Showing posts with label murder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label murder. Show all posts

01 February 2018

Just Another January in South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

I don't know if this made the national news, but the South Dakota media was all over the story of a 72 year old SD man, Daniel Lucas, who snow-birded in winter to Arizona, and who never came back last spring and was missing.  Well, they found him.  He killed himself in his car, they say.  His head was in a box, and his body down in a canyon in Maricopa County.  So how did he get dismembered?  Well, apparently a homeless man, Mattew David Hall. found him in his car, dead, and rather than call the police, he moved the body but kept the head to prove that he hadn't killed him...  And kept it for a long, long, long time...  They say that Mr. Hall has mental issues.  Yah think?  I think the guy kind of looks like Nick Nolte, so there's casting if they ever make a movie of it.

Mattew David Hall


Moving on, we South Dakotans have our own Kremlin connection!  We're so proud.  Paul Erickson, of Vermillion, SD, is a long time Republican campaign operative.  He worked in SD for Trump, and in 2016 Erickson claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team.  Which is why he sent an email during the 2016 NRA convention to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump with the subtle subject:  "Kremlin Connection":
Image result for paul erickson south dakota
Fun Fact:  Back in 1994 Erickson was an entertainment lawyer
who booked John Wayne Bobbitt
on a “Love Hurts," worldwide media tour.
Subtle, he's not.
"Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed."
No one knows if that meeting took place:  Sessions told the House Intelligence Committee he didn't remember the request.

Okay, so Erickson is also connected to Russian gun rights advocate Maria Butina, who's worked for the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Alexander Torshin, and who ran a pro-gun group in Russia supported by Torshin.  Erickson and Butina formed a limited liability company called "Bridges" in South Dakota in 2016 (I don't know if it was before or after the Kremlin Connection e-mail), which has an address in a Sioux Falls apartment building and no known actual purpose.  (Can't even find it on the web, dag nabbit.)  So - according to McClatchy news outlet, the FBI is investigating whether Torshin funneled money (thru Butina, thru Erickson?) through the NRA to help fund the Trump presidential campaign. The NRA spent $55 million on the 2016 election with $30 million of that going to the Trump campaign.
Gentle reminder:  The reason this matters is that it's illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.  (Thank you, Angela Kennecke for your investigation!)
BTW:  Check out this post from South Dakota's own Cory Heidelberger, with photos of Ms. Butina speaking all over South Dakota, including the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills, where a number of past and current South Dakota legislatures were counselors, or just there for the party.  Including Mr. Erickson...

Our South Dakota Legislature is back in session, and the legislation is coming out thick and fast, and piling deeper and higher.  Some of my personal favorites so far:

HB 1144, which makes it easier for city councils, county commissions, school boards, and other governmental bodies to do their business behind closed doors, especially if they're "Consulting with legal counsel or reviewing on communications from legal counsel about proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters.”  (Someone's trying to do something they don't want anyone to see...)

SB 107, which would repeal all regulations and licensing requirements for barbers.  Can't figure that one out to save my soul...
SB 109, which would repeal the licensing requirements for sign language interpreters.  Can't figure that one out, either...  

SouthDakota-StateSeal.svg
THE Official State Seal
HB 1102 started as a bill to require as much as a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for creating any replica of the Great Seal of South Dakota that did not include every detail specified by state law, including the state motto, “Under God the People Rule.” (See image to the right)

Well, the ACLU and most of us South Dakota smart-alecks had a lot of fun with that (google freely), and it's since been amended to ban renditions of the seal that are “greater than one-half inch in diameter and used for an official purpose or a for-profit commercial use” while at the same time making it clear that HB 1102 does not apply to “or limit any artistic or satirical use of the seal.”  More fun is still being had, because how can you resist shooting ducks?  (This is funnier up here, in Ducks Unlimited territory.)  Google freely.

State Representative Drew Dennert wants to make hunting, fishing, trapping and harvesting wildlife a constitutional right, that "shall be forever preserved for the public good" in HJR 1005, and make "Hunting, fishing, and trapping...  a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife."  Still trying to figure out the "harvesting" part.  I can just see it now - hunters fighting against farmers in combines in the corn fields over the pheasants:
"I'm hunting!"  "But I'm harvesting!"  And shots ring out...

Meanwhile, a Mr. Levi Breyfogle of Rapid City has proposed a new Constitutional Amendment that would make all "victimless" crimes unchargeable:
"(1) A charge of a violation may only be filed by a victim whose person or property has been physically damaged by the defendant. If the victim is incapable of filing a charge of a violation, a family member may, but only if the victim does not object; and  (2) The damages must be physical, quantifiable, and have already occurred."
(Someone's done something they don't want anyone to know about...)

But enough of that, back to the news:

636523968955778979-DUUlef1W0AEUSO1.jpgLocal News:  On January 24th, in an improbably appropriate move, a woman crashed into the Billion Car Care Center.  Meth, not alcohol, and there were also 2 children under three in the back seat, who were unharmed, and are now "in the care of a family member."  Thank God.  BTW, here in South Dakota, if you get arrested, you get to do the walk of shame in jail stripes., which is then broadcast on the nightly news, and she looked shell-shocked, to put it mildly.  Whether it was the situation she finds herself in, or that she hadn't had any meth in over 24 hours, I don't know.

636004804435050121-aqua.JPG
The photo that launched multi-
million dollar investments...
The latest scam:  Perhaps because they saw the EB-5 and GearUp! rifling of federal dollars, Tobias Ritesman and Tim Burns (long-time Brookings developer) cooked up a new company, Global Aquaponics which was going to be a high-tech fish farm near Brookings, SD.  (check out their website here!)  They were going to grow fish and shrimp in tanks, and use the "nutrient rich" water to grow vegetables.

And apparently there were quite a few people who weren't bothered by the lack of experience in shrimp farming available in the High Plains, because they managed to raise a few million dollars. (P. T. Barnum was so right.) But a year later, while the ground had been (barely) broken, no tanks were being built, and there was no sign of anything but a nice office downtown in which Mr. Ritesman went slightly off his nut one day and wanted to know about Bitcoins while waving a gun in front of a tech consultant. Let's just say that everyone got ripped off, and Mr. Ritesman and Mr. Burns are facing federal charges.

In the "we should have known" department: Mr. Burns was involved in the EB-5 scandal. (Thanks again to Angela Kennecke at Keloland News)   And Mr. Ritesman claimed to have won the same "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  He didn't, but apparently no one checked before investing.
(BTW, this proves that there's a reason why Frank L. Baum made the Wizard of Oz a humbug and a conman in his earthly life back in Kansas and other parts of the Midwest.)

