April 13, 2009

"If you are a female about 5 feet 8 inches tall, 140 pounds and willing to stick your head in a toilet..."

"... a northern Wisconsin prosecutor wants your help in proving a high-profile homicide case."
[Douglas] Plude, 42, was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in 2002. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out the conviction last year after learning that an expert witness who conducted the first round of toilet tests exaggerated his credentials....

Prosecutors... say he poisoned her with a migraine drug and pushed her face into the toilet to drown her while she vomited.

Plude says his wife was depressed, committed suicide by taking the pills on her own and then drowned. He claims he found his wife slumped over the vomit-filled toilet and tried to perform CPR to keep her alive.

Prosecutors called on expert witness Saami Shaibani to shoot down Plude's story at the first trial.

Shaibani said that, based on his tests involving volunteers he positioned at a toilet, Plude had to be lying about the positions he claimed to have found his wife in. Genell Plude also could not have inhaled toilet water on her own and someone must have forced her head into the water, he testified.

Defense lawyers from across the country have derided the tests and call them an example of unfair expert testimony. One of them, North Carolina lawyer David Rudolf, who clashed with Shaibani in another case, laughed about the tests in an interview last year.

"He had women sticking their heads in toilets!" he said. "That's just not science. How do you peer review that? How do you test his conclusions?"
Is it impossible to drown in a toilet? How would you prove it?


Ron said...

I believe the '40's actress Lupe Valez drowned in her toilet, or at least so it was said...


Joan said...

(Checks driver's license) Yep, 5-foot-8, 140 pounds.

No way am I applying for this job, though.

jrohio said...

There's another "husband murders wife in bathroom" case in Cincinnati that's generated a lot of controversy recently:


Peter V. Bella said...

There was a similar homicide case a few years ago. The expert brought in proved that an adult person could not drown in a toilet; before or at the point of passing out the person would fall over. It had to do with the way one has to kneel and the position of the head in relation to the design of the bowl. The defendant was convicted.

Bissage said...

Is it impossible to drown in a toilet?

For thousands of high school nerds, the answer is a grateful “yes.”

former law student said...

Is it impossible to drown in a toilet? How would you prove it?

In general: No way! One counter example would refute his thesis.

At most you could hope to show how one particular woman was unlikely to drown in one particular toilet, without having her head pushed in.

Parameters would include size and shape of the woman's head, the size and shape of the toilet, the normal and vomit-laden level of liquid in the toilet, etc. etc.

Ron said...

Who dares risk the Chocolate Swirlee of Death?

traditionalguy said...

Re-try the case and let the jury in on the thinking for themselves role. The Aura of a Professional giving scientific testimony has made convictions on fake science the rule and not the exception. Also see, Global Warming Is Caused By CO2 Emissions, while we freeze our butts off.

rocketeer67 said...

Is it impossible to drown in a toilet?


How would you prove it?

By pointing to the fact that I lived past college.

rhhardin said...

Impossible is too high a standard.

If there's a one in five hundred chance against it, then if the jury convicts based on its being impossible, one in five hundred times the jury will be wrong.

Those are pretty good odds.

And the very rare innocent defendant will realize his civic duty in this case is to take one for the team, instead of whining about it.

Joe said...

The problem is that there are outlying situations that seem to defy all logic and odds.

So, yes, it's possible to drown in a toilet, though it may require a series of circumstances difficult to reproduce.

AlphaLiberal said...

Well, if Jimi Hendrix could drown to death on his own vomit, anything is possible.

But how many people drown to death on someone else's vomit? Apparently, that would be real novel.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Centre of gravity issue. No way. Not "unassisted."

Salamandyr said...

But how many people drown to death on someone else's vomit? Apparently, that would be real novel.

Well, there was the drummer from Spinal Tap. But at least he didn't explode.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Is it impossible to drown in a toilet?

Haven't heard from Titus in a while. Someone should probably go check...

chickenlittle said...

FWIW, the risk of this kind of death is virtually nil in Germany.

lumiere said...

Wasn't this particular case profiled on the Court TV show Forensic Files?

AllenS said...

Is it impossible to drown in a toilet?

Where's Maxine when we need her?

AlphaLiberal said...

Centre of gravity issue. No way. Not "unassisted."

At first I thought you'd nailed it, but then realized you are a dude and we're not accounting for a different -- female -- COG. So if she was a bit, erm, heavy, there may have been sufficient front-loaded weight distribution.

