Lethal smothering with a pillow: How 181 music festival visitors tried to kill a dummy

Danique Prinsen, Arjan van Dijke, T. Horeman, Nick van de Berg, Arjo J. Loeve*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Smothering to death is most often done with a soft cover, such as a pillow. This is one of the hardest to diagnose causes of death. Knowing more about how people perform such an act and whether there is any correlation between perpetrator characteristics and smothering approaches may help in solving criminal cases involving smothering. Methods: A total of 181 visitors of a music festival were asked to smother a dummy with a pillow. Each participant provided their age, gender, dominant hand, length, weight, alcohol use (last 24 h) and drug use (last 24 h) in a questionnaire. Forces applied by the participant on the dummy head with the pillow were continuously measured and the smothering modus operandi (described by aspects such as the placement of the hands, feet and body weight) was obtained from video recordings. Results: Participants with high alcohol consumption provided higher smothering forces. Increases were also found for taller participants and those who had used drugs. Smothering seemed most effective when placing both hands on the pillow on the head and when placing the center of mass as much directly above the dummy head as possible. A stable, central stance also benefitted smothering effectiveness. Conclusion: Forensic case work may potentially benefit from these results in the future by linking the current results to the location of hand and finger marks on a pillow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110521
Number of pages9
JournalForensic Science International
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Forces
  • Modus operandi
  • Pillow
  • Smothering


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