Writers Explore: Disposing of a dead body
In honour of NaNoWriMo, let’s take a look at one of those topics that writers tend to Google far too much – disposing of a dead body.
Let’s be honest, if anyone took a look at the search history of a writer – especially a crime or mystery writer – it would probably be quite disturbing. One of the things that fascinates us writers is how a character might try to get away with murder.
So in this post, and purely on a theoretical basis, let us look at how to get rid of that pesky surplus corpse.
Before we begin, I should point out that every solution can come with an additional set of problems which can spiral out of control. There is no such thing as a perfect murder but a story about attempting one could be really interesting. If you write that, please let me know – I want to read it.
Disposing of a dead body: Moving the corpse
First things first. Have you ever tried to move someone who has passed out drunk? They become unbelievably heavy. That’s what a dead body is like. Your first problem is moving it.
You’ve got a few options here.
- Dispose of the body right there (tricky)
- Ropes, winches, and pullies (fiddly)
- Ask someone to help you (risky)
- Cut up the body (messy)
- Don’t kill anyone to start with (too late)
Whichever option your character goes for is going to leave trace evidence all over the show. However, your character has already got a body so there is no turning back now.
Disposing of a dead body right there
Oh boy, this is all sorts of problems. Dead bodies are basically a huge unprocessed sack of meat and other less pleasant things. They are going to smell bad after a short amount of time. The hotter, the faster that bad smell is going to show up.
Talking of showing up. Flies and other bugs are going to be attracted to the smell pretty soon. If you have ever watched Bones (or similar shows), then I am sure you have a lot of ideas about flesh-eating insects. However, mostly we are talking flies and maggots.
If “right here” happens to be the middle of a woods then you have probably been planning this for a while (you scary person). If the site of death is suitable for disposal then skip the moving stage and move on to a whole other set of problems.
Before you move on, remember that anyone might have known that the victim was heading to the site. Their phone may have GPS so their movements might have been tracked. They might have said something to someone. They might have dropped something on the way.
The fact is that you (or your character) might never catch all the clues and clean them up.
Disposing of a dead body with ropes and pullies
In terms of moving heavy things, some good climbing gear could be a huge help. You can, on your own, move the heavy sack of dead meat that is the victim in your story (this is still theoretical, right). However, you may leave trace rope fibres, cause most-death damage to the corpse, and/or leave trace evidence at the scene of the death. Also, you will have (possibly expensive) kit left over that was used in a serious crime. You will need to get rid of this afterwards too.
In this video, the basics of lifting a body (yourself or another) using ropes and pullies are explained.
Disposing of a dead body with an accomplice
This is another approach you could take. However, having an assistant means having a witness that could turn on you. If your character is of a particularly evil nature, they could always kill the accomplice at the disposal site and double their workload.
Two people moving about the crime scene substantially increases the chances that someone is going to leave a clue behind.
Disposing of a dead body in bite-sized chunks
If you choose to cut up the body Dexter style then there is a serious clean up going to be needed. Cutting is not much use if you are trying to minimise the trace evidence that’s going to show up on your character and the crime scene.
You could try plastic sheeting but it comes with its own problems. Dexter, if you have read the book or seen the show, had a legitimate reason for obtaining and using plastic sheeting but your character might not have a good cover story.
You could try strong bleach for cleaning the crime scene. However, obtaining industrious quantities of bleach just after a murder might raise suspicions.
Disposing of the actual body
One way or another you have moved the dead body to a new location. This probably involved a car, some really big backpacks, or some other form of transport. Assuming that no one saw you and the police are not already asking you to “come along peacefully”, what now?
Disposing of a dead body: with pigs
If you are a fan of British made crime films (Snatch comes to mind) then you probably think feeding a dead body to a pig is a good idea. It might be effective but in terms of plot, Fed to Pigs is a trope that has been a little overdone of late.
Pigs, as mentioned above, are sufficiently common in crime stories as corpse disposal machines that it is in danger of becoming a cliche. It could work but can’t you come up with something a bit more interesting?
Disposing of a dead body: Burial
A classic because it works so well. However, there are some drawbacks.
Digging a deep hole is hard work. you could get help but that has drawbacks of its own. Digging among trees, at night, while maybe a bit panicked is even harder. Doing all that and then not coming home and looking like you have been digging holes is probably impossible.