Case remains unresolved.

Pogo said...

"Is it impossible to drown in a toilet?"

Maybe, but I ain't taking chances.

I now have a life vest just for loaf pinching.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

So if she was a bit, erm, heavy, there may have been sufficient front-loaded weight distribution

Sorry AL. Being a bit front loaded myself and also having survived college and tequila shots, I can attest that vomiting women don't put their tits into the toilet bowl along with their head and upper shoulders.

No way can you drown in a toilet bowl, no matter how front loaded you are. Even Dolly Parton couldn't manage it.

Pogo said...

I think it's possible to drown in a toilet.

Assuming the toilet is also underwater.

Pogo said...

Or if the toilet is an outhouse.

Pogo said...

Or if you're really, really small.

Watch out, blogging cockroach!

Pogo said...

A rat lived survived in the basement toilet of my college apartment for three days.

I had to plunger the damned thing to make it die.
Now I'm sick just remembering that.

EDH said...

So if she was a bit, erm, heavy, there may have been sufficient front-loaded weight distribution.

All women have a much lower center of gravity than men. To put it bluntly, it's the hips not the tits. By comparison men on average have much more weight and strength in their upper body.

The old trick is to place pack of cigarettes the distance of the elbow to the tips of the fingers away from the bent knee of a person kneeling. Can they knock the pack of cigarettes over with the nose without tipping over?

Women are much more able to do it.

Maybe they should do that old contest in court?

Paul Zrimsek said...

At the same time we move our enemy prisoners from Gitmo to Bagram, we should switch from waterboarding to watercloseting them.

AlphaLiberal said...

Yes, the hips do add to the COG, but not all women had large posterior sections. So, we lack the data in this case.

If the knees were to the rear of the hips, rear COG or no, then it could propel a passed out person's face into the bowl.

Jury's out on this lovely question.

Christy said...

Having replaced the innards of a toilet this past weekend, and having to eventually take a hacksaw blade to one rusted bolt, I spent a lot of time with my head in unusual positions around the toilet bowl. I'd say holding one's own head in a position to drown is unlikely, but it would depend upon how tall the bowl stood, how long her thigh bones were, how high the water was, and how much room was free around the toilet.

Pogo, you tell us, once she lost consciousness, wouldn't she fall away from the bowl and then automatically gasp for breath? Or would the drugs have overridden that response?

Christopher said...

This sort of thing (husband drowning wife in toilet) was featured on an episode of "Forensic Files." I can't seem to find the title of it right now, but it turned on the testimony of a - wait for it - 'forensic plumber' who found marks on the wife's neck that matched the inner and outer rims of the toilet bowl. I think he also found the impression of a necklace the wife wore in her skin as well, though I could be misremembering.

Perhaps it could be a career change for Joe the Plumber.

Now, it is possible to drown in a bathtub. That was the "Brides in the Bath" case of George Joseph Haigh, who drowned three women in bathtubs by yanking their feet up as they were in the tub. Water flowed up their noses, inducing unconsciousness and death.

And no, Lupe Velez did not drown in a toilet, Wikipedia to the contrary. That was a rumour started by that rat bastard Kenneth Anger in "Hollywood Babylon."

Kirk Parker said...


"the normal and vomit-laden level of liquid in the toilet"

Do you have any idea how a toilet even works? The level is the same in either case.


"Is it impossible to drown in a toilet? How would you prove it?"

I hear one of the pirates is still living...

Pogo said...

One way it really could happen would be puking into a bowl that was already stopped up and almost to the brim. Given enough drugs and a nearby tub to get wedged awkwardly between there and the toilet, it could happen.

But how has that scenario escaped all those rock stars?

It would just be very hard as the body slumping would would tend to pull you out, unlike toddlers who aren't heavy and get stuck in plastic buckets.

For an adult who loses consciousness, the weight of their body slumping would most likely pull the head out of the bowl, not trap it inside. So drowning might occur, but the body wouldn't be head in toilet unless something was keeping the body propped forward, like a tub or wheelchair or your husband helping things along.

William said...

This is a black swan kind of thing. Any number of people not drowning in a toilet does not preclude the possibility of drowning in a toilet. We should all exercise restraint and caution when putting our heads into toilets.

Jeremy said...

Peter, Hoosier, Seven, Pogo, Fen and JSF spend half their waking moments with their heads in toilets...and they have huge heads housing little bitty brains.

