Arrow entrance wounds with blackened margins simulating bullet wipe

  • Arianna Giorgetti
  • Markus Große Perdekamp
  • Katrin Mierdel
  • Vanessa Thoma
  • Stefan Pollak
  • Dorothee GeisenbergerEmail author
Original Article


Crossbows are ancient distance weapons, which in modern times have been largely replaced by guns. Nowadays, they are used for target shooting and in some countries also for hunting. Bolts/arrows fired from a crossbow have a rather low initial velocity but a high penetration capacity comparable to bullets shot from firearms. A considerable number of homicidal, suicidal, and accidental crossbow injuries have been reported up to the present day both under clinical and medicolegal aspects. A recent suicide case gave rise to a systematic study of entrance wounds from field-tipped arrows with shafts made of carbon. Composite models (ballistic gelatin covered with pig skin) served as targets. As found in the suicide case presented, the roundish entrance wounds were characterized by a slit-like severance of the skin surrounded by a pronounced blackish ring resembling the bullet wipe in gunshots. The material deposited circularly on the margins was subjected to the sodium rhodizonate test, SEM/EDX analysis, histological examination, and Raman spectroscopy. As expected, the elements typical of gunshot residues could not be detected. The element pattern of the black deposits was consistent with that of the arrows’ tips and carbon shafts. Histological examination revealed that the carbonaceous material was deposited on the abraded wound margins suggesting a mechanism of friction causing the transfer of material. In conclusion, the presence of a black-margined roundish skin wound does not necessarily mean a bullet wipe. The casuistic part of the paper deals with a suicidal shot to the chest in a 48-year-old man, inflicted with a field-tipped carbon arrow which perforated both the heart and the thoracic aorta. In addition, a review of the literature on fatal crossbow injuries is presented.


Bolt Carbon shaft Arrow Wipe-off Field tip Entrance wound Abrasion ring 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Tillmann Viefhaus for Raman spectroscopy analysis and Mr. Roland Braunwarth for technical assistance.

Compliance with Ethical standards


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Not necessary (no study on humans).

Informed consent

Not applicable.


