Forensic Friday #2: A Hanging at Halloween

Dr. Eleanor McQuillen’s Crime Scene Painting A Hanging at Halloween

This was the first crime scene painting my mom made. It shows a very literal depiction of what she saw as she rolled up to the scene. As the pumpkins suggest, it was around Halloween. The victim lived in a house in rural New Hampshire but his yard, and the tree he hung himself from, were in Vermont, thus the crime scene was her purview. The body had hung unnoticed for so long that the neck had become elongated. I remember her saying “giraffe-like.” As an avowed hypochondriac I did not need that much detail. The black bird motif was appropriated from the folk art painting Acupuncture Pitchfork Style by John William “Uncle Jack” Dey.

Hanging at Halloween .5

Next’s weeks crime scene painting offers another straight-from-the-windshield view of a scene as my mom arrived to investigate Murder and Man’s Best Friend.

Teaching Opportunity

Adopt a detective’s perspective when looking at this painting and use three simple questions to frame a class discussion.

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

Decide if and when to share the title of the painting as it may guide, or overly influence, the way students view the work. You will also need to decide if it is beneficial to share the back story that this is a crime scene painting and is painted by one of the crime scene investigators for her child as a way to share life’s thoughts and lessons.

Carefully consider if this is appropriate subject matter for your audience. While this image could inform some class discussions, a suicide can be an especially dark and emotional topic.

6 Comments

  1. Zoe
    Zoe October 4, 2014 at 11:59 am .

    Crows everywhere in the world, and then that dark figure under the tree. Extraordinary.

    1. Charles McQuillen
      Charles McQuillen October 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm .

      Thanks for noting and commenting. While my mother had extensive medical training that emphasized scientific and analytical thinking, she also developed a refined aesthetic. I think her composition and the black bird motif reflect that. One of the reasons I wanted to start my blog with her work was because it highlights how artistic thinking and a refined aesthetic can inform and enhance all aspects of our lives. (I also started with her work because if you don’t open with a nod to mom, you never hear the end of it.)

  2. Kate
    Kate October 1, 2014 at 1:04 pm .

    The death is so matter-of-fact–not really the focal point of the painting. But not diminished. But part of things.

    I wonder if she felt that way in her job–like that you have to take in everything, not just the body.
    And that the death makes you want to put pitch-black crows into the world so it’s clear you know what has happened, but you put them in everywhere in the world, not just around the body. Because it’s not isolated, really.

    1. Charles McQuillen
      Charles McQuillen October 1, 2014 at 3:18 pm .

      Yes, I think her paintings reflect her view that death was a part of life. In her later paintings it becomes an almost “Where’s Waldo” effect as you try to find the dead guy. In her earliest paintings, I think the expansive view of the scene and the attention to detail reflects her “investigative eye.”

      1. Kate
        Kate October 4, 2014 at 2:10 am .

        Did she paint in to the pictures the details or clues that eventually mattered to the case? Or was the resolution or lack of it irrelevant–or suspended? ( or were the clues all microscopic?)

        1. Charles McQuillen
          Charles McQuillen October 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm .

          In these early paintings she is providing a straightforward accounting of what she saw. That changes in later paintings. I think for her, the real investigation occurs on the autopsy table and in the related screens and tests.

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