Dead Tigers Kill

Dead Tigers Kill

By Lawrance Kane

Warning: this article is about predatory violence. It contains a very disturbing case study.

The true goal of self-defense should not be to win a fight, but rather to avoid violence in the first place. After all the only battle you are guaranteed to walk away from unscathed is the one you never engage in. Taking a beat-down can mess up your life, of course, yet winners have consequences too. Beyond the physical and emotional scars, there are a host of other issues to address including navigating the legal system, fending off ancillary civil suits, and so on.


Awareness, avoidance, and deescalation skills are the cornerstones of self-defense. They can stave off most violence before it begins, either by circumventing the need to fight altogether or by removing the underlying cause of conflict by giving your potential adversary a face-saving way out. But not always. It depends on what you’re facing. You see, there are two types of violence, social and predatory.

The intent when it comes to blows in a social violence situation is to affect a person’s environment. In other words, he wants to establish dominance, educate somebody, get him out of his territory, or something similar. There are virtually always witnesses, because the instigator is seeking status from the outcome, either by beating the other guy down or by making him back off. It is relatively easy to de-escalate impending social violence if you are willing to lose face. Clever words are more important in these encounters. 

Predatory violence, on the other hand, is a whole different beast. There are usually no witnesses (unless they are his accomplices). While the pickpocket might operate in a crowd, the mugger, serial killer, rapist, and arsonist need time and privacy to commit their deeds. Unfortunately, the very factors that might de-escalate a social situation will often trigger a predatory attack because they make you appear weak and compliant. It’s only possible to de-escalate predatory violence by appearing to be too dangerous to attack.

If you’re alert, aware, prepared, in decent physical condition, and capable of setting a verbal boundary, those are all major warning signs to the predator which may cause him to back off and seek out an easier victim. Nevertheless,  despite your best intentions you may find yourself in a situation where there really is no alternative but to fight. If you’re facing a predator in such circumstances, you cannot stop until it’s over if you want to survive.

Most fistfights end when a participant succumbs to pain or fear and gives up rather than when he or she can no longer physically continue to fight. Humans can take an amazing amount of damage and continue when adrenalized, so once things get physical it is critical to remain mentally and physically prepared to continue fighting until you are absolutely certain that the encounter is truly over. Even if one of your blows knocks an adversary to the ground, for instance, remain alert for a possible continuation of his attack. And, always keep the bad guy in sight until you can escape to safety.

Weapons bring a whole new dynamic into play. Even fatally wounded adversaries usually do not succumb to their injuries right away; they can continue to be a danger for several seconds if not minutes. They had a saying in the Old West, “Dead man’s ten,” because it was a common for a gunfighter or knife fighter to continue the battle for another ten seconds after suffering a fatal wound. So, never give up, never surrender, never stop fighting until you are sure that you’re safe.

Real Case

Sadly, too many crime victims do not heed this lesson with tragic results. For example, on January 1, 2008, Meredith Emerson, a 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate, managed to fend off both a knife and a baton attack, holding her own until her assailant tricked her into surrendering. Gary Michael Hilton, a burly 61-year-old drifter, subsequently tied her up and carried her to a remote location where he raped and eventually killed her three days later.

Hilton reportedly told police interrogators that his petite victim nearly overpowered him when he first accosted her on an Appalachian hiking trail. According to published reports, Hilton stalked the 5-foot 4-inch tall, 120-pound woman on the trail but was unable to keep up so he laid in wait and intercepted her on her way back down. He pulled a knife and demanded her ATM card. Emerson, a trained martial artist, recognized the threat and immediately fought back.

“I lost control, and she fought,” Hilton said. “And as I read in the paper, she’s a martial artist.” Emerson, who held blue and green belt ranks in two different martial arts, ripped the knife out of his hands. He countered with a baton that she was also able to pull from his grasp. As the struggle continued, they fell down a steep slope, leaving both weapons behind.

“The bayonet is probably still up there,” Hilton later told investigators.  “I had to hand-fight her. She wouldn’t stop fighting and yelling at the same time so I needed to both control her and silence her.”

He kept punching her, blackening her eyes, fracturing her nose, and breaking his own hand in the process. He figured that he had worn her down as they moved farther off the trail, but suddenly she began fighting again. He finally got her to stop by telling her that all he wanted was her credit card and PIN number. Unfortunately she fell for his trick.

Once she relaxed her guard, he restrained her hands with a zip tie, took her to a remote location, and tied her to a tree. Predators often take their victims to secondary crime scenes where they have the privacy to perform their deprivations. Sadly this was no exception. He kept her captive in the wilderness for three terrifying days before telling her that he was ready to let her go.

Then he beat her to death with a car-jack handle and cut off her head.

Hilton made a plea deal with prosecutors, leading investigators to his victim’s remains so that they would not seek the death penalty for his crimes. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. Given his age at the time of conviction it is likely that he will die in prison.

Never Believe The Bad Guy

As this tragedy points out, never believe anything an assailant tells you. His actions have already demonstrated beyond any doubt that he’s a bad guy.

Do not relax your guard and get caught by surprise; that is a good way to die. If the other guy thinks that he’s losing, he might be more inclined to play possum or pull out a weapon in order to cheat to win. Worse yet, street attacks often involve multiple assailants, many of whom are seasoned fighters who know how to take a blow and shrug off the pain. Be mindful of accomplices, potentially latecomers, and be prepared to continue your defense as long as necessary.

As the Chinese proverb states, “Dead tigers kill the most hunters.” Remain vigilant during any pause in a fight. You may be facing multiple assailants, an adversary who pulls a weapon during a fistfight, or an opponent who just won’t quit. Once you have removed yourself from the danger and are absolutely certain that you are no longer under threat you can safely begin to relax your guard.

Do your utmost to avoid fighting altogether, but if you fail to accomplish that goal and find yourself under threat never surrender. Never give up until it’s over.

To learn more, consider my book:

 The Big Bloody Book of Violence: The Smart Person’s Guide to Surviving Dangerous Times.

Here’s the Amazon link: