Saturday, June 7, 2014

Death by Gin - Question From a Reader

Jessica Hatfield asks Murder Lab:

The victim is injected with 10 ml of gin directly into the the lungs with an insulin needle. Here are my questions: 

1) Is the needle of an insulin syringe long enough to inject into the lungs? 
2) Would fluid of any kind in the lungs kill someone? 
3) If the fluid was gin, how would the body metabolize it? 
4) Is this the least bit plausible? 

We've directed this question to Elliott Garber, army veterinarian and Murder Lab Member. Please visit Elliott here for more about his work and his works. Here's what Elliott has to say about Jessica's conundrum:

Here are my initial reactions, with absolutely no extra research done on my part:

1) No, the needle on an insulin syringe is not going to be long enough to reach into the lungs. Maybe if the victim is VERY thin and the murderer presses really hard into the flesh, but I don't think so.

2) Yes, fluid of any kind in the lungs can kill someone. That doesn't mean it always will, though. The lungs can absorb a small amount of fluid on their own without causing someone to drown. However, even a small amount of water can cause someone to drown through a phenomenon called secondary drowning. This is when the water/fluid acts as an irritant in the lungs and results in an inflammatory reaction, causing the lungs to secrete more fluid and leading to pulmonary edema and possibly death. You might be able to make your murder work this way.

3) The lungs would almost certainly absorb some of the alcohol from the gin, probably leading to the same effects as alcohol taken by mouth.

4) I like the idea, but you'll have to figure something out for that needle. It would also be really hard to quickly inject 10 mL through the tiny insulin syringe/needle. Come to think of it, you probably couldn't even put an insulin needle onto a 10 mL syringe. Insulin syringes are only 1 mL or even smaller, and they're using made with the needle permanently attached.

Thanks, Elliott! Jessica, your book sounds intriguing. Let us know when it's ready for the prime time!