Whether it’s stuffing a body in a vat of acid or forcing a snitch to dig his own shallow grave, almost every movie with a body in it has its own way of getting rid of the corpse. Hollywood has expended more creativity into thinking up ways to hide a body than into writing a good script. But would any of it really work?
As part of our ongoing effort to see how much we can put into our Google search histories before the FBI breaks down our doors, we’ve investigated all the most iconic ways to dispose of a body and found out exactly what would happen if somebody tried these methods in real life.
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10Dissolving A Body In A Vat Of Acid
Breaking Bad makes getting rid of a body look easy. According to Walter White, all you have to do is throw a body in a vat and fill it with hydrofluoric acid. Soon, all that will be left will be a murky goo that was once your friend Gale.
In reality, though, it doesn’t quite work out that well. As far as acids go, hydrofluoric acid is actually a weak acid and is especially ineffective at breaking down bodies.
That’s a lesson that some people have learned firsthand.
When three killers in France tried Walter White’s approach, they quickly found out that all the acid really did was make their victim’s body stink to high heaven. It called more attention to what they’d done, and the body didn’t even break down. When the police found the victim, she’d been in a vat of acid for 10 days and her body was still intact.
A team of German chemists wrote a paper on White’s theory and suggested that you could get better results with different chemicals. But anyone who tried it would still be looking at a horrible smell and an awfully long wait.
9Pulling A ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’
Believe it or not, somebody’s tried acting out Weekend at Bernie’s in real life. The movie is an ‘80s comedy where two men take their dead boss’s body out for a weekend of partying.
When Robert Young and Mark Rubinson found their friend dead in his home, they decided to take him out for one last night on the town at his expense. They threw their friend in the back seat of their car, took his dead body barhopping through three separate venues, and closed off the night by blowing $400 of their dead friend’s money at a strip club.
Unlike the movie, they didn’t actually drag their friend’s body into the club. They left him in the back seat of the car throughout the whole fiasco. So it’s not entirely clear why they bothered dragging his corpse around at all.
When the night was over, they called the cops to report that their friend was dead. But since real life isn’t a raunchy ‘80s comedy movie, the police didn’t just laugh it off. The paired ended up in jail on a pile of charges, including abusing a corpse.
8Stuffing A Body Into A Wood Chipper
The most memorable moment in Fargo has to be when Steve Buscemi’s killer is caught stuffing him into a wood chipper. Believe it or not, that wasn’t just a scene from the Coen brothers’ imaginations. It was based on Richard Crafts, the man who killed his wife and tried to get rid of her body just like in the movie.
Wood chippers really are strong enough to pulverize human body parts, including bones, and Crafts’s plan actually worked out fairly well. He was able to get rid of enough evidence so that most of his wife’s body still hasn’t been found.
His approach left quite a mess behind, though. Even if they never found her whole body, crime scene investigators found fragments of hair, fingernails, teeth, and bones scattered around the crime scene. Blood had also soaked into the carpet and the furniture.
It wasn’t particularly subtle, either. His neighbors definitely noticed when he rolled in a massive wood chipper and started running it without bothering to gather any wood. All that noise ended up being a big part of how the police knew to check his property in the first place.
7Making Them Dig Their Own Graves
The Wild West classic is to hold your victim at gunpoint and make him dig his own grave. It’s a fine way to avoid a little backbreaking labor. But if you’re going to make someone bury himself, you’d better leave a few days open in your schedule.
In some ways, this works better than you’d think. It would seem that most people, when armed with a shovel and staring their own death in the eye, would fight for their lives rather than dig. But, in practice, that doesn’t really happen. In most real-life accounts, the victims appear to be resigned to their fates and dig.
It takes an awful lot of time, though. Professional gravediggers need an hour to dig a grave with a backhoe and the better part of a day to do it with a shovel. And that’s in ideal conditions. If the soil’s hard and the person digging has every reason to take his time doing it, digging a 1.8-meter (6 ft) grave could take days.
The best you’ll get is a shallow grave, and police are experts at finding them. They have “cadaver dogs” that are specially trained to sniff out buried bodies, and they know how to spot the subtle variations on the surface that give away where a grave is hiding. So a body in a shallow grave probably won’t stay hidden long.
6The Norman Bates Approach
Technically, the specialty of Psycho’s Norman Bates wasn’t getting rid of bodies. He just left his mother’s body right where it was, sitting in her house, and went on acting like she was still alive. However, when one man tried the Norman Bates’s approach in real life, it worked out a lot better than you’d expect.
Timothy Fattig got away with it for the better part of a year. When Fattig’s mother died of natural causes, he was too distraught to call the police. Instead, he let her body slowly decompose in her house and pretended that she was still alive.
When friends and family asked where she was, Fattig would tell them that she was in the hospital. It worked for a surprisingly long time. It took about a year before a police officer finally came to her home, trying to figure out why nobody had seen her. When the cop said he knew that she wasn’t in the hospital, Fattig broke down and told the truth.
