Editor’s Note: If you are someone considering suicide or looking for a way to help someone in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a certified listener.
The supposed suicide of Jeffery Epstein has fanned the speculation of a cover-up across the entire ideological spectrum. Epstein, an uber wealthy financial expert, had hired nubile young women for sexual favors and proceeded to invite the wealthy and powerful to indulge in his bacchanalias. Many powerful men consider the sexual favors of young women to be a divine right and expect society to look the other way when caught. But the political winds have changed and these men were about to be exposed, humiliated and even bankrupted.
What follows is my attempt to look at published reports objectively and give my medical opinion. Having done so, I have concluded Epstein’s death was a suicide by hanging.
Before looking at the specifics of Epstein’s case, let’s examine why those who are hanged die. There are basically three causes: a broken neck that abruptly stops breathing, strangulation, and lack of oxygen to the brain.
Hanging was used in the past as a form of execution. Gallows were built prior to the event. This was a raised platform with trap doors. Those hanged had a noose placed around their neck. The attached rope was quite long. Thus when the trap door was opened, the person being hanged accelerated rapidly until the rope abruptly became taut. This resulted in a broken neck high in the cervical region damaging the respiratory centers in the brain stem causing a rapid and relatively painless death.
Hanging by suicide is much more complicated and unpleasant. The person typically places a makeshift noose around his neck, attaches a rope to a hook on the ceiling and stands on a chair. He then kicks the chair leaving him to dangle while the noose strangles him. If he is lucky, the noose may compress his carotid arteries and jugular veins thus causing cerebral anoxia (lack of blood flow to the brain) resulting in the loss of consciousness and then death. If not, the noose cuts off his windpipe and he dies the slow and hideous death of strangulation. Even if the person has second thoughts, he cannot reflexively hold the noose indefinitely to prevent death.
But Epstein did not have a rope to attach to his ceiling. According to published reports, he tied his bedsheet around his neck, attached it to the top of his bunk bed, knelt down and then rapidly leaned forward. This motion would not have enough force to break his neck. According to his autopsy report, he fractured what is called the hyoid bone. This is a U-shaped bone in the front of the neck. It is not attached to other bones, rather to neck and tongue muscles. This bone is more frequently fractured in cases of murder by strangulation rather than hanging, but this bone becomes more brittle with age. Epstein was a big man, well built and six feet tall. But he was also 66 years old. The momentum of his action could have broken his hyoid.
Those who disagree with this analysis will point out that Epstein was about to bring down the rich and the powerful – billionaires, royalty and major politicians. These people could easily have paid off prison guards and wardens to refuse to check on Epstein; turn off the video cameras monitoring his cell and then allow someone to murder him. Their reach could easily extend to bribing the medical examiners and judges who decide what the public will hear. Furthermore, hanging yourself while kneeling with a bedsheet around one’s neck is difficult to do. It would take tremendous will power for Epstein to gasp while the bedsheet strangled him. Which is why I believe this bedsheet compressed Epstein’s carotid arteries; caused rapid brain anoxia; a quick loss of consciousness – and death.
But there is a much more compelling and simple reason why I believe Epstein committed suicide: he tried to do so three weeks prior to this successful attempt. Had someone been in his cell and attempted to kill him, he and his lawyer would have literally screamed bloody murder and asked that he be guarded at all times. Jails are full of video cameras and the assassin would certainly have been visualized.
So why was Epstein put on a suicide watch that was then discontinued? It is because those who made this decision -– including the psychiatrists who evaluated him — were hopelessly incompetent. Epstein was a manipulative man and quickly realized that if he did not strike the proper affect, he would never convince the authorities to stop his suicide watch. This is a known behavior trait of those who attempt suicide. They want to die. Even I know this and I’m an ophthalmologist.
We will probably never be satisfied with the explanations given to us. How come there was no video of his cell? Why didn’t the guards check on him? Conspiracists believe they were threatened and paid off. But I find it much more likely they were just lazy and incompetent. No one will be fired. No one will be charged. The law enforcement system protects its own.
Epstein represented the values of our cultural elite: hedonistic, corrupt, mendacious and amoral. He just got caught. But at least his debacle will make for a good Netflix series.
Joe Bentivegna is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.