Thursday, August 13, 2020

Underwater Forensics

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Michael Whyte
Crime Scene Officer and Fingerprint Expert with over 7 years experience in Crime Scene Investigation and Latent Print Analysis. The opinions or assertions contained on this site are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as those of any professional organisation or policing body.
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BTK isn’t the only church leader to be a killer. In Bastrop, Texas, Patrick Russo was arrested for a strangulation murder. The police searched his computer for the name of his victim Diana Holik, but failed to find it. However, when they examined his search history, prosecutors noticed a reference to a Website called “Necrobabes.” The site turned out to offer “erotic horror,” or extreme pornography to adults. Female victims were shown strangled, stabbed, hanged or drowned. Russo was a member of this site, and had viewed pages on strangulation by ligature. He’d even been on the site only two days before the murder, which helped to build a case against him.

Necrobabes is apparently popular with underwater porn fans as well, and there are videos on several Websites showing women being strangled while under water. Extreme pornography associates erotic allure with an act of harming other people or taking their lives. It also can include sexual activity with a corpse or an animal. In some cases, the person being strangled might even consent to an underwater choking game (also called “breath control play”), and these sites often post warnings and questionnaires to ensure safe practices. Some videos seem to involve actors who go through a pretend scenario of drowning someone or wrestling for dominance underwater, for the sexual pleasure of observers.

Problems can arise, however, when these videos are posted for anyone to see. What passes as a consensual game for the participants on film could inspire someone else to attack a nonconsenting victim. Aqua-sadists enjoy water tortures in which the other person might actually be harmed.

Such a case, some believe, may have occurred in Wisconsin, where four apparent drownings of young men between 1997 and 1998 have been examined as possible homicides attributable to a serial killer. The circumstances of the deaths were similar and the principle, publicly unidentified suspect was a visitor of, a site reportedly for gay men who like fantasies about sex under water. This person reportedly enjoyed underwater struggle. He’d made several known death threats and had even told police he was a dangerous man, and yet he has not been charged (yet) in any of these murders.

Zafares advises investigators to be aware of the aquaphilia and aqua-sadism clubs on the Web, because some incidents will involve sexual fetishes for water-based activities. Were someone involved in such a fetish to die, accidentally or not, others might sanitise the scene. Unusual items will assist in making a determination, such as harnesses, cinderblocks with straps, diver weight belts, and other unusual equipment.

Besides potential underwater homicides, dive crews must also be aware of people who go into the water for self pleasure.

Aqua-erotic Accidents

While auto-erotic asphyxia has gotten significant attention, this term generally refers to the use of a ligature apparatus during self-gratification. In rare instances, sexual activity is performed underwater while holding one’s breath to produce the same effects of oxygen deprivation, or hypoxia. The term “aqua-eroticism,” was coined in 1984, and in the Journal of Forensic Sciences Sauvageau and Racette reported what they believe to be the only other case of this fetish, at least in the professional literature. Some investigators might differ with them, believing many such incidents are erroneously labeled suicidal drowning.

In the earlier documented case, a drowned man was found dressed as a woman, with a stone tied around his ankle. It seemed a peculiar way to be swimming or committing suicide, so it was assumed to be an incident of auto-erotic asphyxia gone wrong. It had many earmarks of deliberately induced danger, which reportedly heightens the excitement level.

In the second case, a 25-year-old man went into the water in a home-made plastic bodysuit, his genitals wrapped separately in a plastic tube. He wore a hockey helmet and over the bodysuit a snowmobile suit and ski boots. He was bound with an elaborate equipage- of mesh and chains, wrapped around his waist, knees and ankles, clamped tightly together and padlocked at his groin. His wrists were strapped as well, yet investigators determined that he could have put on this harness by himself. It appeared that the victim had attached his boots to a wooden board, which had initially been fastened to an air raft. The overdressing and submersion appeared to have been his means for simulating a masochistic scenario.

The victim was found completely submerged, with an air tube running from his mouth to a floating plastic container. However, he’d apparently miscalculated, using a tube too narrow for both the intake and expulsion of air. Rather than giving him the right degree of hypoxia for a heightened erotic experience, his air supply was significantly fouled with carbon dioxide, killing him. Once investigators established what had happened, they learned that the victim had been a member of an online auto-erotic practitioner’s club.

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