  1. 1.
    Karger B (2004) Pfeilschussverletzungen. In: Brinkmann B, Madea B (eds) Handbuch gerichtliche Medizin. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 683–688Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Karger B (2014) Arrow wounds. In: Madea B (ed) Handbook of forensic medicine. Wiley Blackwell, Chichester, pp 328–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Downs J, Nichols C, Scala-Barnett D, Lifschultz B (1994) Handling and interpretation of crossbow injuries. J Forensic Sci 39:428–445PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Missliwetz J, Wieser I (1985) Medical and technical aspects of the weapon effect. I. the bow and crossbow. Beitr Gerichtl Med 43:437–444PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Rogers C, Dowell S, Choi J, Sathyavagiswaran L (1990) Crossbow injuries. J Forensic Sci 35:886–890PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Karger B, Sudhues H, Kneubuehl BP, Brinkmann B (1998) Experimental arrow wounds: ballistics and traumatology. J Trauma 45:495–501PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Rothschild MA (2011) Arrow wounds. In: Kneubuehl BP, Coupland RM, Rothschild MA, Thali MJ (eds) Wound ballistics. Basics and applications. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg, pp 283–284Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Pomara C, Karch SB, Mallegni F, Marrone A, Ricci S, Riezzo I, Fineschi V (2008) A medieval murder. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 29:72–74PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Große Perdekamp M, Vennemann B, Mattern D, Serr A, Pollak S (2005) Tissue defect at the gunshot entrance wound: what happens to the skin? Int J Legal Med 119:217–222PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Große Perdekamp M, Pollak S, Thierauf A, Straßburger E, Hunzinger M, Vennemann B (2009) Experimental simulation of reentry shots using a skin-gelatine composite model. Int J Legal Med 123:419–425PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Suchenwirth H (1972) Ein einfaches spezifisches Abdruckverfahren zum Erfassen und Beurteilen von Schmauchbildern. Arch Kriminol 150:152–154Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dillon JH (1990) The sodium rhodizonate test: a chemically specific chromophoric test for lead in gunshot residues. AFTA J 22:251–256Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Pircher R, Große Perdekamp M, Mierdel K, Pollak S, Thierauf-Emberger A, Geisenberger D (2019) Bullet wipe on the uppermost textile layer of gunshot entrance sites: may it be absent due to pre-existing blood staining? Int J Legal Med 133:1437–1442PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Merkel J, Mailänder R (1993) Über ein neues Verfahren zur Sicherung von Schmauchspuren an Schußhänden. Arch Kriminol 191:139–150Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Janssen W (1984) Forensic histopathology. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo, pp 289–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kondo T, Takahashi M, Kuse A, Morichika M, Nakagawa K, Tagawa Y, Taniguchi T, Taguchi Y, Fujiwara T, Tsuchiya J, Nakamura M, Sakurada M, Asano M, Ueno Y (2018) Autopsy case of a penetrating wound to the left cerebral hemisphere caused by an accidental shooting with a crossbow. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 39:164–168PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Panata L, Lancia M, Persichini A, Scalise Pantuso S, Bacci M (2017) A crossbow suicide. Forensic Sci Int 281:e19–e23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Řehulka H, Čechová E, Mottlová J, Valenta M, Mareška Z (2016) Fatal head injury caused by a crossbow arrow with unusually preserved posttraumatic volitional activity – case report. Soud Lek 61:2–4PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Guo W, Luo G, Wang H, Meng X (2015) Homicide by Sch from a syringe-like dart ejected by a compound crossbow. J Forensic Legal Med 30:25–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Clerici CA, Muccino E, Gentile G, Marchesi M, Veneroni L, Zoja R (2015) An unusual case of homicide with a crossbow and a hunting knife. Med Sci Law 55:86–89PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Kernbach-Wighton G, Madea B (2014) Morphology and phenomenology of crossbow injuries with a review of the literature. Arch Kriminol 234:154–165PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Karavaev VM (2014) A case of suicide committed with a crossbow. Sud Med Ekspert 57:45–46PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Cortis J, Friedrisch K, Cremer U, Rothschild MA (2013) Eifeler Armbrust-Fall. Fast ein perfekter Mord Rechtsmedizin 23:44–47Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hessler C, Hamel W, Kluge S, Mayer U, Grzyska U, Westphal M, Püschel K (2012) Fatal crossbow injury in an adolescent. Arch Kriminol 229:90–95PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Fieseler S, Kunz SN, Peschel O, Zinka B (2011) Suizid mithilfe einer Armbrust. Rechtsmedizin 21:489–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Zátopková L, Hejna P (2011) Fatal suicidal crossbow injury – the ability to act. J Forensic Sci 56:537–540PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Smyk D (2009) Crossbow injuries: a case report. J Forensic Legal Med 16:343–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Pomara C, D'Errico S, Neri M (2007) An unusual case of crossbow homicide. Forensic Sci Med Pathol 3:124–127PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Karger B, Bratzke H, Grass H, Lasczkowski G, Lessig R, Monticelli F, Wiese J, Zweihoff RF (2004) Crossbow homicides. Int J Legal Med 118:332–336PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Grellner W, Buhmann D, Giese A, Gehrke G, Koops E, Püschel K (2004) Fatal and non-fatal injuries caused by crossbows. Forensic Sci Int 142:17–23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Rompen JC, Meek MF, van Andel MV (2000) A cause célèbre: the so-called “ballpoint murder”. J Forensic Sci 45:1144–1147PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Eriksson A, Georén B, Öström M (2000) Work-place homicide by bow and arrow. J Forensic Sci 45:911–916PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Byard RW, Koszyca B, James R (1999) Crossbow suicide: mechanisms of injury and neuropathologic findings. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 20:347–353PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Taupin J (1998) Arrow damage to textiles – analysis of clothing and bedding in two cases of crossbow deaths. J Forensic Sci 43:205–207PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Opeskin K, Burke M (1994) Suicide using multiple crossbow arrows. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 15:14–17PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Claydon SM (1993) A bolt from the blue. Med Sci Law 33:349–350PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Braunwarth R (2019) Personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Spiegel online (2019), Mysteriöser Armbrust-Fall mit fünf Toten Steckt dahinter eine Art Sekte?“, available at: (accessed 17 Mai 2019)
  39. 39.
    Kneubuehl BP, Coupland RM, Rothschild MA, Thali MJ (2011) Wound ballistics. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 283–284Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Randall B, Newby P (1989) Comparison of gunshot wounds and field-tipped arrow wounds using morphological criteria and chemical spot tests. J Forensic Sci 34:579–586PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Hain JR (1989) Fatal arrow wounds. J Forensic Sci 34:691–693PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Krukemeyer MG, Grellner W, Gehrke G, Koops E, Püschel K Survived crossbow injuries. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 27:274–276Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Pollak S, Ropohl D Jr (1991) Morphologic and morphometric aspects of contusion ring (“abrasion seam”) of gunshot wounds. Beitr Gerichtl Med 49:183–191PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Pircher R, Preiß D, Pollak S, Thierauf-Emberger A, Große Perdekamp M, Geisenberger D (2017) The influence of the bullet shape on the width of abrasion collars and the size of gunshot entrance holes. Int J Legal Med 131:441–445PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Langer K (1978) On the anatomy and physiology of the skin. Br J Plast Surg 31:3–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Ev H, Haberda A (1927) Lehrbuch der Gerichtlichen Medizin, 11th edn. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin Wien, pp 305–306Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Preiss M, Besler K, Zerkowski H (2003) Suicidal crossbow bolt cardiac injury. Surgery 133:228–229PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Besler K, Kleiber M, Zerkowski HR, Trübner K (1998) Non-lethal penetrating cardiac injury from a crossbow bolt. Int J Legal Med 111:88–90PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Fingleton LJ (1987) Arrow wounds to the heart and mediastinum. Br J Surg 74:126–128PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Pollak S (1987) Morphologic peculiarities in gunshot injuries of the aorta. Wien Klin Wochenschr 99:732–736PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Giorgetti A, Giraudo C, Viero A, Bisceglia M, Lupi A, Fais P, Quaia E, Montisci M, Cecchetto G, Viel G (2019) Radiological investigation of gunshot wounds: a systematic review of published evidence. Int J Legal Med 133:1149–1158PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arianna Giorgetti
    • 1
    • 2
  • Markus Große Perdekamp
    • 1
  • Katrin Mierdel
    • 3
  • Vanessa Thoma
    • 1
  • Stefan Pollak
    • 1
  • Dorothee Geisenberger
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Legal and Occupational Medicine, Toxicology and Public HealthUniversity of PadovaPadovaItaly
  3. 3.Landeskriminalamt Baden-WürttembergStuttgartGermany

Personalised recommendations