A case study of verifying a suicide by carbon monoxide intoxication committed by burning an ignition charcoal briquette

착화탄 연소에 의한 일산화탄소 중독사에서 자살입증에 관한 사례연구

  • Received : 2015.07.25
  • Accepted : 2015.11.30
  • Published : 2015.12.25


Carbon monoxide (CO) intoxication, arising from CO from an ignited charcoal briquette (ICB), is a popular means of committing suicide in Korea. Most CO intoxications are related to suicide attempts; however, the possibility of a homicide disguised as a suicide cannot be ruled out. Therefore, forensic investigation of the deceased and the crime scene is crucial to confirm that the deceased committed suicide. Detection of the components of an ICB on the objects suspected of being contacted by the deceased, such as the hands, nostrils, and doorknobs, is essential for linking the crime scene to the victim in the case of suicides by ignited ICBs. The traces from an ICB were analyzed by investigating the morphological characteristics and obtaining elemental compositions. The ICBs were completely different from blackened wood, as detected by discriminant analysis with the elements of carbon and oxygen. We analyzed one case of CO intoxication to demonstrate an excellent procedure for verifying whether a suicide occurred with an ICB. We employed SEM-EDX for the analysis of an ICB, microscope-FT/IR and pyrolysis-GC/MS for a partly burnt resin-type substance, GC/MS for diphenhydramine (a sleeping drug), and GC/TCD for the CO-Hb level. We detected traces of an ICB on the hands, nostrils, and doorknobs, which were all discriminated into an ICB group. Detection of ICB traces from the nostrils could indicate that the deceased started the fire themselves to commit suicide. The partially burnt black material was analyzed as an acrylronitrilestyrene polymer, which is normally used to make bags for carrying or wrapping and could be assumed to have been used to transport the ICB. Diphenhydramine, a sleeping drug, was detected at a level of 2.3 mg/L in the blood, which was lower than that in fatal cases (8-31 mg/L; mean 16 mg/L). A CO-Hb level of 79% was found in the blood, which means that the cause of death was CO intoxication. The steps shown here could represent an ideal method for reaching a verdict of suicide by CO intoxication produced by burning an ICB in a sealed room or a car.


carbon monoxide intoxication;ignition charcoal briquette;suicide;barium


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