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KNOT DESCRIPTION In general, the types of knot used for binding or immobilising a victim are very few in number. These generally take the form of an overhand knot or a half-hitch and often found is the Reef knot or Granny, both of which can be tied as two half-hitches. These two knots are sometimes capsized or distorted, to produce respectively a Cow-hitch or a Clove-hitch. Also common is the Over-hand knot (sometimes slipped) and the Over-hand loop.

Individual tying characteristics can be identified through recurring knot shapes, thus leading to habit or individual knot ‘signatures’. Left twist (s) or right twist (z) can also demonstrate consistent handedness, which may then be related to other ‘reference’ exhibits.

The following examples of only 9 knots represent more than 90% of all knots found in criminal cases in which I have been involved. However there are many variations in the way in which these knots may be formed and in their utilisation in the process of disabling a victim. I have shown the well-known Reef knot and more commonly used Granny, with their respective distorted shape and a number of examples of the Overhand knot and the half-hitch.

1. Reef knot (s/z) – used for packaging purposes to secure two ends together and more reliable than Granny knot - can be tied as two half-hitches. When capsized under load or distorted, the Reef Knot becomes a Cow-hitch.

The images below show the Reef knot as it changes shape to a Cow hitch.

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Stage 1: Reef Knot
  Stage 2   Stage 3: Cow Hitch

2. Granny Knot (s/s) – used to secure two ends together and more commonly used than the Reef knot - most people will tie a Granny rather than a Reef. This shape can also result from the tying of two half-hitches, in the same direction.

The images below show the shape of knot when a Granny capsizes, to a Clove-hitch shape. This still results in a secure attachment, one rope to another, but can slide.

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Stage 1: Granny Knot
  Stage 2   Stage 3: Clove Hitch
3. Overhand Knot variations – the overhand knot is commonly found, with certain identifiable characteristics, depending upon use and position.

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Overhand Knot (s)
often tied to prevent the end of the rope fraying or the main knot untying. The half-hitch shown later is the same shape as an Overhand knot, but tied around an object.


Slipped Overhand Knot (s)
as for Overhand, but the end not pulled through. This becomes a tyer characteristic, if it occurs several times.

  Overhand Loop (z)
commonly used knot if a loop is required, at the end of a rope
or cord.

4. Half hitches- often found where it is required to tie
a rope back onto itself or to a body part.

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Half-hitch (s)
used to secure rope to another piece of rope or to a body part. Should be followed by a second half-hitch to ensure knot security, which may be tied with the same left-hand twist (s) or a right-hand twist (z) – this handedness (or twist) can
become significant.


Slipped Half-hitch (s)
same characteristic as for the slipped overhand knot. If used elsewhere in the bindings, this becomes indicative of a tyer habit and comprises part of the
knot ‘signature’.

5. Knots for neck ligatures - neck ligatures are generally tied with half-hitches, a Reef or Granny, so as to produce strangulation using two hands. However a hanging ligature will generally be some sort of slip-knot, which could be a ‘noose’ or a hangman’s knot of some type – these are several variations, such as the Simple noose, Scaffold Knot and the Hangman’s noose.
simple noose
scaffold knot
hangman's noose
Simple noose
Scaffold Knot
Hangman's noose
Rarely found are the skills to tie this type of knot, which were commonplace in the 18th and 19th century. However, an attempt is always made to tie a noose that works and this tends to utilize some of the features of knots evolved over many years, specifically for the purpose of hanging.
6. Sophisticated knots- occasionally more sophisticated knotting is found, such as Sheet bend, Bowline, Figure of eight and maybe a selection of knots used in boating, fishing, climbing or trade applications - this becomes more significant. Comparisons are then made with ‘reference’ knots, as available from sources such as home or the work environment, which can thus lead to a recreational or tradesman connection. It is unusual to find knots of this nature, which would then be significant because they are seldom found. The Bibliography as set out in the Reference section provides data on a huge selection of between 300 and 3,000 knots in the selected books.

7. Bibliography - should further studies of the more sophisticated knots be required, I have found certain specific books to be well-informed, comprehensive and generally accurate in terms of terminology used.

In the reference section of this website, there is a list of useful books written by Geoffrey Budworth, Des Pawson and Clifford Ashley. Over 300 knots are described in Geoff Budworth’s books, whilst the well-known Ashley Book of Knots has nearly 3,000 knots and knot shapes. Perhaps the most informative book written for the purpose of forensic knot analysis is by Robert Chisnall – access Reference for more detail.

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