National News:  So, no fish, no shrimp, no vegetables in nutrient-rich water.  But we do have radium, at least in Brandon, SD.  Radium, which is (1) radioactive, (2) killed Marie Curie, (3) can occur naturally, and (4) has been in the city's water for decades. It's also not uncommon across the country. An analysis by EWG (go here for an interactive map) found 170 million people exposed to radium from drinking water in 22,000 utilities nationwide.  Brandon's radium level doesn't exceed federal guidelines.  What's amazing to me is how much (and many) poison(s) you can have in your drinking water before it exceeds the guidelines  Look it up some time.  

Well, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

My husband just looked this over and suggested, "Sponsored by the South Dakota Tourism Department".





18 January 2018

Death by Fairytale

by Eve Fisher

A week ago, I posted this image on my Facebook page, and Paul Marks commented, "Eve, I think there's a SleuthSayers column in this":

No automatic alt text available.

And he's right, so here it is!

Traditional English folk songs can be history (a little mossy, a little mutated), myth retold (look, everyone really wants to go to Elfland, if they can just figure out a way to come out alive), news (remember when Alisoun got shot cause they thought she was a swan?), and the occasional unique idea (I'll let you know when I find one).  They're all sung in a minor key, and can be very haunting.  That's why they're still being sung.  And why I still listen to them.

But let's break down these categories a bit:

Most of English folk songs have people dying of a broken heart.  "Barbara Allan" is actually unusual, in that it's the lass that's hard-hearted (although she does die for her dead lover in the end:  "my true love died for me today, I'll die for him tomorrow").  Most of the time it's the lass that got knocked up on velvet green and was abandoned who dies of sorrow (and sometimes childbirth).  But there's a lot of broken hearts, and there still are.  For one thing, it's hard to get to a ripe old age and never have your heart broken once.  And sad songs are cathartic.  There's nothing like a good cry, especially when accompanied by alcohol and maybe a group sing-along in the bar...

The amazingly large number of deaths by drowning makes just as much sense.  Drowning was actually a major cause of death in the Middle Ages because:
(1) People drank a lot.  Beer in the morning, beer at midday, beer at night.  Granted, a lot of it was small beer, but there wasn't any caffeine in those days, and the water wasn't safe to drink and they knew it.  And even if it was, they were still going to drink beer.  Or wine.  And if anyone offered them some whiskey, well, they wouldn't turn it down.
(2) Almost every village and every city was built along water, because water was necessary for cooking, transportation (barges were the equivalent of modern semis), power (mills), and the occasional cleaning.  This meant there was lots of water to fall into while drinking, either from the banks, bridges, or well.  You combine drinking with darkness, and stumbling along home after a few pints at the pub could lead to serious injuries and more drownings.  And the Middle Ages were not known for their seating:  it was common to sit down on a bridge or the edge of a well and have a long pull at a noggin, and tip back, back, back...  Well, watch Oliver Reed in "The Three Musketeers" above...
(3) All that alcohol and water gave you a handy place to toss someone you were tired of, whether it was your spouse, your friend, or the occasional stranger.

Cruel wars...  Well, there's still, sadly, a lot of those.  Of course, back then men were often pressed into service at sea or land, against their will, or deliberately inebriated by recruiters and signed up, or ran off to join the wars, any wars.  Most of the sad songs are about peasant lads being pressed into service and never seen again by their own true love...   Sometimes the loved one goes off in search of her true love, but that rarely ends well, either.

NOTE:  The most amazing story is a real one:  "The Return of Martin Guerre" is about a peasant who went off to the wars, leaving his wife and family, and returned many years later and resumed his life as husband, father, peasant and all was well...  until the real Martin Guerre came back from the dead, years after that, and booted the imposter out and up onto the gallows.  The movie, starring a young Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye, is magnificent.

Execution...  not so often, and usually NOT for being a highwayman or a footpad.  Although there are lots of serial killers, then and now.  And there are songs about the victims of said serial killers, such as "Reynardine", in which the lass is led over the mountains by a serial killer werefox cannibal "whose teeth did brightly shine". 

But most are about escaping Bluebeard types in the folk songs, legends, stories, and fairy tales:  a man who marries successive wives and kills them all, except the last who somehow figures a way out of it.  My favorite version is Grimm's "The Robber Bride".  I was fascinated as a child by the three glasses of wine the Robber gave his victims (one white, one red, and one yellow, which knocked them out), grossed out by the dismemberment (read it yourself HERE), and cheering when the Bride cleverly exposes him at the wedding feast, and he and all his band are executed.

Another version of nailing Bluebeard is a very old folk song called "The Outlandish Knight". Flora Thompson quoted hugely from this in her memoir "Lark Rise to Candleford", because she heard it almost every night from the local inn, as old David sang it to wind up the evening's drinking:



"He turned his back towards her  
   To view the leaves so green, 
And she took hold of his middle so small 
   And tumbled him into the stream.
And he sank high and he sank low 
   Until he came to the side. 
'Take hold of my hand, my pretty ladye, 
   And I will make you my bride.' '
Lie there, lie there, you false-hearted man, 
   Lie there instead of me, 
For six pretty maids hast thou drowned here 
  And the seventh hath drowned thee.'


"The Outlandish Knight" is a variation of "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight".  (See Steeleye Span's version.)  There's a lot of songs about Elf Knights, Elf Queens, and elves in general, and all I can say is, you don't want to go there.

Except you do.  Because it's an incredible place, full of mystery, beauty, glamour, and as long as you're there you'll never get old.  And who knows?  You may be as lucky as Thomas the Rhymer, who returns with the gift of prophecy and poetry...

Nonetheless, it can end badly, unless your true love comes to fetch you, like in Tam Lin ...  Otherwise...  I'd stay home.

And now we come to the last two:

"Wandered off, lost in the woods, and died".  One variant is the Babes in the Wood, a/k/a Hansel and Gretel, who were either murdered or driven out to starve to death in the woods... and do.  (The frequency of these tales can make you wonder about human nature.  Then again, having just seen this on the news, maybe not...)

The other variant is Rip Van Winkle, who drank the wrong wine / ale given to him by ghosts / elves / trolls, falls asleep, and awakens a hundred years later, which means that all his generation thought he died.  While Washington Irving based Rip Van Winkle on a Dutch story, "Peter Klaus", it's a very old legend.  The first go-round apparently was when, in the 3rd Century BC, the Greek historian Diogenes Laertius told the story of a shepherd, Epimenides of Knossos, who fell asleep in a cave and woke up decades later. But it might well be older than that.  There are tales of long sleepers in the Orkney Islands, where a drunken fiddler meets up with trolls, in Ireland, China, Japan, and India.  The Babylonian Talmud tells a version of it.  Who knows?  There are probably some in ancient Egypt and Sumer.  This is VERY old stuff.


Also (imho) old, old, old stuff is "being mistaken for a swan by a trigger-happy hunter."  I totally buy this one.  For one thing, swans used to be eaten, in ancient Rome, in Elizabeth times, and on.  They were apparently a delicacy.  Anyway, hunting them used to be common.  And God knows it still happens, although they're not taken for swans anymore.  Back in November, 2017, a Pennsylvania woman, out walking her dogs, was shot by a hunter who mistook her for a deer.  (Newsweek)  November was actually an interesting month for mistaken shootings:  another hunter in New York shot a brown pick-up that he mistook for a deer, still another up in Hebron, Maine killed a woman on the opening day of hunting season, and yet another hunter in Oxford, Maine shot a man in the arm.  Personally, I'm staying away from the Northeast during hunting season.

Anyway, as you can see, the "Causes of Death in Traditional English Folk Songs" can all still be used today by the modern mystery writer.  Our victims can die of a broken heart, accidents, drowning, drinking (or drugs), execution, serial killers, escaping serial killers, Elf land (think cults of all kinds), babes in the wood, and hunting accidents.  The technology may change, but the ways, and the motivations, stay pretty much the same.

Related image

And you could do worse than to start with folk songs...











13 January 2018

On Crime Reporting

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore

I was up early Jan. 1, 2017. I wanted to start the New Year off right, that is, writing. Also, I had trouble sleeping. I blamed the champagne.  

As such, I was the first person in Upstate New York to see the press release from Doug Brenner, the Oneonta Police Lieutenant who was set to be named Interim Chief that Thursday, stating that Joshua Underwood had been arrested for bludgeoning his boyfriend, Mark Morrison, to death with a 25 pound weight after a fight just after the dawn of the New Year.

It was 8 a.m. “Doug,” I groaned when I called him for details. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Tell me about it,” he said in a voice I would soon get very familiar with.

10 December 2017

Good Drug, Bad Drug

by Mary Fernando

I would like to introduce my colleague: an Emergency Room doctor with a passion for crime novels. He is a father and an all around good guy who saves lives regularly. He is also a passionate fan of crime novels and has some interesting ideas about murder. I will call him Emergency doctor Extraordinaire or EE for short.

My interview with EE was wide-ranging, but one of the issues he discussed at length was fentanyl - a drug that we hear about daily as a killer of addicts. In EE’s hands, fentanyl is transformed into a character, a noble one that has fallen into disrepute, and finally becomes a murderer of one person at a time, or many in one fell swoop.

Let me tell you EE’s story of fentanyl: the good guy gone horribly wrong.

Although fentanyl has been in the news as a deadly street drug, it has far nobler origins. Since the 1960s, fentanyl has been used as a pain reliever when other opioids aren't strong enough. About 50 - 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl is used for cancer pain and thank goodness we have it. In the hands of a doctor who prescribes the right dosage, it is a safe and decent drug. I stress the word decent, because if you haven't seen a person screaming in pain, then you have no idea how relieving this pain is the height of decency and good medicine.

However, if the dose of fentanyl is too high it can cause death. Fentanyl binds with opioid receptors in the brain that give a sense of well being. The problem is that these same opioid receptors are found in the area of the brainstem that controls breathing. So, breathing - essential to living - can be shut down by this same sense of well being - everything is fine it says - no oxygen needed. A high dose of fentanyl gives people such a sense of well being that they forget to breathe.

That last sentence should give us all pause: smothering while surrounded by air. For those of us who write about murder, the focus is always justice - righting a wrong. The murderer is that vile, unsavoury creature to be chased down and brought to justice. However, not all methods of murder are equal and, I would argue, the method of murder is a character in itself. And you will find few viler methods of murder than fentanyl and smothering a victim in air.

So, back to my EE and his thoughts: ‘In a fentanyl naive patient, it can kill at much smaller doses, so a patch that is therapeutic for cancer patients, can kill someone who has never received fentanyl.’
As with all drugs, a tolerance develops. So, patches, clear and small, can be put on the skin of a victim who is fentalyn naive. EE thinks a nicotine patch or other patch could easily hide it and be removed after. Another intriguing method of delivery is a nasal spray - so perhaps a method of substituting that for Aunt Gertrude’s sinus irrigation? Would this come up on an autopsy? EE responds by saying, “At first glance it would look like someone had a heart attack and died.”

This also brings up the issue of getting fentanyl. Healthcare workers can pretend to give it and store it up. Even a couple of patches could kill an opioid naive victim. Or there is always the street market.
EE pointed out a very frightening and immensely writeable option: weaponizing of carfentanyl. This drug is 100X more potent than fentanyl, and as much as 10,000 times stronger than morphine. There is the frightening scenario of mass murder. Carfentanyl’s deadly potential comes as no surprise to the various countries that have experimented for decades with weaponizing this synthetic opioid.
Although never officially confirmed, it was reported that the Russian military pumped aerosolized carfentanyl into a theatre to incapacitate the armed Chechens who took more than 850 people hostage in 2002. In this event, more than 120 hostages died.

This has thriller written all over it. An aerosolized form can kill many - how about a chase to find the carfentanyl and those who plan to use it?

If a character can be a focus- so can the weapon of choice. There is something poignant about a noble drug, developed to ease the extreme suffering of patients, being turned into a killer. Worse, this killer can then massacre thousands. It is a noble character gone wrong. And the making of a crime novel. Or a thriller.

08 October 2017

Hospitals and Murder in One Step or Two

by Mary Fernando
“Hospitals are a great place to kill people” said MC, during our interview, “You can kill people in one-step or two.”
I would like to reintroduce MC – Mystery Cardiologist. He is a doctor who opens up blocked heart vessels with stents, puts in new heart valves and uses defibrillators to bring people back from the brink of death. He is also a voracious reader of mystery novels. What can be more delicious than a man who saves lives and ponders how to kill people? After he read my last blog, he felt it made him sound a bit ghoulish. So I would say, unequivocally, that he is a great guy. A wonderful husband, father, puppy owner who has never murdered anyone. He is safe to have over for dinner and introduce to your children.

Although his one-step and two-step murders are worth hearing about, what is equally as interesting is the character of a hospital murderer.
“There is nothing more creepy than someone like a nurse, doctor or paramedic who kills.” said MC. “That is the person with the most access to the patient, the knowledge to kill and the person everyone trusts.”
MC is right. The best person to know what drugs could kill and at what dosages, is a person who is medically trained. Further, they would know, for example, that in death, all cells break down, release sugar, and make an insulin overdose difficult to detect. However, a sample of the vitreous humour (fluid in the eye) could be a perfect way to catch this murderer.

