Just before the turn of the new year, a man in Hesse was found dead in his cellar. According to investigations carried out by the Hanau public prosecutor's office, the man had suffocated.
Authorities reported that he was found with chains tied all around his body, including his neck, and that there were no indications of external violence; the assumption is that he suffered from an autoerotic death. Bild newspaper had reported that pornographic images were also present when his body was discovered.
The search for the ultimate orgasm through depriving oneself of oxygen is the most common reason for autoerotic deaths, according to forensic examiner Harald Voß.
Voß estimates there are one or two cases of accidental deaths annually that occur during sexual activity in which a device or prop was used to enhance one's stimulation for every one million inhabitants in Germany. Around 80-100 people thus die annually in an autoerotic way.
But the number of unreported cases is “extremely high,” added Voß, who has dealt with only five cases in the last 30 years. Cases are also often unknown, he says, for instance because relatives of the deceased are ashamed.
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“Relatives who find the dead body sometimes remove things because the shame is so great," said Voß, giving the example of a woman in Halle who discovered her son's lifeless body with Christmas tree lights clamped to his nipples.
Though this was evidence at the scene of death, she removed the lights before the emergency services arrived. Voß says he was surprised to find burns on the man's body, but it all made sense when the woman afterwards admitted how she had originally found her son. He had tried to stimulate himself by electrocution; too much for his weak heart, said Voß.
Examples of evidence at the scene of an autoerotic death include: an exposed genital organ, pornographic images, a mirror in the vicinity, restraints that could have been attached by oneself, plastic bags around one's head, and if the person was alone in a closed room and did not leave a farewell letter.
Usually men are the victims of deadly autoerotic cases, according to Voß. There are cases with women too, but they're less likely to die because women are “more cautious and don't incorporate so many intricacies."
According to Frankfurter Rundschau, a man in Hamburg who is believed to have suffered from an autoerotic death covered himself with sliced cheese, pulled pantyhose over his upper body, put on a raincoat and a diving suit and then sat down with a plastic bag over his head in front of a heater that was switched on.
Between 1983 and 2003, 40 accidental autoerotic fatalities in northern Germany were investigated at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Hamburg. All of the victims were males between the ages of 13 and 79 years old.
For Voß, the risks involved with such sex practices are underestimated. “Losing consciousness can happen quicker than people think,” said the forensic examiner, adding that part of the allure for people is the feeling of powerlessness or the thrill of potential danger.
Other known cases include American actor David Carradine, who was found strangled in a closet in 2009, and INXS singer Michael Hutchence, who was discovered strangled by a belt in a hotel room in 1997.
It has been suggested that Hutchence died in an autoerotic fashion, but this remains unclear.
With regards to Carradine, a coroner had said: "He died after he satisfied himself."
David Carradine. Photo: DPA