accidental killing resulting in recklessness, criminal negligence or the commission of a misdemeanor or low-level felony.
  4. Suicide – the intentional taking of one’s life caused by extreme emotional distress brought on by severe depression. This can take many forms such as hanging, drug overdose, slashing of wrists, vehicular collision, jumping from a bridge, etc.

Regarding homicide, I could list recent statistics that I researched for this blog, but decided against it, as numbers are only numbers and do not reflect the manner, the why or the human back stories. As for suicide, I have discussing this topic in greater depth on Shattered Lives Radio.  However, a recent reference from USA Today tries to illuminate homicide and some of the relevant factors depending upon the city in question.  It also includes a revealing chart that says a million words.

Examples – The Manner of Death –What do the experts in the field say?

Dr. Michael Baden-“Our work is different from that of the hospital pathologists who autopsy bodies to study the ravages of disease. Our methods are different from those of doctors who care for the living and whose concern is more the treatment than the cause. 

We want to know how the knife went in, from above or below, and where the person who wielded it was standing; which bullet hole was the entrance and which the exit and where the shot came from. Medically, these things may be irrelevant, but in a courtroom they are extremely significant in deciding the cause and manner of death and reconstructing how it happened.”

Dr. Cyril Wecht- A high-profile case in Pittsburg in which a medical researcher with the University of Pittsburg,  accused of using Cyanide poisoning to kill his wife by inserting it in her energy drink. Dr. Cyril Wecht weighed in on the shoddy work in which the manner of death should have been “undetermined.”

In the end, in November 2014, Dr. Ferrente was found guilty of poisoning his wife and received a sentence of life without parole. Dr. Wecht was being objective initially in his “undetermined” manner of death, but it appears the jury relied on the science in this case as well to reach their verdict.

Jurors said the key factors in their decision included the level of cyanide in Dr. Klein’s blood, Dr. Ferrante’s changing stories during testimony, and his numerous Google searches on cyanide and cyanide poisoning.

“Obviously there was cyanide in the blood and we took into consideration all sides and the main consideration was the 2.2 cyanide level,” jury foreman Brian Maitz, of Ross, said. “We determined that was the best test we could have and the lady that delivered the test has been there 37 years. That was a crutch right there that I knew she was doing her job.

Dr. Jan Garavaglia – Weighing in on the manner of death in the Casey Anthony Case.  This is fascinating testimony as to how homicide was determined.

Dr. G. more than held her own using her skills, medical knowledge and ability to relate her findings clearly. Unfortunately, a cause of death could not be determined with certainty.


Does knowing the “how or why” help families to sleep better at night?

In general, probably not.  But, I would say that unanswered questions are comparable to slow torture, and, therefore, are of utmost importance to the families who are left behind.

Additional references:;


  1. When my 2nd Uncle was murdered in 2008 at sentencing the killer promised our family that he would tell us what happend and he would tell detectives what really happend.He changed his mind.My Uncle laid on his couch we believe for several days.But we will never know.The thing that bothers me the most is if someone would’ve found him sooner maybe he would’ve lived.I know they say its better to not know but sometimes I think its worse not knowing.I miss him💔

    • It is “never better” to be left in the dark. But, never believe the promises of a killer. I know of many situations in which a person laid helpless- including my father after he was shot multiple times. It breaks my heart! Do something good in the name of each of your relatives. It will give you a lift! LJ

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