Setting a murder in a hospital opens up avenues of murder but also allows for the creation of a complex character. What makes someone who has devoted a great deal of time educating themselves on how to save lives, who has a career of service to patients, turn themselves into a killer?  It could be a latent aggression finally coming to the fore, or it could be a character up against hard times who changes and becomes embittered. Or it could be a character who becomes a doctor or nurse to compensate for a sense of helplessness but gradually develops a sense of arrogance and invincibility, coupled with the a distain for those who are helpless like they once were.

One-step murders in hospitals can involve numerous methods. If someone is admitted to hospital for routine surgery such as an appendectomy or even for a heart attack that they survived, then finishing them off in hospital is an interesting option.

In hospital, people have IVs that provide a portal to inject them with something deadly. An overdose, of insulin, epinephrine, or potassium are some of MC’s suggestions.

A two-step murder is another intriguing option. Perhaps a murder attempt - a car accident, or bludgeoning on the head - has failed to completely kill off the victim. Bringing them to hospital provides an opportunity to try to kill them again.

Here a principle of reversing medical treatment is key. For example, if the victim has brain swelling after a thump on the head, in hospital they will give drugs to reduce swelling. They will also raise the head, using gravity to get rid of excess fluid in the brain. A visit during which the hospital bed is positioned to lower their head will send enough fluid into their brain to kill them. It is a gruesome way to die as the brain swells and pushes into your skull and again, it takes a certain twist of character to make a person trained to save lives, now take them.

Killing via an IV line is of course an option when a murder is botched and someone wants to complete the kill. Insulin injected could bottom out their glucose and put them into a deadly coma. Adrenaline could cause a fatal heart attack. And someone who has survived a murder attempt would be frailer and more susceptible to most drugs. Air injected into an IV is a perfect way to kill someone.

Once you have decided to set up a hospital murder, either in one or two steps, there is a wealth of internet info to look at. For example, if you are set on killing someone with air injected into an IV, I would like to recommend the blog by James J Murray, Prescription for Murder, as a great starting point. Another intriguing find is a book about murder by insulin.

For me, the intriguing part of my interview with MC was the hospital setting as an opportunity for murder with a necessity of developing the kind of complex character who would murder in a hospital. I truly think this hospital killer allows a writer to develop a character that embodies the saying: ‘As we get older, we just get more so.'

All our vulnerabilities, our fears and frailties, can be hidden under work and purpose. However, in the end we all become ourselves and more so. What haunts us eventually will consume us and that, in essence, is the making of a murderer.

06 October 2017

More About Inspirations


by O'Neil De Noux

I started writing in high school and in college, nothing publishable. When I became a road deputy (patrol officer), I took note of what I observed and felt. Notes I'd use to inspire stories. When I became a homicide detective, I knew - this is what I should write about. While my first two novels were not inspired by real cases, the anecdotes in the books were. The small stories and the way the characters talked and thought.

My third novel BLUE ORLEANS is based on a real case we worked. Not only a whodunit, it was a whoisit as it started with a dumped body. Didn't take long to identify the victim as a New Orleans drug dealer, which led to his family and friends, which led to the solution of the case. I jazzed it up in the novel, put in a little sex and violence, created a femme fatale.

   LaStanza Novels 3, 4, 5

My fourth novel CRESCENT CITY KILLS is a telling of another dumped body case, the case of two young New Orleans women executed on the river batture (land between the levee and the water's edge, in this case the Mississippi River). In real life, the murders occurred in Jefferson Parish. In my book, I moved them back to New Orleans were my recurring character NOPD Homicide Detective Dino LaStanza could work it. Condensing the 13-month investigation wasn't hard but pacing the novel was difficult.

Those books also had strong ancillary plots - LaStanza's personal life. But I was fortunate to have a framework. Real cases.

The inspiration of my fifth novel, THE BIG SHOW, came from a phone call from Harlan Ellison who said he had an idea for LaStanza. He gave me flashes of an opening scene and suggested I run with it. I did. All he asked was for me to put an acknowledgement: Thanks Uncle Harlan. Which I did. I made up the rest of the story. Inspiration from a phone call.


The third novel in my Lucien Caye Private Eye series - HOLD ME, BABE (which was a finalist for this year's SHAMUS Award for BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PRIVATE EYE NOVEL) - was inspired by a conversation with my literary agent Joe Hartlaub (who is also an agent for musicians). He relayed an emotional story about a lost song. I got caught up in the emotion and was inspired.



Hurricanes are inspiring. Look at the flood of Hurricane Katrina-inspired books. I waited eight years before penning CITY OF SECRETS, a story triggered by the haunting poem "Eternal Return" by James Sallis. Sometimes you just have to let an idea ferment.

We writers get inspiration from a lot of sources. The night my wife walked into my home office with a catalog (either a Victoria's Secret or Frederick's of Hollywood catalog) and showed me a new product - the kissable cleavage bra. I made note of what she said, then wrote a story "Kissable Cleavage" that's been published three times. Sorry, don't have a picture of the brassiere to share.

Sometimes it's the little things, sometimes the big ones. Whatever causes emotion in a writer can cause emotion in a reader if well written.

That's all for now.

www.oneildenoux.com



14 September 2017

"The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" and Other Quacks

by Eve Fisher

Two blog posts ago I discussed the wonderful Goat Gland Doctor, Doc Brinkley and his crowd way down south.  Today, we're on to radium, oxygenated air, and murder.

William John Aloysius Bailey

First, a contemporary of Doc Brinkley, John Aloysius Bailey (May 25, 1884 – May 17, 1949), a Harvard University dropout who claimed to have a physician's license and promoted using radium as a cure for coughs, flu, and other common ailments. Bailey started up Bailey's Radium Laboratories in East Orange, New Jersey, and while the FTC kept investigating him, he managed to die wealthy (as opposed to Doc Brinkley, who died broke).

While Bailey claimed that adding radium to your drinking water (!) could treat everything from mental illness to diabetes, anemia to constipation, headaches to asthma, his two most famous products were:
  • Arium, a restorative that "renewed happiness and youthful thrill into the lives of married peoples whose attractions to each other had weakened." An analysis of Arium tablets showed that they contained radium, of course, but also strychnine...  (see Arium)
  • Radithor, marketed as "A Cure for the Living Dead" as well as "Perpetual Sunshine".  A man named Eben Byers swore by Radithor, which worked so well for him that he gulped down bottles of it - 1,400 to be exact.  At the trial (for Mr. Byers died) it was stated that "The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" - see HERE, p. 18.  
  • And then there was the Radiendocrinator, as pictured below in its beautiful dark blue embossed leatherette case, which contains the gold plated Radiendocrinator nestled in its velvet lined pocket...  (Always give the punters something for their money.)  







