In the Sign of Three, we learn of a murder and an attempted murder in which the assailant had hidden an extremely sharp blade on the inside of a belt. The blade is so sharp that the victim doesn't notice the resulting wound, and does not bleed until the belt is removed, at which point he exsanguinates.

In the case of the first victim, why did he start bleeding in the shower, and not when he disrobed? Are we to understand that he didn't take his belt off until he was already in the shower?

  • 4
    Personally, I have been cut by blades so sharp that I only notice it's happened when I see blood. Some people report only feeling pressure then later realizing they'd been shot. The speed and sharpness of objects can make them nearly unnoticeable during the moment of penetration. It's not as far-fetched as you may think. Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 8:35
  • The shower would have sped up the bleeding even more than removing the belt already did. Hot water dilates blood vessels.
    – user11375
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 2:32

4 Answers 4


Actually assailant didn't hide the blade inside the belt. He stabbed the victim with the sharp knife and because of the tightness in muscle victim didn't realize the wound until it began to bleed.

If you watch closely you can notice that Bainbridge's face was pale before going to the shower. So we can assume that internal bleeding had started. As he removed the belt bleeding started slowly. He just came out of a long over one hour guard without any muscle twitches. Thus not sensing external injuries. Even if you stand for 1 hour still you won't feel certain things.

Yes he had removed the belt before entering the shower but maybe he hadn't remove the inner shirt. So he can't see the blood.

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  • 1
    +1 Actually, they claimed that it was the tightness of the belt that kept the bleeding (mostly) in check until the belt was removed. Sort of like removing a tourniquet. They showed that the stab was in the back, so he may not have seen the bleeding if he removed his clothes rapidly enough after the belt.
    – Wayne
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 1:11
  • He would have felt the blood I imagine, but more importantly he would have few the wound. If he had already started bleeding then he would also feel the effects of the wound.
    – hmmmm
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:00
  • @hmmmm actually I don't think so. Did you ever sit or stand without moving your muscle for over an hour? If you do you won't feel your muscle for sometimes. This would happened to Brainbridge. Also Tom77 gave a real life example. Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:04
  • Yes sometimes you loose a bit of feeling in your muscles when you stand still for a long time. However that does not mean that you will not feel a large knife stabbing you.
    – hmmmm
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:06
  • The knife was sharp and also small. If you watched the scene you can see that Bainbridge felt something stung him but it was just like a mosquito bite and also the tightness works as anesthesia. Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:08

The attempted murders in The Sign Of Three have some similarities with the real-life assassination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was stabbed with a very thin blade.

Because of the sharpness and thinness of the file the wound was very narrow and, due to pressure from Elisabeth's extremely tight corseting, the hemorrhage of blood into the pericardial sac around the heart was slowed to mere drops. Until this sac filled, the beating of her heart was not impeded, which is why Elisabeth had been able to walk from the site of the assault and up the boat’s boarding ramp. Had the weapon not been removed, she would have lived a while longer, as it would have acted like a plug to stop the bleeding.

So perhaps it's not quite as absurd as it appears.

  • "After Lucheni struck her, the empress collapsed. A coach driver helped her to her feet and alerted the Austrian concierge of the Beau-Rivage, a man named Planner, who had been watching the empress' progress toward the Geneve. The two women walked roughly 100 yards (91 m) to the gangway and boarded, at which point Sztaray relaxed her hold on Elisabeth's arm"
    – hmmmm
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:13
  • From the same Wikipedia page, your quote is taken slightly out of context. It is not as if she showed not signs of being stabbed
    – hmmmm
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:14

Yes, it is ridiculous. Also, I don't think that the blade was hidden on the inside of the belt but that the murderer stabbed through the belt with the "very sharp knife"

I also agree with you that the murder victim would not have turned the shower on and then dis-robed.

I'm also not sure that if this murder technique had worked that he would have died so fast.


Delta fibers (aka slow pain fibers) carry sensations of pressure, pain, and cold if I remember correctly. Applied pressure can "crowd out" slow pain conduction. What's the first action you take after stubbing your toe? You rub it. It's the same methodology that chiropractors use with "manipulations" very rarely is anything actually "manipulated" but rather a quick applied pressure occurs at the injury site which does the aforementioned small digression, but pertinent. Anyone who has experienced severe back pain can attest to an almost miraculous resolution of pain. Termed the "Gate theory of pain", while nerves can convey multiple signals at once, we process them singularly, meaning the "gate", or your processing of sensory data, has been confounded at the gate.

Apply this pressure to a stab wound and you'll likely get the same result. Unfortunately your fast pain fibers large and well myelinated (think of a large and well insulated conduit) has its own specific pathway that is difficult to occlude. Thus the victim may have felt the initial sharp stab of pain of the dagger, but would have been spared (and so confounding the victims perception of the event) the dull aching pain that would typically follow the initial sharp jolt of pain. Had the guard winced briefly (albeit they are likely trained not to, but physiology is a bitch) it would have made the entire event more plausible. That said, it is very possible that the guard could have stood for another hour with the pressure signals from his belt occluding the dull pain signals that were likely present, but not received so to speak.

There is also evidence - this is slightly tangential but again relevant - that we tend to receive the signals we are familiar with rather than ones we are not, creatures of comfort and habit we are. I.e. the guard was quite familiar with the pressure sensation of his belt while on duty - that makes sense to him - therefore the dull pain signals are being fought on 2 different fronts: 1. A real physiological mechanism, and 2. His own minds hard wiring to gravitate towards familiar sensations rather than foreign ones.

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