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In a story published Thursday morning, the Washington Post broke news that Jeffrey Epstein’s autopsy had found “multiple breaks in his neck bones.” WaPo played this revelation up, saying it is “deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death.”
The Post’s story helped fuel conspiracy theories surrounding Epstein’s death, which authorities have called an apparent suicide. But, according to medical experts I spoke to Thursday, the evidence presented in WaPo’s story was actually consistent with suicidal hangings. Let’s walk through this…
The hyoid bone
At the heart of WaPo’s story was the revelation that among the broken bones in Epstein’s neck was the hyoid bone. As WaPo reported, such breaks are associated with “victims of homicide by strangulation.” That is true.
BUT, as WaPo also reported, “Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older.” Epstein was 66.
And yet the story seemed to concentrate on the broken hyoid bone to paint a picture of possible foul play…
What Sanjay Gupta told me
To get a better understanding of this, I spoke on the phone with Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. Gupta immediately noted that “once you get beyond 40 or 50” the hyoid bone “becomes much more brittle and easier to break.” Again, Epstein was 66.
But what Gupta found most interesting was that, in its totality, the autopsy results presented in WaPo’s story actually were more consistent with a suicidal hanging than a strangulation. Why? Because of the multiple broken neck bones.
“It actually suggests much more strongly that it was hanging versus strangulation,” Gupta explained. “You wouldn’t break those other bones during a strangulation.”
What other experts told me
I obviously wanted to check in with some other medical experts to get a second, third, and even fourth opinion. I spoke on the phone with Gerald Rodts, chief of spinal surgery at the Emory Clinic. He said, “The presence of other broken bones in his neck, from a guy 66 years old, is very consistent with suicidal hanging.” Rodts agreed that “classically with strangulation, you don’t see broken bones. It’s not common. That’s what really kind of goes against that theory.”
I also talked with Bill Lloyd, a surgeon board-certified in both ophthalmology and anatomic pathology, with training in forensic pathology. He cautioned against even looking at the hyoid bone, calling it “meaningless” and saying he was “not persuaded that [Epstein] didn’t hang himself.”
“Stay away from it,” Lloyd said. “It doesn’t indicate anything.” Lloyd added, “You can twist the hyoid bone theory to tell whatever story you want to tell. It just gives naysayers the ability to advance whatever conspiracy theories they want to tell.”
Finally, I chatted with Cyril Wecht, a high-profile forensic pathologist who had previously expressed some suspicion about Epstein’s death. But, he too explained, if the possibility of force during the hanging could be shown, “and if there are cervical vertebrae fractures, and a fractured hyoid bone, I would say that is more consistent with a hanging in that fashion than it would be a strangulation.”