Says the curator of a collection of quack cures, "The Radiendocrinator in the above photo was sufficiently radioactive that I had to remove the source before it could be put on display." Remember where it was supposed to be placed on the human body. https://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/quackcures/radend.htm

Mr. Bailey did serve his country during wartime - he was the wartime manager of the electronic division of IBM during WWII.  Who knows how much radiation he carried with him?  In any case, Mr. Bailey died of bladder cancer on May 17, 1949.  When his body was exhumed nearly 20 years later, it was found to be "ravaged by radiation".

Charles Lewis Blood

C. L. Blood (transparent).png
C. L. Blood, physician
and conman
And now, murder.  Charles Lewis Blood (September 8, 1835 – September 27, 1908) alias C. H. Lewis, a/k/a C. L. Blood was yet another self-styled physician, who operated in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  He sold what was known as "oxygenized air", which he promoted as a cure for catarrh, scrofula, consumption, etc.

Now most quacks are relatively harmless, if you disregard the fact that none of their treatments worked, and could kill you in the trying. But they weren't deliberately  trying to harm people.  Blood was different. He had a rival in the oxygen game in Boston, Dr. Jerome Harris, a real doctor, who was giving people "super-oxygenized air" which was really nitrous oxide.  And probably any patients who tried it thought it was a lot more fun that Blood's version.  Anyway, one day Harris treated a man named Carville, who began frothing at the mouth, rolling on the floor, and having a fit. Harris sent him home, Carville called his own physician who cured him! Miraculously!  And the next day the newspapers were plastered with the horrific story of the poisoning of poor hapless Carvill by the evil Dr. Harris, who was only saved by the amazing treatments of his personal physician...  Dr. C. L. Blood.  Harris ended up having to leave Boston because of all the bad publicity.
NOTE:  In 1880, Blood published "A Century of Life, Health and Happiness", a compendium of medical information for the home, and if I ever find it on a used bookstore shelf, I'm buying it.  As long as it's a dollar.  
In May 1884, again in Boston, Blood was arrested for blackmailing Ernest Weber, a local musician. They were, apparently, courting the same woman, Jennett Nickerson.  Cap'n Blood procured from her, allegedly by force, an affidavit to the effect that she had been ruined by Weber (i.e., had sex with him) after he promised marriage, and that Weber had later forced her to have an abortion.  Blood tried to blackmail Weber with the affidavit, but he took it to the police, who arrested Blood.  He was convicted and sentenced to prison. 

Hiram Sawtelle
But Blood got out, and in February, 1890, Blood was implicated in the murder of Hiram Sawtelle, a Boston fruitseller.  Isaac Sawtelle, Hiram's brother, had gotten out of prison "after securing, at great expense, a pardon for his rape convictions."  He moved in with Hiram, Hiram's wife Jeanette, and their mother, a household that was apparently as happy as that of the Bordens.  The main problem was money.  Dad had died, leaving all the money to Mom, but Hiram was managing it, and Isaac was broke (it cost a lot to get a pardon in those days), and he had a friend named Blood, who came up with a plan, involving a third man named Jack...

(Don't worry:  it gets more complicated.)

Isaac Sawtelle
Isaac kidnapped Hiram's daughter, Marion, and used her to get Hiram up to a secluded camp near Springvale, Maine.  Whatever was supposed to happen, it didn't.  Hiram was shot four times, stripped, decapitated, and the body buried in a shallow grave across the New Hampshire state line. When Hiram's wife noticed her husband was gone, she told the police that she thought Isaac had killed him.  Isaac was eventually captured in Rochester, NH.

Meanwhile, Blood's picture was being circulated by the Boston newspapers, where two hoteliers up in Dover, New Hampshire, recognized it.  One of them reported that Blood had been carrying two bundles, one done up in wrapping paper and apparently containing clothes, and the other wrapped in newspaper and "about the size of a man's head".[9]

Isaac was charged with conspiracy, murder, and was awaiting trial.  On April 13, he confessed that he'd plotted to get the property from Hiram, but denying that he planned or had any part in Hiram's murder.  Instead, it was Jack who led Hiram away, Jack who probably killed him.  Isaac knew nothing about it until the day he was arrested, when he got a letter from Blood that read "Your brother had to be put out of the way. Let each look out for himself."[14]

Here's the fun part:  Despite Isaac's jailhouse confessions and the hoteliers' statements, Blood was never even questioned by police. Even Hiram's widow denied that Blood had any dealings with Hiram.  And at the trial, Isaac himself changed his story, confessing that he'd shot Hiram and that all Blood had done was prepare the legal instruments of transfer for Hiram to sign.  Isaac was convicted and sentenced to death.  Almost immediately he recanted his confession and once again laid full responsibility for the murder on Blood:
"Dr. Blood is the man who is responsible. Some time it will be known, a deathbed repentance, perhaps, and when all is known it will be found that I am innocent of anything to do with the murder. I have accused him; I accuse him now. If he had come forward I would have accused him to his face. But why didn't he appear? He didn't dare to; he didn't dare to face me. Now that I am practically dead he can do what he pleases. He has had a chance to establish and prove an alibi, while I have been in jail, tied hand and foot… Blood was responsible in every way. I do not mean to say that he killed Hiram—that he fired the shots which caused his death—but I do mean that he knew of it and was responsible for it."[17]
Isaac Sawtelle died of natural causes on December 26, 1891, shortly before his scheduled execution.

[A reproduction of a visiting card from c. L. Blood.  The card bears the text "Dr. C. L. Blood" in cursive script, and a captioned photograph of Blood in the upper left corner.]
There was no deathbed repentance on the part of Dr. Blood.  Instead, he moved to Manhattan, where he died on September 27, 1908, in Manhattan.  The short obituary in his hometown Ayer, Massachusetts newspaper, reported that Blood "had lived in New York city twelve years, where he was in a manufacturing business."[12] He was buried in Ayers, in the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, but his widow and four surviving sisters did not add his name to the family memorial.  His calling card must suffice...




10 September 2017

Murder, Magnets and Hacks.  

I am happy to introduce our latest SleuthSayer, filling in for Leigh who is single-handedly fighting off Hurricane Irma at the moment. 

Unlike all the other inmates of this asylum, Mary Fernando, MD, is not a professionally published mystery writer.  She was, however, a 2017 finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Crime Novel (Canada). 

She is the first of what we hope will be a new class of SleuthSayer: the special consultant.

Mary will talk about medical mayhem.  She will also field questions from readers and writers about medicine as it relates to crime.  Please don't ask her about your rash.