Why couldn't a woman do the same?

Peter V. Bella said...

Peter, Hoosier, Seven, Pogo, Fen and JSF spend half their waking moments with their heads in toilets...and they have huge heads housing little bitty brains.

Compared to you, who was born with his head up his ass.

former law student said...

Do you have any idea how a toilet even works?

Do you have any idea how a toilet even works when a woman's stuck her head into it?

If so, an expert witness job may be available for you.

Pogo said...

Every comment offered by Lucky/Michael/ Jeremy is excremental.

hdhouse said...

anyone have trooper york's cell phone? i'm pretty sure he isn't busy.

Ron said...

Yeah, Christopher, I do agree with you...just reporting the "rumor".

From The Straight Dope:

This is where we came in – the part with the downers and the commode. There are several problems with Anger's story, starting with his failure to source it reliably enough for independent verification. The Los Angeles Examiner doesn't mention anything about drowning in its coverage of her death, nor does the coroner’s report. True, a cynic raised on Chinatown or the works of James Ellroy might counter that someone might have had such embarrassing details excised from newspaper accounts, or even from official documents. But common sense suggests that if a person with her head in a toilet were to lose consciousness, the weight of her body slumping to the floor would most likely pull her head out of the bowl, not trap it inside.

So while anything is possible, Anger’s version of the death scene doesn’t seem particularly credible, and his clear delight throughout the book in passing along lurid tidbits makes it seem unlikely he'd let skepticism get in the way of a good anecdote. But, like H.L. Mencken’s story of Millard Fillmore and the White House bathtub, the yarn about VĂ©lez and the toilet gained enough traction long ago that it's credulously reported as fact by many sources today. The unadorned truth, however, is sufficiently dramatic: a beautiful, talented 36-year-old pregnant woman was so overcome with despair that she chose to end her own life.

Revenant said...

But how has that scenario escaped all those rock stars?

Well, there are an enormous number of different ways to choke to death on your own vomit, and the pool of legitimate rock stars is relatively small. Then there's the question of making sure the experience is repeatable -- scientific rigor, you know.

My understanding is that Britney Spears was originally scheduled for the role of "musician who drowns in a toilet", but not until during her 4th comeback tour in 2014.

Larry said...

How do you prove it? A prosecutor would ask the defense attorney to try it.

Tibore said...

All those data points from drunk college students, and this lawyer's looking for volunteers?

My critique is that he's not thinking his way through this.  ;)

commenter said...

wow, rats in the toilet. I hadn't thought about that.

Did they pay extra rent for the swimming pool privileges.

Two too many experiences with rats in my privileged middle class live. Now i just realized one more.

Rats, they are not just for poor people.

Pogo said...

To perish at the hands of a porcelain god is most ignoble.

And even though death will not be mocked, he lacks a certain gravitas when this unfortunate demise is pondered.

Lord, if I must die seated or in a supplicant's pose, please let it be astride a fixture more commodious, and less a commode.

commenter said...


can you see me?

i am sitting on the bathroom floor at my sister's place typing next to the toilet because it has a heated floor. I feel rather comfortable with a warmed seat. Life has become surreal. I believe i am just a ghost. My legs are crossed. My fingers are not.

yesterday my mom asked me if i found luck. Tomorrow if the darn weather in this city permits, I plan on looking in the lost and found.

kentuckyliz said...

Call MythBusters!

Pogo said...

Luck is rarely found in the Lost & Found.

It tends to appear spontaneously, like woodland fairies, or the gout.

chuckR said...

What would this expert in the field of death by toilet be called? A forensic toiletologist? I'm thinking, as an alternative candidate, someone who has an MD and a bio-mechanics undergrad degree. This person could direct a study using a program like MSC/ADAMS Android or a virtual crash test dummy, along with, God help us, an appropriately shaped CAD-generated virtual toilet. No, really, these programs exist. Can the expert say, with a reasonable degree of medical and engineering certainty, that it was possible to drown in this particular case? Pay your money and take your chances.

commenter said...

so it is like nature and nurture

lucky i am five foot nine and one quarter inches and don't fit the bill here.

rp said...

The following classic medical article may be relevant -- as the research had volunteers sticking their heads into a washbasin filled with water:

Stewart Wolf. “The Bradycardia of the Dive Reflex—A Possible Mechanism of Sudden Death.” Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 1965; 76: 192–200.