When "gooey" won't suffice
September 29, 2011 11:55 AM   Subscribe

What does a suicide from jumping look like?

I've got to have a character describe what a body looks like (naked, fat, white) after falling about 100 feet from a cliff onto a flat rocky surface. I've sort of gotten away with this so far since the character is so emotional I'm able to pull a "Naked Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate effect, but I've reached a point where he's gotta describe it, and I have no real clue what it looks like.

Googling isn't helping me out ("fallen bodies" mostly tells me about Ba'al and asteroids which then turn into hours of fun but totally irrelevant research). Does anyone know of a reference maybe for mystery writers or coroners or anything like that? Pictures would be ideal, but written descriptions could work too.
posted by OrangeDrink to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There's Evelyn McHale.
posted by motsque at 11:58 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw a series of photos taken of a jumper that made it down 10 stories. If I could unsee them would. Pretty much it's the same as a jump from a high dive, but rather than water it's cement. At that point it's all going to be about what part of your body hits first. For the poor fellow his everything compressed until his shoes were somewhere closer to his chest.

He survived. The paper didn't run the photos. Years later that guy is still in a wheelchair. He survived.

Many of my coworkers watched the whole thing. I decided I had better things to do. I felt horrible for the two police officers that failed to talk him down.

I'd seen one other jumper but that was the total after-effects. This woman seemed fine. Like she'd maybe been bumped by a car. She had minimal bleeding from her ears and mouth, but you could tell at a glade she was dead.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:03 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I know that this is a sensitive subject for anyone who actually witnessed a suicide, and I apologize if my glib tone is coarse.)
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:07 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just so you know: The Crime Writer's Handbook by Douglas Wynn mentions falling as a way of making a murder look like accidental death, but doesn't describe the outcome. (Mentioned to save anyone else from checking it.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:10 PM on September 29, 2011

I had the awful experience of coming out of a hotel just minutes after someone jumped from 20 or 30 stories up. Responders were just, well, responding. At first I didn't even know what I was looking at. It looked kind of like when a deer gets hit on the highway, then driven over a few dozen times. In fact, that was the first thought I had: "Hey, what's a deer doing on the street in downtown Philly?" I didn't stare long but that's the image that's pretty much seered into my head.
posted by lpsguy at 12:11 PM on September 29, 2011

A woman fell and died from the third-story window next to the apartment of a woman I was dating. The body had been removed by the time we came down, but there was blood everywhere. I'm not sure how long she had been lying there before being discovered (not long, from what I heard second hand), but the amount of blood was really disturbing. This was, again, only the third floor, so far less than 100 feet. As others have said, if I could unsee that pool of blood, I would.

I don't think the fall you're describing would be pretty.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:17 PM on September 29, 2011

I saw the after effects of a man who had jumped from 20 or so stories. The body had been removed, but he hit and broke a downtown streetlight, and finally landed on a car. The car was still there, its roof flattened almost to the pavement. Almost surreal looking. The area was taped off with police tape, but the scene did not look like it had been washed with water or really cleaned in any way. The entire area was dry.

Still horrifying to see. Perhaps hitting the car softened the landing enough so there was none or minimal blood. The force from that kind of impact is truly awesome (not in a "good" awesome way)
posted by jeff-o-matic at 12:17 PM on September 29, 2011

You could probably look at photos and video of this sort of thing all day, every day, for years--all thanks to the internet. Bestgore.com and other sites like it have tons of images and videos of virtually every kind of injury you can think of. You should adjust your Google search preferences to turn of SafeSearch, and you can get help identifying the various internet gore-mongers to help you.
posted by Hylas at 12:26 PM on September 29, 2011

My uncle, who is a retired park ranger and spent most of his career at Zion National Park, said that he once had to recover the body of someone who fell from here. He said they had to recover the body in pieces.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:27 PM on September 29, 2011

You can always count on Stephen King for vivid imagery:

"When I was five or six, I asked my mother if she had ever seen anyone die. Yes, she said, she had seen one person die and had heard another one....On some other day she told me about the one she saw - a sailor who jumped off the roof of the Graymore Hotel in Portland, Maine, and landed in the street.

'He splattered,' my mother said in her most matter-of-fact tone. She paused, then added, 'The stuff that came out of him was green. I have never forgotten it.'

That makes two of us, Mom."
posted by granted at 12:29 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's a fat person, whose anatomy might mimic that of a mega-graboid, you might draw inspiration from [this scene [Tremors spoiler].
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 12:30 PM on September 29, 2011

In Catch-22, Joseph Heller describes a jumper's remains as looking like "an alpaca sack full of hairy strawberry ice cream, bleeding, pink toes awry".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:41 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

It really depends on how they fell and how they landed. What this means is you have a lot of leeway.