We are still working at where her permanent slot in our monthly calendar will be, but this is a great chance for her to get started.  Let's give her a big SleuthSayers welcome!  - Robert Lopresti

by Mary Fernando

“Magnets are a simple way to kill someone,” he says, sipping his wine.

“How?” I ask, pen in hand, recording the conversation by scribbling illegibly in my notebook.

My Saturday night guest is a cardiologist. He opens up blocked heart vessels with stents, puts in new heart valves and uses defibrillators to bring people back from the brink of death. When my guest is not busy saving lives, he spends his time being a fabulous husband, a loving father to his children, a puppy-daddy extraordinaire and engaging in extreme sports. He is also a voracious reader of mystery novels, making him a wonderful combination of someone who saves lives and ponders how to kill people. Although I find this combination a delicious one, I am not sure everyone would share my opinion. So I am disguising my guest’s identity by a pseudonym, Mystery Cardiologist, or MC.

The illegible scribbles I use to record this conversation are the unfortunate side-effect of my own medical training.

Now, back to the magnets and murder.

MC understands that a writer wants to kill a character in a manner that doesn't draw attention to the fact that they are being murdered, and that the death should look, at first glance, like an accident or natural death. He also knows that it is always important to have a means of eventually discovering the murder.

“Using lifesaving devices like pacemakers to kill people is a great way to murder someone,” MC continues, nibbling on cheese. “Basically, these devices have failsafe mechanisms built into them and these can also be used to kill people.”

By the time he has finishes off his glass of wine, and eaten more cheese, he explains this in full.

A pacemaker is surgically inserted if the natural heart rhythm is not working. It keeps the heart going at the right pace, hence the name pacemaker. These electronic devices consist of a battery and computer circuitry inserted under the skin in the upper chest or shoulder with wires that extend into the heart. The pacemaker both detects the rhythm of the heart and, when the heart’s rhythm is wrong, it adjusts the heart rate by sending out signals to correct it. More that 3 million Americans have pacemakers. Generally they are inserted in older patients, over 65 years old. Less than 10% are inserted in those under 45. In older people, pacemakers are inserted when the heart rhythm is thrown off by aging or heart attacks. In young people, congenital heart disease or even unexplained slow heart rates are reasons for pacemaker insertion.

A means of turning off key functions of a pacemaker is needed, for example, in the event of surgery where electrosurgical cauterizing might confuse the pacemaker’s sensing system. So a magnet protects the pacemaker’s function when something could confuse its sensing system by going into a failsafe mode with often a very slow pacing heart rate.

So, back to killing with a magnet.

If a character needs to be killed and is dependent on a pacemaker, hold a magnet over their pacemaker, and when they are weakened by a slow heart beat, gently push them into an oncoming car or over a cliff. This creates an apparently accidental death. Sans screaming. This also has the added benefit of damaging the pacemaker, so the crime is covered because pacemaker function can be analyzed.

Now, when your detective comes in and starts questioning this death, they have a means of figuring it out. The pacemaker that the murderer thought would be damaged is, in fact, intact enough to be ‘interrogated’ - that means, the programming can be examined and it can be discovered that the heart rhythm was thrown off before the character’s death. Perhaps the magnet could be found in the murderer’s home.

MC explains there is another, more modern way to kill someone with a pacemaker that allows for murder from a long distance. A pacemaker needs to have a means of reprogramming it. This ability to reprogram a pacemaker makes it vulnerable to being hacked, that is, reprogrammed with a deadly rhythm. But if the pacemaker is hacked, you would want to remove the evidence of this hack, again by hacking the device while the victim is driving a car or climbing a mountain. The resulting accident would damage the evidence of the hack.

“Hospitals are a great place to kill people,” continues MC, popping a chocolate. “Sick people dying in hospitals are unlikely to be autopsied. Even if doctors ask for an autopsy, the family often says no.”

So, giving a character a pacemaker and using the failsafe mechanisms of the pacemaker to murder with magnets or hacking, provides an intriguing way to murder. The interrogation of the pacemaker provides the necessary means of discovering the crime.

This is just a snippet of my conversation with MC. He came up with other intriguing ways to murder people, many using failsafe mechanisms and, at times, using medical interventions to cover up a murder. I recorded it all in illegible scribbles, providing me with more info for my next blog.

16 June 2017

The Purple Side of Blue

by
O'Neil De Noux

Shell shock is what they called it during the wars of the 20th Century when combatants who survived shelling suffered serious psychological effects. Today it is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We all know it effects police officers and other first responders as well. It comes in many shades.



When I was a homicide detective We experienced what we call 'the purple side of blue' - a bruising of a police officer's psyche after repetitive exposure to extreme violence perpetrated on others. It effects police officers and their families. It is another brutal, lingering residue of the job.

I cannot even list all the horrendous things we witnessed - from infants beaten to death to children shot in drive-by shootings to stabbings to mass killings. It cannot be forgotten. Some try to numb the effects with alcohol or sex or whatever. It makes officers vengeful and their families stunned as the officer morphs from the smiling rookie who came out of the academy with visions of saving lives and catching criminals into a sulking individual with demons crawling inside their mind, reminding them of what they've witnessed. Again. And again.

Every cop I know who has been in law enforcement a while suffers the purple side of blue. Every one. Some more than others.

I've written about the subject, illustrating it in my police procedurals, rather than telling about it. Probably why my most realistic homicide novel, GRIM REAPER, has the word 'fuck' in it 344 times in a 208 page book. You see, on my first day as a homicide detective, my partner Marco Nuzzolillo (best detective I ever worked with) took me to witness 10 autopsies of murder victims. From that bloody day, I worked case after case where a human died at the hands of another human.

Not long ago, I was asked by a deer-hunter friend if I was a hunter.
"I used to be."
"Did you hunt deer?"
"No. I hunted humans."
Pause.
"I hunted humans who killed humans."

I am old now and have an excellent memory. I recall, with unfailing clarity my childhood days weilding wooden swords made by my father as we were the knights of the round table, days swimming in Lake Garda, nights chasing lightning bugs, getting into watermelon fights, looking at girls differently as I grew up, wondering why I noticed their lips and the flow of long hair and their smooth jawline and soft necks. I recall every broken heart, every scintillating thrill of love, recall the births of my children. I remember the bad times too, the failures in life we all experience, but we concentrate on the good times, don't we?

Sometimes, in the middle of remembering a day at the old zoo with a pretty girl, I can see her face and the beauty of that summer day and how I felt. Then I get a tap on my shoulder and turn to see it is nighttime and the bodies of two teen-aged girls lie next to the muddy Mississippi, their hands tied behind them, bullet holes in the back of their heads and I see their autopsies in flashes. I remember brushing a finger over their wrists, touching them, connecting with them, secretly telling each who I was. I was the man who was going to catch who did this.

