Dissolving bodies with acid

You know the scene in <i>La Femme Nikita</i>. The Cleaner comes in and proceeds to dispose of the bodies by putting them in a bathtub and pouring acid all over them. Something very hard to swallow about this scene. Is it possible? practical? What kind of acid would you have to use?

I’m not a chemist, but I think you can rest pretty much assured that this is movie fiction.

While you could probably whip up a brew of acids that would dissolve all the muscle, tissue, and bone, it would probably take more than one kind and it would probably take many gallons of it. So you might as well cart the bodies away in the fifty gallon drum that you'll need anyway and throw them in a nearby river.

Any acid strong enough to dissolve human bodies in a short period of time would be insanely dangerous to use. It would probably also rot the plumbing away as well.

Not to mention the fumes, the smell, the exothermic reaction, and any insoluable residues that would remain.

Actually, the crime library has a link to a rather infamous murderer who tried this. Not a smart move… He was hanged. You can find the link here: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial/haigh/index.htm

Jeffrey Dahmer tried to dissolve bodies in acid.

Apparently, it was a very slow, foul-smelling process.


Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is one acid that dissociates completely in water and is considered one of the strongest acids. Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is often considered stronger because its fumes are toxic and it has the ability to dissolve glass (HF is stored in plastic bottles, whereas HCl is stored in glass), but technically it is a weak acid because it does not dissociate as completely as HCl. - Science Education Partenerships

Haigh’s mistake wasn’t his method of disposing the body, it was his confession in the belief that they couldn’t prove murder without a corpse. From page 2 of the linked site:

Ahh, but he didn’t let it dissolve all the way. He forgot that the fat would dissolve fairly slow compared to the rest of the poor victim.

I’m fairly sure that the Cleaner in LFN was attempting to erase the identities of the bodies, or at least make it harder to identify them. The Cleaner was under time-constraints, and realised that even if the acid worked, it would take far longer than he could afford to spend cleaning.

It’s been years since I’ve seen LFN, so I may be wrong.

Hydrochloric or Hydrfluoric would be poor choices because neither acid is very good at hydrolyzing, oxidizing or otherwise breaking up the covalent bonds that hold together the various proteins, carbohydrates and fats that make up a body. If you don’t hydrolyze the sugar and peptide bonds, the best you’ll end up with is a big pile of sludge on the bottom of your tub. More likely, the acid would merely denature the proteins in the skin and you’d get a person shaped lump with the texture and solubility of a football.
To dissolve proteins and sugars effectively (in the presence of water) you need an acid that’s a stronger oxidizer such as sulfuric or nitric acids. A mixture of the two, or sulfuric with some dichromate in it would be best. Considerable heat and gas would likely be evolved as a result of the reaction, and there’d be some chance of the mixture getting hot enough to either ignite, or boil explosovely out of the tub. If that were to happen, safety goggles would NOT give you sufficient protection, so it’s probably best to leave this sort of experiment to professionally trained chemists operating in abandoned factories equipped with over sized reaction vats, fume hoods and firefighting equipment.

I heard that a strong lye solution can be used to destroy a corpse. If you put the corpse in a tub, then it will dissolve/disintegrate and drain away. Of course, there would still be residue in the tub and the plumbing, as well as the overpowering stench of lye that would give you away. If, however, you bury a corpse, say, out in the woods, and pour lie over it before covering it with earth, then the body will be undetectable after a few weeks or months. Don’t ask me why I happen to know this…

It’s make the body difficult to identify (espec if you drilled the teeth out) but even the best super acids e.g.

HSO3F + SbF5

[gives majic acid (i think) alledgedy named for it’s majical properties to dissolve anything].

It’d go through tissue alright but the bones act as bases and eventually neutalise the acid.

HF is a good example of this, working with it is very dangerous as it burns through tissue and regenerates itself until it hits the bones. It can take hours to get to the nerves (i.e. you only feel it when your home) and then starts to hurt. To stop it you have to have injections of some carbonate solution (can’t remember what now) which is lipis soluble. Nasty stuff. Dyes your skin white too as it eats through

Which is it, children?

Mother-In-Laws, or Tax Collectors? :wink:

All I could think about as I read this was the Simpsons where they were filming the Radioactive Man movie at the power plant. There is a huge wall of acid coming at Ranier Wolfcastle and Milhouse is supposed to save him but doesn’t. So Ranier put on these safety goggles to protect himself.

Well we generally have several thousand gallons of 97% sulfuric on hand at work in a big tank. We use it for pH control ( we have to snap a large volume of water from ~10.5 to near neutral almost instantaneously ).

Had a blowout on one of our sulfuric pumps just a couple of months ago. Did a fine drop of cleaning the cement pad in the containment area. Amazing what dissolving the top layer of something will do for aesthetics :smiley: .

And of course the joke’s always been that if management ever gets too uppity… :wink:

  • Tamerlane

What a bunch of boy scouts you all are, stepping up to the plate to help another of the TM in need of advice. It’s touching.

All your acids are belong to us.

Wasn’t there a serial killer in Pakistan who was caught last year who dissolved the bodies of many little boys in acids?

Lime or calcium solutions work well for this I’ve heared

“Huff & Snuff” killer dean Coryl stupicly tried to use barn lime, which only preserved the bodies. A better method would be those worms/maggots used by forsensic detectives (I forget which breed - haven’t see “Gorky Park” for a while.), leaving only the bones, which can easily go into a 13-gallon plastic garbage bag.

What I’d use in a pinch: Classic Coke.

“Zee goggles! Zay do nossing!”