Bullet fragmentation preceding a contour shot: case study and experimental simulation

Int J Legal Med. 2017 Jan;131(1):173-177. doi: 10.1007/s00414-016-1462-9. Epub 2016 Oct 15.


In medico-legal literature, only a small number of publications deal with lethal injuries caused by shots with modified guns. This might lead to the conclusion that such cases are extremely rare. However, there are cases again and yet again. During the investigation process, the modified gun is of particular importance since it can show an unusual ballistic behaviour. The present paper reports on a suicide of a 60-year-old man, committed with a modified revolver and a lead bullet. The man had a single gunshot wound with entrance at the right temporal bone. Autopsy revealed that the bullet had fragmented into two major parts. The smaller one stood outside the cranial cavity and pushed its way alongside between the cranial bone and scalp to its end position in the left temporal area. The bigger part entered the cranial cavity and ended in the left parietal lobe. In shots on ballistic soap and on a head-model, the ballistics of the weapon and lead bullet were characterized. The angle necessary for bullet fragmentation was determined by shots on ballistic soap and turned out to be 55°-60° at a velocity of around 200 m/s. This knowledge was transferred to contact shots on a head-model consisting of a layered polyurethane sphere filled with 10 % ballistic gelatine and covered with a skin-like cap almost all around. The resulting injury pattern corresponded to the one of the suicide person. The bigger bullet part entered the skull while the smaller part pushed its way alongside between skin and skull causing an outer contour shot. Furthermore, the revolver was documented firing off two bullets by one trigger pull-a phenomenon of importance for forensic casework the authors have not found reported in forensic literature.

Keywords: Ballistics; Bullet fragmentation; Contour shot; Gunshot injury; Modified gun; Suicide.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Forensic Ballistics / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological*
  • Suicide
  • Temporal Bone / injuries
  • Temporal Bone / pathology
  • Wounds, Gunshot / pathology*