My partners and I solved that murder case. Took 13 months, but we did. Closure? Not for me. I still see those young, dead faces under the harsh light in the autopsy room. Snapshots of carnage. Closure? Yeah. Right.

A better writer once wrote:
"Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; It tolls for thee." John Donne

Damn, this article is depressing. It is a wonder we can stand it all. Maybe that is what makes us human. We can stand anything.

www.oneildenoux.com

08 June 2017

Of Safes and Smoke

by Eve Fisher

Do you remember the South Dakota GEAR UP! scandal?  The one that got started when, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota?  And they were all later found to be shot to death?
Quick Note:  (GEAR UP! is a federal grant program to get financial assistance to low-income students; here in SD it's primary aim was supposed to be helping Native American students.)  
Image result
SD AG Marty Jackley
Now, my regular readers may remember that South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and children, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on an official combined salary (his and his wife's) from Mid Central Educational Co-Op of $130,000.  Later, it turned out that the Westerhuises had set up a number of shell organizations, and given themselves hefty salaries from them all.

Well, I'm happy to announce that the General Audit of Mid Central and GEAR UP! has finally been released and it shows:

(1) Scott and Nicole Westerhuis took nearly $8 million out of Mid Central's bank account without authorization to cover the salaries of their non-profit organizations. Supposedly most of that money was returned to Mid Central (how, when, where?), but $1.4 million was still missing at the time of the Westerhuis family's deaths.

(2) The Mid Central Board and its director, Dan Guericke, didn't have enough oversight and never addressed the risks created by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis having roles in the non-profits they set up to take the GEAR UP! grant money.

(3) Guericke didn't get approval by the board for 17 contracts and a number of payments made without contracts with the Westerhuises.

Naturally, the blame game has begun:
  • Mid Central's board is blaming the South Dakota Department of Education ("lead partner" in the GEAR UP! grant and responsible for ensuring the project was carried out in accordance to federal rules and regulations).  
  • The SD DOE says it did its job of conducting reviews of grant expenses and tightened up its controls when it began noticing issues in 2014, which is why it cancelled its contract with Mid Central right before the Westerhuis tragedy.  
  • The Mid Central board's responded that, "no amount of reasonable oversight would have detected the complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal activities conducted by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis."  (Angela Kennecke, KELO TV)  
  • NOTE:  I once put together five years of an organization's accounts from a checking account register.  You can figure out a lot if you just follow the money...
  • Also, Cory's blog Dakota Free Press has all the facts and figures that we have so far, and all the excuses piled up so far.
So, June 30, 2017, Mid Central will shut down. 12 of its 13 members have formed Core Educational Cooperative.  The same staff of Mid Central (those who are not going to trial) are now going to work for Core (at least half of them had to have conflict-of-interest waivers to work for Mid Central, and will now have to have conflict-of-interest waivers to be able to work for Core); the Mid Central Board is liquidating their assets (even though $1.4 million in tax-payer money is still owed to our long-suffering public).  Please see Cory Heidelberger's article at Dakota Free Press for a fuller experience of how deep it's getting piled.  Again...

Meanwhile, no one's come forward yet to untangle the following mysteries:
(1) Who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire?
(2) Why did Mid Central Educational Co-op, which owned the Westerhuis cell phones, cancel them and wipe the records the next morning, before the ashes from the arson had even cooled?
(3) What did Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke talk about with Scott Westerhuis for an hour on the evening before the tragedy?  (Guericke told the board the two really didn't talk about much at all.)
(4) What happened to the Westerhuis safe, which trotted out of the house like a trained pig right before the house was torched?

Yes, there's going to be a trial of 3 Mid Central employees, including Director Guericke.  Maybe the questions will be answered then...  But I'm not holding my breath.  Will keep you posted.

Cannabis Plant.jpgThe other big news of the week hearkens back to last year, when the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reversed course on opening America's first Tribal Marijuana Coffee Shop, and burned the whole crop in November.  (They had been warned that they were going to be raided by federal officials.)  AG Jackley was suspicious that they hadn't burned it all, and talked about charges.  And he did.  He charged Colorado marijuana industry consultants Eric Hagen and Jonathan Hunt for helping the tribe set up their grow room, etc.  (BTW, State AGs can’t prosecute non-Indians for crimes on reservations, but Jackley argued that his office had jurisdiction to prosecute victimless crimes committed by non-Indians.) Hunt rolled over and pled guilty but Hagen went to trial: and was acquitted by a jury. (Hagen testified that he was simply a consultant with experience in the industry who had been hired by the tribe, and apparently the jury agreed with him.) Marty Jackley was restrained, saying that he respected the jury's verdict.  (See the Argus Leader article for more details.)

Many people believe that the reason Jackley pursued this lawsuit was because he and current SD Rep. Kristi Noem (R) are going to duke it out for the South Dakota Governor's Office next year, and he's trying to get out front on the law & order issue. (Most of us think taxes and health care would be more salient...) But, as we move into yet another election year, the questions pile up:
Will GEAR UP! come up?
Will crop insurance?
Will marijuana?
Will riding horses?
Will let you know.

Meanwhile, a friend just told me that a forrmer public works director (no names were named) said that South Dakota doesn't really need federal money for infrastructure, because driving on bumpy roads isn't all that much of an inconvenience. My friend pointed out that tourists might disagree & he said tourism doesn't impact the state economy that much...

Crazy Horse Memorial - Photo by TBennert on Wikipedia
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore - Wikipedia
Badlands National Park - Wikipedia
Black Hills -Needles-31.jpg
The Needles - photo courtesy of
Doug Knuth - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dknuth/7677770944/
Wikipedia

Bear Butte - photo courtesy of
Jsoo1, as English Wikipedia image: en:Image:Bearbutte4.jpg

Main Street Sturgis South Dakota Bike Week.jpg
Sturgis motorcycle rally - Photo courtesy of
Cumulus Clouds, Wikipedia
Are our public officials TRYING to run our economy into the ground, or are they just stupid?

More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 Goodfellas.jpg


13 April 2017

"Afternoons in Paris" by Janice Law

by Eve Fisher

You remember Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, autodidact, devoted to his Nan, louche, rough, crazy...

Well, HE'S BACK!!!!



Yes, my favorite gay artist adventurer is back in Janice Law's "Afternoons in Paris".  Francis is 18 and in the City of Lights, and very glad to be there after the craziness of Berlin (read Janice's "Nights in Berlin":  the book and David Edgerley Gates' review).  Now he's on his own, working for a decorator/designer by day (the somewhat susceptible Armand), visiting galleries with the motherly Madame Dumoulin, and cruising the city by night with the totally unreliable Pyotr, a Russian emigre who, like Francis, has a taste for quick hook-ups and rough trade.