Sometimes they'll land relatively flat, and in some of those cases they turn out like Evelyn McHale where they may be in slight disarray but could be easily mistaken for blacked out, at a distance anyway. Depending on the internal damage you might see a variable amount of blood from the nose or mouth or whatever else.

If they land on a limb or their head then there are entire fields of study devoted to understanding the different ways they would hit and the effects had on the body. Things break. Bones push through skin. Then you have blood.

The takeaway here is sometimes you have a lot of damage and sometimes you have almost none. Sometimes you have very little blood loss and sometimes it seems like there are gallons of the stuff.

A fat naked white person might hit the ground like a bag of wet cement, and bones would break but they might not be obvious since they're not moving. They would look very pale almost immediately and their underside would look purplish-red after a while (don't click on that link if you don't want to see a cadaver, though its face is covered). The skin of a corpse often looks pretty unsettling to people who haven't seen a real one before - it can look translucent, like wax.

Of course, the impact might be a messier one; various liquids might explode out of them like a squished grape. If the character describing this had not seen a trauma victim along these lines then they would almost definitely observe that there is much, much more blood than they expected a human body to contain.

If this happened then there might be two patterns of blood. The first would happen on impact and it would be blood basically exploding out of wherever - again, squished grape - and the second would be a pool as it leaked out of whatever open wounds.

A character who had never seen a real cadaver before would probably notice at least one other thing: Dead eyes are really upsetting to look at; there's nothing there, there's no one home. It's like the lights have gone out.

Hope this helps.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

100 feet up is somewhere between 9 and 10 stories. At that point you're still going to have signicant solid material remaining but also significant liquefaction. I don't think, but I'm no rocket surgeon, that a person would hit terminal velocity in that time span. Mostly gross distortion of features, eyeballs bulging or protruding, skin split and organs oozing, etc.

But you need to decide, did she hit feet first? Flat? Head first?

Head first, she will have made some unconscious effort to shield her head, which wouldn't have done much. All her arm bones would be broken and protruding, shoulder joints dislocated, probably few to no recognizable features remaining on the face. Cerebro-spinal fluid would mix with gray matter and blood, and the color is probably not what you would imagine.The legs would likely be awry but intact.

Feet first, opposite problem. Tibia/fibia broken in a compound manner, kneecaps probably exploded, femurs snapped and probably protruding. If she was overweight, the hip joints may have dislocated grotesquely before the lower legs broke entirely, she may look something like a twisted up barbie. Pelvis may be shattered, lower intestines likely spilled.

Front first or back first? I'm tired of writing these descriptions and don't want to continue. Use your imagination. Blood is darker crimson than most people imagine, especially veinal blood. Lower trunk viscera is larger than most people imagine, especially major muscle groups and large bones.
posted by TomMelee at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I once saw a photo online that I can't unsee. It is the mental image pulled up when I read or think about the quote from Stephen King's mother. Splattered. Green. Liquefaction, to use TomMelee's word above. If you've ever seen subcutaneous fat, kind of that texture. Fluff up jello with a fork, was sort of the texture. But a lot. There was still a shape and limbs, if you came across it you might have a moment of huhwha? and then understand what you were seeing.

I didn't see any blood that was identifiable. The head wasn't visible in the photo.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:27 PM on September 29, 2011

I saw a guy jump from a sixth-floor window once in Seattle.

He was a nut; he'd been yelling at two guys in the street and they yelled back at him to shut up, so he dashed right out his window in an effort to assault them. Six stories later he was lying face-up on the sidewalk, completely unconscious and bleeding from his head. He'd collided with a parking meter on the way down, but I couldn't see how that had damaged him any.

My girl and I had been walking by when he jumped. As it happens, she and I had both been EMTs when we'd been in the navy, so we ran over to him while the guys he'd been yelling at scurried away into the night. We made sure he was breathing, then I ran to the billiard hall he'd landed in front of and tried to get the people inside to call an ambulance (Belltown Billiards - it took several tries to get them to call the ambulance, as they'd just closed and thought my girl and I were trying to get in to play some pool). The EMTs finally showed up, and when they tried to lift him onto their gurney his legs bowed at the thigh like there was no bone in there at all. Sickening to see.

Other than that, though, he looked just about fine: Gash on his head, no more bones in his legs, but otherwise in pretty good shape for a six-floor drop. The human body is pretty tough, I guess.

Six stories is only about half the drop you're looking for, but I'll bet that You have some leeway in describing your fall victim. I'd guess the person in question might have sustained damage anywhere from outright exploding to not showing anything visible at all; your choice. Just suit the gorey aftermath to the needs of your narrative.
posted by Pecinpah at 1:33 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Similar to the Evelyn McHale picture and jeff-o-matic's story: I live on the 16th floor of a highrise; several years ago, the guy in the condo next to mine tossed his 8-months' pregnant wife out the window & then jumped himself. Because of the wife's screaming as she fell, I ran to my window. I didn't actually see either of them falling, but I did see --- from the 16th floor --- the bodies down below on top of cars in the parking lot, as well as the cars later on, after the bodies had been removed. The cars were basically flattened; thankfully, (and perhaps because I'm short) from the ground I didn't see the caved-in tops of the cars or much gore.

