A morbid question about hanging suicides.

I heard somewhere that hanging a person requires some skill to position the knot so that the person being hanged breaks their neck immediately and does not just choke to death.

What happens when someone hangs themselves in their garage or whatever? If they do not break their necks straight away, do they just hang there until they choke?

Basically what I am asking is do people who hang themselves die from choking to death or do they die from a broken neck?

Depends on the weight of the person and how much of a drop is involved.

If you loop a noose around your throat and then simply step off a chair and drop a few inches, you will not break your neck. You will strangle over a period of several minutes. That is, unless you are an EXTREMELY heavy person.

If you step off the chair and drop more than ten feet or so, you stand a good chance of snapping the rope, or ripping your head entirely OFF, if you are a man of average size and weight, and depending on the gauge and type of rope used. Such things have happened in public executions.

I seem to recall that at least one hangman had a CHART he consulted. The weight of the victim to be hanged dictated the length of the rope/distance of the drop. Durned if I can remember where I read this, though…

It’s my first link, so let’s see if it works.


I don’t have the statistics, but I believe that not only in home hangings but also in professionally managed executions it’s more common for the condemned to strangle. Knots don’t get tied right, the drop distance isn’t correct, the rope slides out of place, etc.

The knot used to tie a noose is also called a “Jack Ketch” knot, after a popular English executioner. He was popular, I’ve heard, because he was pretty incompetent and his executees rarely broke their necks, thus giving a good show of kicking and flailing as they strangled.

This book, The Death Penalty: An American History
by Stuart Banner, has a lenghty section on the difficulties that hangmen of the past had with killing the prisoner quiclky, even with a significant drop. Often, the bungled execution was due to poorly tied knots, improper rope, or poor placement of the noose. Many devices were invented to try to make death instantaneous, including a rather unsuccessful one which hoisted the victim upwards quickly, instead of dropping them through a trap door.

It’s not a pleasant way to go if done improperly. The victim, slowly strangling, sometimes will defecate and urinate, accompanied with twitching, kicking, and facial discoloration. The male victims will sometimes get an erection, which is another reason why hanging was eventually phased out. (Executions were seen as fun for the whole family, and people objected to their womenfolk and children seeing a peeing, pooping man with an erection.)

Hanging was phased out as a means of execution mainly because quick death was so iffy. Modern means such as electrocution were seen as more “humane” than hanging.

it works like this. A person can die one of 2 ways.

  1. the rope crushes their windpipe, slowly choking them to death

or (and probably much more likely)

the rope presses the carotid artery closed, cutting off oxygen to the brain & leading to brain death in 10 minutes.

People who hang themselves at home die from blood circulation being cut off to the brain.

I always wondered how easy it was to just hang yourself, with a bedsheet or belt etc. etc. One hears constantly of people who hang themselves in prison cells etc. It must be incredibly easy to lose consciousness with something constricting the flow of blood to the brain.

How can human beings be so fragile?

tonbo0422 that’s sort of why I asked. I hear that in jail you have to take off you belt and shoelaces. How the F*ck do people hang themselves with shoelaces?

As to the replies: So these people are basically choking to death or depriving their brains of blood so they die eventually. I realise that you have to be in a pretty low state to implement suicide, but surely if you have 10 minutes of choking pain to deal with you might reconsider your prospects? I always thought it was somewhow quicker.

Possibly misplaced PS: I am in no way trying to make fun of suicides or the mindset of the people that commit them.

it is quicker than that. You will pass out in about 5 seconds if you completely cut off blood supply to the brain. try it. have someone else press your carotid arteries closed, if they do it right you will pass out quickly.

Evolution doesn’t create perfect solutions, it just selects the option that works the best. In the case of us being easy to strangle, well… you’d have to have some sort of evolutionary pressure related to this, pluss a range of mutations that gave a difference in the chance of surviving a hanging. Or some completely unrelated issue could have this ‘improvement’ as a side effect.

I’ve seen a few hanging suicides, and in none of them was the neck broken. The windpipe isn’t always damaged, either. Usually they do strangle, and I believe most go unconscious pretty quickly.

I did have one guy who, to scare his girlfriend, pretended to hang himself from a tree in the back yard. He tied the rope around a branch then around his neck while standing on the first step of a step-stool. He expected her to see all this, then to run out to save him. She went to sleep instead. He accidentally knocked the stool out from under him, and was dangling with just his toes keeping him from completely strangling. Fortunately, a neighbor saw him dancing in the wind and cut him down.

He felt a bit foolish (but he still blamed the whole thing on his girlfriend).


That guy deserves a mention at darwinawards.com. Well, maybe at “almostdarwinawards.com.”

To answer my own question, human beings are pathetically fragile (as are most living things.) Knowing this, I took my 1-year-old son to Emergency when he came down with a fever, vomiting and diarrhea, in spite of the protestations of almost all my relatives (“Oh, it’s just the flu! It’s going around, he’ll get over it.”)

To them I say: if you can lose consciousness in 5 seconds due to an artery being constricted, it’s worth a visit to the doctor to confirm it’s “just the flu.”

In spite of the $1500 cost.

I believe that most cases of prison hangings are caused by making a rope out of sheet, tying up the ends so that there is a hanging loop, and the prisoner on his knees leaning forward into the loop cutting off blood flow to the brain.

Good decision! Even “just the flu” can be deadly to one-year-olds. I trust he’s okay, now.

Everything, and I do mean everything you ever wanted to know about hanging can be found here.

I remember a prison movie where this dude was intent on dying. 3 times he was cut down and on his fourth try, which was successful, he tied his hands in front of him, stepped over his hands so his hands were behind his back, and dropped head first to the floor from the upper bunk. His natual survival instinct of hands out was moot.

I have a freind (well someone I know anyways) that tried to hang herself and was caught. From what I heard her eyes “popped all the way out of her head…” Anyways when I saw her a while later, she had a big bandage around her neck (for obvious reasons) and she had what looked to be two really bad black eyes.

I would think they take the shoelaces away more for the protection of the correctional officers, as well as the suicide risk.


Thanks! The little guy is fine again. But from what I know about the human being’s ability to “crash” from a seemingly “normal” state, I would bring him (or anyone else—myself possibly excluded!) to Emergency who was displaying alarming symptoms (myself excluded because I don’t like hospitals and emergency rooms! =+)

I know about the reality of hanging oneself because someone I knew did it in a drunken binge over a love unrequited (! puhleeze!) and yet another friend (his roommate) had the misfortune to find the idiot hanging on the shower curtain bar.

Too bad. Dale was a promising actor (this is all 20 years ago) and would probably be happy to see his name in lights . . . maybe even on this board.

But gods forbid the nightmares for the guy who found him. I wonder what the Hemlock Society would have to say about all this.

If you don’t have shoelaces in your shoes, you’re also not going to get very far very quickly if you attempt to escape…