Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's Your Poison??

I've touched on poisoning some in Female of the Species but I'd like to take a different, slightly more in-depth, look at this method of killing by focusing on three common poisons that are used by murderers.  Now there are hundreds, if not more, of poisons that could be used but there tend to be three that are used more than others: Succinylcholine (aka "Sux"), antifreeze, and arsenic (most commonly in the form of rat poison).  It might cause someone to wonder...why these three?  Why are they used more than others?  Well there's a few reasons for each of the poisons popularity.

"Just Hit 'Em With a Little Sux"

Succinylcholine, aka Sux, is most often used as a muscle relaxant to order to help in the aid of intubation during emergencies and surgery.  It is intended to save lives, not end them.  And yet there have been a number cases in which this drug has been used to kill.  Now the question is...why this drug?  Well the first reason is that it's, generally, difficult to trace within the body after awhile...a far shorter period of time than certain other drugs.  There's also the benefit that, rarely, is this drug ever suspected in a death because it's rarely available to the average person.  Being a drug with a specific medical purpose it's generally only found in hospitals and, if someone outside the medical field were to go looking for it, not only would they probably be unable to get it but they'd likely raise a lot of red flags with those around them (never good when planning a murder.)   That being said it's rather easily available to those in the medical field, especially those who work in emergency, critical care, and surgical departments.  For those like Chaz Higgs, a critical care nurse convicted of murdering his politician wife, Kathy Augustine, it wouldn't only have been easy, it'd have been free!  (And a vial being taken from the hospital would mostly go unnoticed.)  The same holds true for Dr. William Sybers, Dr. Carl Coppolino, and surgerical technician Kim Hricko...all convicted of murdering their significant others via succinylcholine.  There was also one other killer, one far more widely known by the public, that used succinylcholine in her murders...Genene Jones, who killed between 11 and 50 young patients during her time as a pediatric nurse.

Don't Drink the Gatorade!

James Keown was convicted of the murder of his wife in July 2008.  How did he do it?  By poisoning, specifically he spiked her Gatorade with antifreeze over the course of months in 2004, culminating with a fatal dose on September 4, 2008.  Outside the rather obvious reason of using antifreeze because it's cheaply and easily accessible to just about anybody there are a few other reasons why Keown likely selected this liquid to spike his wife's drink.  Ethylene glycol, the key ingredient in antifreeze, is colorless, odorless, mostly non-volatile, and tastes sweet...someone who drank it would likely not even know it, especially if it's slipped into a drink that's already sweet.  There's also the fact that, once ingested, the immediate signs and symptoms of a poisoning resemble intoxication - dizziness, coordination issues, headaches, confusion, and sometimes nausea and vomiting...a person could be poisoned right out in the open with no one the wiser for the next 12 hours (or, depending on the dose and person, ever).  There's another reason why a killer would choose antifreeze; the possibility of having plausible deniability.  For the same reasons that a person could be poisoned with the liquid a murderer could claim that the victim ingested it accidently - outside it's taste, which is sweet, it's unidentifiable - or even intentionally as a form of suicide - it's easily available and, again, sweet.  For all these reasons it's likely why not only James Keown chose the poison, but also Stacey Castor (convicted of killing her second husband, David Castor, and suspected of killing her first, Michael Wallace), Mark Jensen (convicted of killing his wife, Julie Jensen), and Julia Lynn Taylor (convicted of murdering her husband, Maurice Glenn Taylor, and boyfriend, Randy Thompson).

Arsenic and Old Lace

The phrase is outlived only by the method of poisoning, arsenic.  The first and foremost reason it's used is because it's found in numerous household items therefore easily available and explained away by a killer - "Of course there's arsenic in my home, it's in my rat poison/pesticide/wood preservative/etc".  And, if the victim is a child, it can simply be claimed that the child got into the product all on their own.  Arsenic can be tested for in a victim but, the problem is, that the test is really only effective within a few days...a year at the most if there are high levels of arsenic in the body.  The other possible problem with the test is that it only shows that there are above-average levels of the toxin in the body and not how, or if, the levels will affect the person...this means that it's possible a defense attorney could claim that, even if it's proven the victim ingested arsenic, this wasn't the actual cause of death.  Many female serial killers of the past used this method, taking advantage of the plentiful arsenic available on their little farms...Nannie Doss (aka "Arsenic Annie" or "The Giggling Granny" who killed 11 family members), Mary Ann Cotton (who killed between 15-21 people using rat poison, which contains arsenic), and Velma Barfield (who is believed to use arsenic on about 5, killing them).

Author's Note: The quote "Just hit 'em with a little sux" came from the testimony of one of Chaz Higgs' coworkers during the man's murder trial.

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