Digging in the sand is easier but so is the body getting found.
One often explored ide is to dig an extra deep hole and add a second victim (a family pet) somewhat higher up. This might throw the searchers off. It might not if they have read this, though.
Disposing of a dead body: Reuse a grave
If despite my warnings about the dangers of working with other people, you want to go this route then you might be able to find a corruptable mortician and arrange for your corpse to share a coffin.
If working alone is more your character’s style, then re-digging a fresh grave and dumping your poor victim in there, while risky while you dig, is still a logical choice.
If you happen to run a crematorium then you have further options but I’m guessing this is back to the problem of bribing someone and keeping them quite. Maybe acid could do the job of fire…
Disposing of a dead body: Flesh Eating Hydrofluoric Acid
This solution (excuse the pun) crops up on shows like Breaking Bad. To help you give an authentic portrayal of using acid to dispose of a dead body, we turn to science for answers.
This video shows the results of experimentally dipping chicken into three different acids. Chicken, in this case, is a reasonable analogy for disposing of a dead body without the need to do something horrific to another human being.
Disposing of a dead body: Fire
So you don’t have access to a crematorium but you think a fire will remove all evidence. This is no small task.
A burning corpse is going to stink. I mean really stink. All that hair and body waste are going to hum worse than your hasty cover story.
You will need to get the fire hot. Around 1000°C for three hours should do it. After all, a body is mostly water. A fire like that is going to raise questions. On the other hand, DNA and other trace evidence will get eaten up.
An alternative would be to use a steal works. At 1370°C the only thing that will be left will be a little extra phosphorous which would make the steal a bit harder and more brittle. Again, this might be a clue if your character is not careful enough.
Disposing of a dead body: Water
Continuing our theme of the elements, what about water? If you have access to a boat then maybe taking a trip out to sea might hold the answer.
The problem is that bodies float. So you will need to secure them to something heavy. When they go down to Davie Jones Locker you need to feel secure that they are not coming back up.
You will also need a site that is deep enough that no one is going to go down there. The deeper the better. That means a tench or somewhere past the continental shelf. However, out there currents can do amazing things so choose carefully.
The sea is not a forgiving graveyard and things frequently come back when they are least wanted. Have you seen what washes up on the beach? In Margate, for example, World War Two munitions (live and deadly) still show up from time to time.
The general advice seems to be to roll the body in a chain link fence before sending them to their final resting place.
This had the advantage of potentially removing the body forever but the headache of making sure no evidence ends up on your boat. How good are you at cleaning? A single drop of blood or a stray hair could be enough to put the canny detective on the character’s trail.
Disposing of a dead body: By eating them
By far the most effective method, if a little slow, would be to butcher, cook, and eat the body. The bones and teeth could be ground up into a fine powder and used as a food additive. Grim but effective.
If you own some dogs or other animals, they could help you.
For extra horror, if the character owns a restaurant…
Cleaning up after the crime is a whole other story. Almost everything you do is going to leave traces and no matter how carefully you clean, you might miss something. To make your character’s life harder, the people investigating the murder will be experts at finding things while you (or your character) are newbies.
Here are a few things that you might want to add to your research list.
- Luminol – reacts with haemoglobin to enable investigators to detect tiny traces of blood.
- Bleach – because you don’t want luminal to be your downfall
- Matches – because burning it all down may be your only choice
- A change of clothes – everything your character had on is evidence
A change of clothes
Seven years after the police took his boots they were able to get DNA evidence that led to the arrest of mass murderer Robert Pickton. Basically, your character needs to burn their clothes.
Of course, a change of clothes is no help if you cannot get clean yourself first. Which will probably leave your DNA all over the cleanup site. I did mention the problems pile up. Have fun solving that one. More bleach and luminol might be called for but good luck explaining why you washed the bathroom with that stuff.
Blood and Magnets
Blood contains iron and iron reacts to magnets. Does that mean you can clean up blood with giant magnets?
Warning, this video contains blood.
More ideas for disposing of a dead body
This reddit thread has a long discussion on the subject of getting rid of a body. Let’s just say that the pigs get talked about a lot.
Feel free to chip in with your ideas for how a character could realistically get rid of a dead body. I’d love to hear your ideas.