Short drop/simple suspension
This is probably the simplest form of hanging, and although unconsciousness is quick, it may not be instant (but see below), and thus may or may not be a totally painless method. It should also be noted that if the process is interrupted before completion (e.g. someone discovers the hanging and loosens the knot), brain damage is a likely result. Anyone attempting this method is advised to read the section Dangers of failing & reliability before proceeding with this method.
Short drop/suspension hanging achieves death by cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain and body (asphyxiation) and/or the compression of the arteries (carotid and vertebral) and veins (jugular) in the neck. It requires little or no drop, as death is achieved simply by constriction of the trachea and/or the blood vessels. Indeed, a shorter drop is preferable for this method as it places less strain on the neck muscles.
Whilst generally the literature considers asphyxiation via constriction of the airway as the main cause of death in short drop hanging, Stone1 does discuss how short drop hanging can take place without the pain and discomfort of the airway being blocked. The idea is to have enough pressure from the noose on the right side of the head, just below the jaw, to constrict the carotid artery. Interrupting the blood flow to the brain causes swift unconsciousness (in 15 seconds or less2), then what should be death in five to ten minutes.
Likewise, death can also be achieved by constricting the jugular vein under the left side of the jaw, which prevents blood from getting back to the heart.
Stone1 also discusses the amount of pressure require to constrict the blood vessels to and from the head. Whilst the jugular might be constricted with only 2kg (4 ½ lbs) of pressure, the carotid would need 5kg (11lbs), but these figures do vary from person to person and with the width of the rope (or whatever else is used around the neck).
If the airway is constricted, and full suspension achieved (i.e. feet fully off the floor), this method, at least initially, is likely to be very painful, as the person struggles for air against the compression of the noose and against the weight of their own body, being supported entirely by the neck and jaw. Clark3 quotes estimates of 1 to 3 minutes before unconsciousness sets in, with full death within 20 minutes.
It is sometimes possible to revive a person after short drop/suspension hanging if discovery occurs before death. People who have survived hanging have described the pain diminishing after a while and seeing bright lights as they drift into unconsciousness.
Some key considerations of short drop hanging are:
Knot positioning. According to a post on alt.suicide.methods, the knot goes behind your neck. Stone1 states it is important that the knot goes high and at the front of your face. Both agree that the knot should pull tighter as more pressure is applied. The positioning probably depends on how you intend to achieve the suspension (see point 4 below). The important thing is that the rope tightens as suspension is achieved.
Knot. A simple noose should do the job. For information on knots see http://www.realknots.com/knots/noose.htm, and note that the Hangman's knot is not suitable for this method. It is important that the knot tightens easily as pressure is put on the noose.
Attachment of the other end of the rope. Must be to something solid that will not break or move. The rope must be knotted securely so the knot does not slip.
Suspension. The rope needs to be arranged so that it will tighten around the neck. It could be suspended from a hook, or over a rafter and secured to something else tightly. It could simply be attached to a door knob and thrown over the top of a door, or to a stair railing. In films people are seen arranging the rope with them standing on a chair, then kicking the chair away. However, this is not necessary.
Effective strangulation could be achieved by simply bending the knees, putting them on the floor, sitting or lying down. In one study of hangings by Simonsen4, 63% of the victims were in contact with the ground.
The key is that whatever position is assumed, whether that be lying, kneeling or feet lightly on the ground, the noose tightens sufficiently to constrict the blood vessels and/or airway. Noting of course, that in some positions it might be easy to stop the hanging by releasing the pressure. The intention with this method would be for the blood flow to/from the head to be constricted quickly thereby achieving a swift loss of consciousness.
Stone1 does discuss the possibility of achieving suspension in such a way so as to put the necessary pressure on the blood vessels to/from the face (at its side), without constricting the airway. The positioning of the knot could be important here, as the knot's position is where the least pressure is applied to the neck. According to a study by JL Luke5, the most popular location of the knot in successful suicidal hangings is on the left, closely followed by the right and back of the neck. Only 5% of successful suicidal hangings in this study had the knot at the front of the neck.
Stone also mentions that having the noose higher on the neck (i.e. closer to the jaw/base of the head) is less likely to compress the airway since some of the pressure from the rope may be taken by the jaw and skull, rather than all the pressure going on the neck. If the intention is to achieve death simply by constricting the arteries to the head, having the rope higher on the neck would seem sensible.
Test the rope. The unconscious body will thrash about as it dies. It is important that the rope is tight around the neck until death is achieved, and estimates are that this can take up to 20 minutes3. If total suspension is intended, it is important to ensure that the rope will hold the suspension while the body thrashes around. Bear in mind that, especially when conscious, if the body's airway is restricted it will do all it can to be able to breathe, and that could include clawing at the rope and wild thrashing around.
Consider putting something around the rope where it comes into contact with the neck to keep it from cutting into the skin. Stone1 recommends firmly padding the front quarter of the neck. For the same reason it is probably best not to use something like cord or wire around the neck. Obviously the padding should not be so thick that it prevents the rope tightening sufficiently to compress the windpipe and blood vessels - just enough to prevent the rope cutting into the neck. Maybe a towel or similar.
Ensure that there will be no interruptions. Bear in mind that the body thrashing around whilst unconscious could draw attention. Having this method interrupted before completion can cause brain damage so should be avoided.
Geo Stone, Suicide and Attempted Suicide, 1999.
SA Schreck, Cerebral Anoxia, in AB Baker, RJ Joynt eds., Clinical Neurology 1988.
Richard Clark. Capital Punishment UK www.capitalpunishmentuk.org 1995.
J Simonsen, Patho-anatomic findings in neck structures in asphyxiation due to hanging: a survey of 80 cases, Forensic Sci Int. 1988 Jul-Aug.
JL Luke et al., Correlation of circumstances with pathological findings in asphyxial deaths by hanging: a prospective study of 61 cases from Seattle, WA, J Forensic Sci. 1985 Oct.