Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 437–442 | Cite as

Homicide or suicide? Xylophagia: a possible explanation for extraordinary autopsy findings

  • Anke KleinEmail author
  • Carolin Schröder
  • Axel Heinemann
  • Klaus Püschel
Case Report


Determining the cause of death and differentiating self-inflicted injuries from non-self-inflicted injuries is a primary goal in legal medicine. Especially with unidentified decedents, autopsy findings alone are often not sufficient; there is no knowledge of pre-existing conditions and only circumstantial evidence is available from the scene of death. In our case, radiological, histological, and toxicological examinations provided an explanatory model for extraordinary autopsy findings consistent with pica, a rare eating disorder. In cases of pica, variable and potentially lethal complications emerge, depending on the type and amount of material ingested. Our case is of an apparently uncontrolled intake of wooden objects (xylophagia). The resulting mechanical damage to the gastrointestinal tract and subsequent soft tissue damage supports that this behavioral disorder is not only of medical concern, but also identifies it as a mental disease with medico-legal relevance.


Foreign body Perforation Suicide Pica Mental disorder Eating disorder 



The authors would like to thank Simone Kornappel for her help with the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anke Klein
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carolin Schröder
    • 1
  • Axel Heinemann
    • 1
  • Klaus Püschel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Legal MedicineUniversity Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany

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