I never want to hear another scream like that again in my life though.
posted by easily confused at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2011

Good grief, almost managed to forget: saw an accidental headfirst fall off a balcony onto a concrete floor, from about 30 feet up. Let's just say 'squished grape' and leave it at that, okay?
posted by easily confused at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2011

Once the corpse has been put into a body bag, responders might notice that sufficiently many bones have been broken that it is possible to sit the body upright in both the normal and the reverse direction.
posted by rongorongo at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2011

I saw a guy land on completely his side after what was described as a three story (I would say about 50-60 foot) jump on to concrete. The man did not survive. I didn't see him up close after he landed, but there was no liquid spray, bursting of the skin, dismemberment or anything of that sort. His body seemed to be completely intact. The sound was loud, hollow and distinctive. It was fucking horrifying, and something that will stay with me forever.
posted by cnc at 3:58 PM on September 29, 2011

Someone jumped off the roof of a neighboring building many moons ago. It was probably five stories, and from the look of things he went for it in the "belly flop" position. He'd left a reasonably small pool of his own various and sundry fluids around himself, but other than that it looked mostly like he'd fallen asleep in the middle of the street. We stumbled upon him just as the first responders got there, maybe five minutes after he'd jumped. They simply tossed a blue tarp over him and strung up some police tape.

Until then I'd always thought suicide by jumping off of something tall would make more of an impact (sorry). So, I suppose, ditto to the comments above that it depends a lot on the situation. I can imagine that from a greater height, or at a different angle, that there'd be a lot more gore, but in this guy's case... let's just say I've seen gorier looking car accidents where the people survived.
posted by togdon at 8:18 PM on September 29, 2011

This may inspire you - the very wonderful Ian McEwan describes the body of a man who has fallen from a balloon. The novel is "Enduring Love", and I recommend it highly.

Something protruded at the centre of the field,some stumpy antenna of his present or previous self. Not until I was twenty yards away did I permit myself to see him. He was sitting upright, his back to me, as though meditating, or gazing in the direction in which the balloon and Harry had drifted. There was calmness in his posture. I came closer, instinctively troubled to be approaching him unseen from behind, but glad I could not yet see his face. I still clung to the possibility that there was a technique, a physical law or process of which I knew nothing, that would permit him to survive. That he should sit there so quietly in the field, as though he were collecting himself after his terrible experience, gave me hope and made me clear my throat stupidly and say, knowing that no one else could hear me, ‘Do you need help?’ It was not so ridiculous at the time. I could see his hair curling over his shirt collar and sunburned skin along the tops of his ears. His tweed jacket was unmarked, though it drooped strangely, for his shoulders were narrower than they should have been. They iwere narrower than any adult’s could be. From the base of the neck there was no lateral spread. The skeletal structure had collapsed internally to produce a head on a thickened stick. And seeing that, I became aware that what I had taken for calmness was absence. There was no one there.The quietness was that of the inanimate, and I understood again, because I had seen dead bodies before, why a pre-scientific age would have needed to invent the soul. It was no less clear than the illusion of the evening sun sinking through the sky. The closing down of countless interrelated neural and bio-chemical exchanges combined to suggest to a naked eye the illusion of the extinguished spark, or the simple departure of a single necessary element. However scientifically informed we count ourselves to be, fear and awe still surprise us in the presence of the dead. Perhaps it’s life we’re really wondering at.

These were the thoughts with which I tried to protect myself as I began to circle the corpse. It sat within a little indentation in the soil. I didn’t see Logan dead until I saw his face, and what I saw I only glimpsed. Though the skin was intact, it was hardly a face at all, for the bone structure had shattered and I had the impression, before I looked away, of a radical, Picassoesque violation of perspective. Perhaps I only imagined the vertical arrangement of the eyes.

posted by Decani at 5:43 AM on September 30, 2011

I saw a picture at some site that shows awful things (Something Awful?). It been years, but I think it was a black and white photo of a guy (fat, white) in a suit lying where he had landed on a city sidewalk. That's all I want to remember about it.
posted by pracowity at 12:04 PM on September 30, 2011

Decani, there was a movie made about that book... searching IMDB. Enduring Love. Which is really irrelevant to this question since the movie involves some CGI and a lot of "willing suspension of disbelief." Thanks for reminding me of it though...
posted by bendy at 8:37 PM on September 30, 2011

« Older Is Union Transfer in Philadelphia worth a special...   |   What are the most useful tools in an Asian kitchen... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.