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Chicago, Illinois. The victim was a 34-year-old white female, who lived alone in an apartment on the north side of the city. She was a schoolteacher, single, and in good physical and mental health at the time of her death. On Saturday, she had spent the day with her parents who were house hunting. She had dinner that evening with them and agreed to meet them the next day to continue house hunting.

Her father told her he would call her for church the next day. Usually, she went to church with them. However, she told her father to call her after church. On Sunday morning after church, her father called her, but she did not answer. Knowing this to be strange, he drove to her apartment to check on her well-being.

Fig.1 The victim’s hair covered her face. There was a belt wrapped tightly around her neck.

He entered the locked apartment with a key she had given to him for emergencies. He called out her name and, when she didn’t answer, began to search the apartment. He opened the closed bathroom door and found his daughter. She was hanging with a belt around her neck. She was nude with her breasts bound very tightly with rope and was hanging by her neck from the belt. The belt had been secured to a hook.

The distraught man backed out of the apartment, locked the door, and called the police. Initially, the death appeared to be a sex-related homicide. There wasn’t any forced entry, the apartment had been locked, and there were no signs of any struggle. The next suggestion was that the death was a possible suicide. However, that was quickly ruled out based on her victimology. Closer examination revealed the death to be accidental, involving autoerotic activities.

Fig.2 Female in partial suspension. This case was initially reported as a homicide.

The rope used was a nautical rope. An additional nautical rope was found in her closet. The belt came from a dress she owned and hadn’t worn for some time. Directly across from the victim was a full-length mirror from which she could view herself from the door. The death was properly classified as accidental. Many of the autoerotic death characteristics were present in this particular case. This provided the authorities a basis upon which to make a determination of accidental death involving sexual asphyxia.

Fig.3 The ropes were wrapped tightly around each breast. One rope extended through the labia and gluteal fold. The corset was also tightly secured around her abdomen.

Autoerotic death refers to the accidental death of individuals of either sex due to failure of devices, or unexpected effect of materials, that were being used to enhance the sexual experience. Although asphyxia from hanging has been described most frequently, a wide variety of other lethal situations have been reported. As there is great variability in the number and types of sexual aids that may be used by individuals, careful death scene examination is essential in helping to exclude suicide and more rarely homicide. The clandestine nature of this paraphilia may, however, make subsequent identification and diagnosis difficult unless the death scene features are typical. This is particularly so in the rare cases involving women.

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