The autopsy showed that Fattig hadn’t killed her, so he was let off without any charges whatsoever. Believe it or not, the real-life Norman Bates was allowed to return to society.
Well, for a few years anyway. Today, Fattig is in prison for an unrelated theft charge. As it turns out, a person who leaves his mother’s dead body in the house and pretends that she’s still alive tends not to be mentally stable.
5Fitting Them For Cement Shoes
The Mafia doesn’t really pour concrete on their victims’ feet and throw their bodies in the river despite what you’ve seen in the movies. For one thing, concrete takes hours to dry, so they’d have to get their victims to stay still for the better part of a day to pull it off. Plus, it doesn’t work particularly well.
Gangsters have tried this in real life—just not Italian ones. In 2016, Peter Martinez, a member of the “Crips” gang, was fitted with a pair of cement shoes and thrown into Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. His body didn’t stay hidden for long.
Air bubbles in the concrete caused Martinez’s body to float back up nearly as soon as he was thrown in. The tidal flow then knocked him around and sent him washing up on the coast of Manhattan Beach, where a group of families trying to enjoy a nice day out with their kids found him drifting up to the shore.
4Calling The Cleanup Crew
In movies, the mob usually has a professional on hand just for this job. Men like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction are always just a dial away, ready to use their expertise to make the crime scene spotless.
In reality, this job probably doesn’t exist. We couldn’t find a single example of a person making a living by cleaning up crime scenes before the cops could find them.
Scrubbing the scene of a death takes an average of 9–12 hours. According to crime scene cleaner Scott Vogel, it “requires much more than rubber gloves and Lysol.” The blood and human waste seeps into the furniture, the carpets, and even the walls. Crime scene cleaners often have to tear apart the whole interior of a room to get it back to normal.
They say that the hardest part is getting rid of the smell of death that lingers in the air. Professionals have large machines and specially formulated chemicals for that purpose. However, even with their equipment, they aren’t always able to get rid of the stench of blood and guts.
Some people have learned this the hard way. For example, Phyllis Simmons spent several days trying to scrub her floors after she stabbed a man to death. When the cops caught her, there was still evidence left over at the crime scene.
3Feeding The Body To Pigs
According to the movie Snatch, there’s no better way to get rid of a body than to feed it to pigs. “They will go through bone like butter,” the character Brick Top says in the movie. “They will go through a body that weighs [90 kilograms (200 lb)] in about eight minutes.”
Theoretically, his idea should work. Pigs really will eat anything. They don’t even need to be that hungry. One group of pigs attacked, killed, and ate the farmer who owned them while he was giving them food.
They have been known to eat bones, and it’s been theorized that a group of 14 lactating sows could work through an adult man within two hours. It has to be a lactating sow, though. If you use other types of pigs, it can take weeks.
No matter how effective this seems to be in theory, it has never worked perfectly in practice. In most cases, the pigs have left gnawed-up bones or scattered body parts behind. Even serial killer Robert Pickton, who made feeding his victims to pigs part of his signature, had a wealth of evidence lying in pens, untouched by the pigs, when he was arrested.
2Burning The House Down
One classic way to clean up a crime scene is to get rid of it altogether. In countless CSI episodes and horror films, people have disposed of bodies by just burning the people’s houses to the ground completely, taking all the evidence with them.
In reality, though, house fires don’t turn bodies into the unidentifiable ash you see on TV. Crematoriums usually have to get their temperatures as high as 1,100–1,500 degrees Celsius (2,000–2,700 °F) to turn a body into ash, far hotter than the 800–900 degrees Celsius (1,500–1,700 °F) you’ll get in a wood fire. Even then, cremations usually leave behind little bone fragments that have to be ground up by hand before they can be given back to the family.
Those fragments are enough to get somebody arrested. They’re harder to analyze, but it can be done. Crime scene investigators also have dogs that can sniff out gasoline and other signs that a house fire was set on purpose.
Several killers tried this approach in real life and were usually stuck with fragments of bones that they couldn’t figure out how to get rid of—and that ended up incriminating them. In one case, two killers actually tried to burn a body three times and still couldn’t get rid of the bones.
1Burying A Body Beneath A Coffin
In one episode of Dexter, the serial killer star gives another character a tip on how to hide a body so that it will never be found. Bury them in someone else’s grave, he says, underneath another man’s coffin. Nobody will ever dig it up.
This idea has been tried in real life, and it actually worked fairly well. In the 1920s, the DeCavalcante crime family used a funeral home that they owned to bury their murder victims under their customers’ bodies.
They built “double-decker coffins” with a secret compartment underneath. There, they would hide the dead body of one of their victims underneath the corpse of a relative of some grieving family. The pallbearers would notice the unusual weight of the coffin and would often give each other strange looks as they struggled to carry it to the tomb. But nobody ever asked any questions.
No one figured out what the DeCavalcante family was doing until 2003 when a mob snitch described the technique in a courtroom. By then, they’d been getting away with murder for about 80 years.