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!


  1. This sounds like a slow and painful death. If it requires an inflammatory reaction, that doesn't occur immediately but rather takes some time for immune response priming. I'm curious to see how the slow, gradual death of this victim could play into the plot...

  2. Thank you for the input Elliot Garber, and the enthusiasm Kris. My victim is hospitalized due to a fractured skull from a fall. The gin in the lungs was the real crime. The hospital will have their hands full trying to find the cause of her pulmonary failure.
    This is my first book and I scare myself a little bit when I think this stuff up! I will have to modify the story a little bit but I think I can still make it work!

    1. Jessica,

      If the victim is unconscious and intubated, would it be possible to get the gin into the tube itself so that it poured into the lungs directly?

      Does gin have to be the murder weapon? I would guess that it does because it is an odd way to murder someone. Something very lethal is halon that is used in household fire extinguishers. A little shot of that would be enough to suffocate someone.

      I clicked on the link to your blog and I noticed that your location is the same as the town in Tennessee that I grew up in. It is a small world. Good luck with your novel and if you have any airplane or military questions, please give me a shout.

    2. Rob,
      Gin is symbolic in the story. The murderer is not a professional but received advice from a professional but botched it up.
      And, the world is smaller than you think. I am also in the same profession as you. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight!

    3. How about that, it is a small world after all. Forget the part about airplane questions, all I would do is embarass myself around you. You might ask, how does an airplane fly? I would say in my cool, pilot voice. PFM, pure magic. You would have to wonder how I fool them twice a year in the sim. Ha ha

      I see your name in the dropdown box everytime I look at my buddy Jarred's calendar. I try to avoid the planet as much as possible but if you see a short, gray headed guy in a white shirt walking around at 2 AM, please say hi.

      I would love to know more about the story, do you have a blog or website?