Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nick Berg Beheading Video Analysis


  1. This investigator notes the potential significance of the changes of the time formats, a feature usually performed from the menu function of most video cameras. As the camera and media type on which the video was recorded is not known, no further assessment relative to the format change can be made.
  2. Most interesting in addition to the time-format change is the change of the time itself. Without going into frame-by-frame detail, it is interesting to note that the actual act of decapitation as displayed in this video appeared to have been recorded.
  3. Most interesting in addition to the time-format change is the change of the time itself. Without going into frame-by-frame detail, it is interesting to note that the actual act of decapitation as displayed in this video appeared to have been recorded when the time displayed was between 13:45:XX and 13:47:XX. This is significant as the victim appeared in the video, seated on the floor in front of the assailants, at 2:40:13, or nearly one hour after the decapitation (based on the time display ONLY). This investigator has no method of determining if the time displays are accurate and has no background in video analysis.
  4. The video is poor in terms of quality, yet still appears to be useful for the purpose of bloodstain pattern analysis.
  5. Due to the known anomalies associated with converting the footage to computer compatible formats, the audio portion of the video was not taken into consideration.

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

Based on this investigators review of the video with specific focus on the series of frames that depict the actual act of cutting the victim and the consequential decapitation, there appear to be significant inconsistencies with the cutting and decapitation of the victim. Most significant is the lack of arterial spurting (or gushing), which normally occurs when the artery of a live human victim is breached or cut. This investigator has reviewed numerous crime scenes where an artery of a living person was breached, many by a sharp instrument. In every case, arterial spurting exhibited common characteristics and can best be described as follows:

Unlike impact spatters and cast-offs, bloodstains resulting from damaged arteries are not dependent upon the criminal acts which precede them.

Those stains which are classed as arterial damage patterns, spurts and gushes, occur as a release of blood under pressure after the fact rather than from a direct assault... Once opened, arteries may continue spurting as long as the heart continues to pump and blood is available in the vessel. This means that arterial spurt patterns may be recorded on bystanders responding to the victim after an assailant is gone.

It must be noted that arterial damage can project blood great distances.

Taking into account the definitions and characteristics of arterial rain, arterial fountain, arterial breach, arterial spurting and arterial gushing, and the obvious breaching or cutting of both carotid arteries of the victim while he was purportedly alive, one would expect to observe significantly more force behind the emission of blood from the victims wounds to his throat. Even as the victim was lying in a horizontal position to the ultimate target surface (the floor), there was little, if any, evidence of arterial spurting or gushing. A cut or breached artery has the ability to project a substantial amount of blood a significant distance away from the victim. In many cases, the distance can be five feet or more. Another characteristic of arterial spurting is the familiar W pattern made by the blood under pressure.

Although this pattern was made from blood spurting from a victims artery onto a wall, the characteristics would normally be the same regardless of the target surface, only dependent upon the position of the victim. In the video reviewed by this investigator, the victim was nearly horizontal with the floor, although the upper portion of his body, especially his head and neck, were hyper-extended backward by the initial assailant. Based on the accepted forensics of bloodstain pattern analysis, this hyper-extension, combined with the cutting of both carotid arteries, should have produced a much more defined pattern than observed on this video. Although the video clearly illustrated evidence of significant pooling of blood directly below the victims neck, it appeared to lack the force commonly associated with arterial spurting, gushing, or raining.

CONCLUSION:Based on the investigative analysis conducted, it is the professional assessment of this investigator that the blood pattern shown in the video is NOT consistent with the cutting or breaching of the carotid artery or arteries of a person where the victims blood pressure would be considered to be within the normal range. Based on this observation alone, this investigator questions the authenticity of the video as it was presented for bloodstain pattern analysis.

Arterial Spurting / Arterial Gushing: Characteristic bloodstain pattern on a target surface resulting from blood exiting under pressure from a breached artery. (these patterns are characterized by their size and shape).

Excerpted from issue 9 of Northeast Intelligence Network HQ INTEL-ALERT 2004 Northeast Intelligence Network. All rights reserved.