What is a good crime or mystery without the presence of a dead body to really spice up the tale? In this article, we are going to take a look at murder, blood, and the gory details of making living people into a problematic dead body.
Doing the deed
Whilst in many ways humans are relatively fragile and damage easily, they are also surprisingly resilient with built-in self-repair and survival instincts. Just shooting a couple of rounds into a person usually works in games, the human body is strangely averse to simply giving up and stopping. Even a bullet to the head is not, necessarily, fatal.
During the first World War, Hungarian soldier Paul Kern served the Central Powers and was stationed on the Russian front. In 1915, a Russian soldier shot him in the right temple, driving a bullet through his frontal lobe and back out. Kern didn’t merely survive, but recovered quickly.10 People Who Survived Being Shot in the Head, Top Tenz
So how do our murderous villains overcome the human body’s stubborn refusal to surrender to the grim reaper?
How to kill a person
What do we mean by dead?
Our first problem is what do we actually mean by dead? There is no absolute agreement as to what constitutes being dead. It is generally considered that there are two categories of legally declarable death. the first is an irreversible cessation of heartbeat and breathing (cardiopulmonary death); the second being an irreversible cessation of functions of the brain (brain death).
For narrative purposes, “dead” can mean when the other character is no longer going to get up and make a nuisance of themselves nor particular object to being chopped up, throw into the river, or otherwise, manhandled out of the story.
This form of death is legally considered murder when caused deliberately outside of sanctioned behaviour such as war, police action, or state executions.
Villainous methods of murder
Throughout the ages, mankind has worked tirelessly on the task of making the group from the other side of the hill into members of the no-longer-living. Most techniques have tended to involve sharp things, pointy things, and heavy blunt things.
For most of history this has amounted to clubs, swords (and knives) and projectiles such as arrows (and, later, cannon, shot, and bullets). These tools of death aim to do one of a number of things – sometimes more than one.
- Destroy or damage the brain
- Stop the heart and/or lungs
- Massive physical damage via crushing and/or bludgeoning
- Loss of blood on a significant scale
- Chemical disruption of all bodily function
- Obstruction or removal of air (strangulation for example)
The less refined the and precise the method, the more brutal and bloody the death is likely to be. Not to mention the amount of desperate fighting back the poor victim is likely to provide.
This is why, unless you villain is a big bad brute, they are likely going to want a gun, sword, or other significant advantage.
Poisons and contagions
Being the inventive bunch that we are, humans have also discovered that some compounds – often found in plants – interrupt the working of the body to the point that the owner of the body suddenly finds themselves face-to-face with whatever comes after life ends.
We have also observed that some illnesses spread from person to person and can, when potent enough also cause death. This has given rise to the modern threat of bioterrorism.
However, for our narrative murderer this is probably overkill (not to mention, rather expensive). One time honoured method of human dispatching has been to lace the food or drink of the disliked person with something deadly.
There is a reason why kings and rich and powerful people employed food tasters. It was not just to make sure the food was up to standard.
So much blood
Contrary to some visuals on more family-friendly TV shows, death can often involve a lot of blood, guts, and general viscera. Especially if it comes to murder by means of significant bodily destruction.
A severed artery is likely to cause a victim to bleed out rather quickly. This is because the blood going through your arteries is being pumped directly by your heart. Expect blood spray and a fair amount of panic. Do not, however, expect an instant death.
A healthy adult can lose almost 20% (about a litre) of their blood without feeling any ill effects. They can go on to lose 40% (about 2 litres) before circulatory shock starts to set in. Which means that your narrative’s victim could make quite a mess before they stop fighting back.
Depending on the severity of the wounds on your victim, there could still be another three litres of the red stuff to spill out.
Getting rid of the body
Once your (hopefully fictional character) has killed the poor victim, they are left with a rather incriminating body to dispose of. The short answer is to feed it to pigs. No, really.
We already investigated how to dispose of a dead body. Check out that post for more insights.
Getting blood out of clothes
It is easier to remove blood from clothes while it is still fresh. Let it dry in, and it could be very hard or impossible to remove.
The good housekeeping guide has an article dedicated to cleaning blood from clothes.
If your villain is the forward thinking type, they might prefer to burn the bloody clothes, take a good long shower, and then get dressed in nice, fresh, blood-free clothing. If they do this well the poor old detective trying to solve the case is going to have a tough job gathering enough evidence to arrest the villain.
Getting away with it
As you are reading this purely for narrative research – please don’t actually kill anyone – you probably want your villain (or anti-hero) to get away with it. At least for a while.
The first people the police are going to look at are those who were close to the victim. If it is a lover your villain is offing, they should expect a lot of attention from the boys in blue.
- Juliet Escoria has a list of 16 things to do to get away with murder.
Generally, the villain needs as little as possible to connect them to the scene of the murder, the victim, or the method of body disposal.
This might include ending the lives of witnesses. A careless killer could end up with quite a long list of people they need to kill to cover the first kill up. Maybe that is how the hero detective finally catches up with them?
Blood comes in a variety of types. I’ve included a video on that at the end of this section from a well-known YouTuber.
While I have not read of this method of dispatch in a book yet, it could be possible for an evil doctor to give a trusting patient the wrong blood type and let their own immune system do rip itself apart fighting the “invader”. From what I gather, it would be a very nasty way to go.
Bonus Fact: Bloody barbers
Planning a murder while looking up how to plan a murder is a sure-fire way to leave a digital footprint behind pointing toward your intentions. If my research for the article about getting rid of a body did not do so, then the research for this one must surely have landed me on a secret watch list or two. I take these risks so you don’t have to.
I’m a writer not a killer, secret spy people, I promise. (Gulp).