How To Dispose of a Dead Body

I must point out right away that’s I’m talking about fictional bodies here— if you have a real-world corpse around, the only solution is to summon the police immediately. Yes, even if you were the one that caused the corpse to be a corpse. Immediate police summoning is for the best. Imagine how much easier O. J. Simpson’s life would have been if he’d called the police as soon as he got done murdering Nicole and Ron. He’d have had to do a little time for manslaughter, they would have written it off as a crime of passion, and when he got out no one would have been mad at him but Nicole and Ron’s families.

Fictional dead bodies are a fact of the writing life. If you go in for writing murder mysteries, they are your bread and butter. (Or steak and salad, if you are doing Keto.) But almost any other type of fiction might have a murder or a murder mystery in it.

There are three basic methods murderers have used to deal with the corpses they make. I suppose there are a few other methods but they are for the most part a variant on one of the three themes. Except for that fellow who killed his mistress, stripped her corpse to the bones, and sold her skeleton to a medical school (H. H. Holmes.) Different types of murderer do different things with the body, depending on their personalities and what situations they are living in. Here are the main methods of body disposal.

Leave the corpse where it falls. This is the method famously used by Jack the Ripper. It served him well in the Victorian era when the police knew next to nothing about forensics. Modern let-‘em-lie killers have to worry about leaving any evidence behind with the corpse. In the modern age, it’s best for those killers who use a gun or who are efficient users of a knife or machete. You want as little contact with the victim as you can so you leave little to no evidence.

The problem for many types of murderer is that they want to do something to the victim that would lead to evidence. Murderers who sexually assault their victims before or after the murder risk leaving a sample of their DNA around where it will do the police the most good.

Keep the corpse around the house or yard. John Wayne Gacy famously hid his victims in the crawl space under his house. Christie left his backlog of corpses all over 10 Rillington Place. The advantage of this method is that you have the corpse someplace that you have control over. If you have a corpse in the downstairs loo, you needn’t allow your guests to use that particular facility.

The disadvantage, though, is that once the police take a look at your place, it’s hard to deny responsibility for the corpses they find. They are on your property (or your rented home) in any case. Who else could have done it? Mind you, Christie managed to blame a dead woman, her dead unborn baby, and her dead toddler on the woman’s husband, who was executed for it since the police didn’t do a thorough search and find the other bodies Christie had around the place.

Dump the corpse somewhere remote. This gets the corpse far away from the murderer and gives the body time to decompose before discovery. It’s the method used by Casey Anthony in getting rid of her daughter’s body— by the time it was discovered, the coroner could no longer say what the exact method of murder was.

The problem is that most of us don’t know of properly remote locations that are not connected to us. We may think of that wooded area we found on a deer-hunting trip, but not realize that it’s pretty close to the parking lot of a busy tavern, or that the dirt road that leads there is someone’s driveway.

Some people have used city parks as body dump locations. Thousands of people have access to these city parks, and so the location doesn’t point to any one person as murderer. If the park has some remote spots, you can even hope to not have the body discovered for some time.

Remotely dumped bodies can remain undiscovered for months or years, or can be found almost immediately— perhaps soon enough that witnesses can describe the murderer and his vehicle which were parked near the body-dump site. It’s a crap shoot, but even the most dim-bulb type of murderer usually thinks he can be clever in finding a good body dump site.

As a writer, it is up to you to decide how soon your fictional corpse gets discovered and what evidence may be found along with it. It all depends on what works in your story. For the main murder in a murder mystery, you are expected to make it a little more clever that real-life murders usually are. For example, don’t have your murderer dump the corpse right next to where his dad’s deer hunting cabin is. Fictional murderers need to be smarter than that.