Pyotr has two Russian friends, Igor, who's sinister, and Lev, who's quickly assassinated.  After getting robbed (by Pyotr), beaten up (by 'Cossacks') in Montparnasse, and finding two more waiting to do the same at his lodgings, Francis tries to avoid Russians by moving in with Madame Dumoulin and her brother, Jules, who needs a caretaker.  Well, it could be argued that Francis is the last person to be anyone's companion/caretaker, but our boy knows how to be appreciative.  And Jules, although a traumatized WW1 veteran, is an innocent (at least compared to Francis):  much like Mr. Dick in "David Copperfield", he builds complex machines and flies kites.  Francis can enjoy both.

And then Jules gets a chance to design machines for the theatre group Les Mortes Immortels, and it's back to Paris for all.  Jules' machines are the best part of a production about as audience-friendly as "Finnegan's Wake"; that and the character of Human Hope, played by Inessa, a Russian Helen of Troy who enraptures everyone around her.  Except for those who are using her.

Russians are everywhere, and they're all dangerous:  Pyotr; the NKVD assassin Alexi; the NKVD blackmailer Anoshkin; Inessa's missing brother, Pavel.  And, wouldn't you know it, who's up to his neck in all of this but Francis' Uncle Lastings?  Now known as Claude, art dealer and bon-vivant, but still up to his neck in intrigue, scams, sex, and spying.  Francis has a lot of fast talking, fast running, fast thinking, and fast acting to do to survive...

Soutine's Chemin de la Fontaine
des Tins at Ceret - Wikipedia
As always, it's fascinating to see the world through Francis' eyes, especially at 18, when he is still at the beginning of creating himself.  He has a knack for noticing details, from the "distinctive stink of French drains" to the "most brutal and vigorous thing I'd seen in France" - a dead rooster, painted by Chaim Soutine.  When he writes to Nan that "a glance at her makes me feel more hopeful", we know that Inessa is indeed a remarkable woman, someone to pay attention to.  And, when told that Pavel can't be wandering Paris without proper papers, Francis' reaction is "My own experience in Berlin led me to believe that Monsieur Chaput was exaggerating.  A teenage boy has a number of ways of eluding bureaucrats and busybodies."  And he would know.
Image result for jessie lightfoot
Nan

Emotionally, Francis is still developing, or is he?  At one point he says, regarding his commitment to Jules:  "I had promised Jules, and I believe in friendship.  It tends to be more stable than romance." Not to mention family. As he writes to Nan about his uncle, "I know this is a surprise, but He Who Must Not be Named has secured a job for me, and this time, I have asked to be paid half in advance. You can see I am getting wise to the ways of the world." In fact, the only person Francis trusts implicitly is Nan, in "Afternoons in Paris", "Nights in Berlin", "Fires of London", "The Prisoner of the Riviera", "Moon over Tangier" and in real life.  She will always be the most stable person in his life, not excepting himself.

But even at 18, Francis is already witty, sarcastic, honest, observant, hungry, lustful, reckless, and utterly sure that he will never be among the bourgeoisie. (And how right he is.) He always gives a master class in the art of survival.  Francis Bacon and Paris in the 20s - it's hard to ask for anything more.







02 February 2017

Arsenic and Old Lace

by Eve Fisher

There are lots of reasons to prefer modern times: air conditioning, central heating, indoor plumbing, anesthesia, and antibiotics are the top five in my book. I also really enjoy entertainment on tap, as it were - music, television, movies, books. And I certainly do not wax nostalgic about the good old days of 37 pounds of clothing worn over corsets (see Judith Flanders' "Inside the Victorian Home"), food cooked until it was a puddle of goo, or the constant smell of unwashed... everything. Bodies, clothing, you name it.

But the Victorian age was a great age to kill somebody.

For one thing, there were no regulations on food or drugs, and no real recognition of drugs. So you could buy laudanum, cocaine, heroin, and other fun stuff, clearly labeled, over the counter. (Remember Sherlock's 7% solution... he wasn't buying it from one of the Bow Street Runners, although he might have gotten it from the Baker Street Irregulars...) And almost all the patent medicines contained cocaine, heroin, and/or alcohol.

Food itself was pretty hazardous: bread was whitened with chalk and/or alum, strychnine gave an extra kick to beer, sulphate of copper kept pickles green, and lead was added to chocolate, wine, cider, and a whole lot of other foods. Tea leaves were dried and recycled, and dyed with red lead to make them look fresh. Red lead was also added to cheese for coloring, chalk to milk, and copper to gin...  The London County Country Medical Officer discovered, for example, the following in samples of ice cream: cocci, bacilli, torulae, cotton fiber, lice, bed bugs, bug's legs, fleas, straw, human hair, and cat and dog hair. Such contaminated ice cream could cause diphtheria, scarlet fever, diarrhoea, and enteric fever. "The Privy Council estimated in 1862 that one-fifth of butcher's meat in England and Wales came from animals which were 'considerably diseased' or had died of pleuro-pneumonia, and anthacid or anthracoid diseases." (See the Victorian Website HERE) Plus the Victorians didn't believe that either vegetables or fruit were wholesome, unless they were cooked to a puree, and even then, should only be taken in moderation. If you couldn't figure anything else out, you could probably just kill someone by diet alone...

But let's get on to the real stuff: poison. Arsenic was everywhere. Arsenic was in "wallpaper, beer, wine, sweets, wrapping paper, painted toys, sheep dip, insecticides, clothing, dead bodies, stuffed animals, hat ornaments, coal, and candles". It was used as a beauty treatment - soak your flypapers in water, and drink a few drops in fresh water (which probably came through lead pipes - lead was everywhere) to make your skin translucently white. It was used as a treatment for obesity, and it certainly could take the weight off. Sometimes all of it. Green wallpaper and green clothing were both soaked in arsenic to fix the color. And so was that Victorian mandatory wear for women, crepe, which was THE fabric of mourning.

Now widows were required to dress from head to toe in black, including complete veil, for at least one year, if not longer. Sweating in black crepe mourning garments (37 pounds of it) in summer was common, and I've run across receipts telling women how to wash the [arsenic-laden] black stains from their armpits and neck (both prime lymph node areas). Plus they were walking around, breathing through an arsenic-laden veil all day, every day... Personally, I think we have the explanation why the widow in so many Victorian memoirs and novels falls into a decline and dies young...

And then, of course, some people deliberately used arsenic to kill. Charles Francis Hall, an American Arctic explorer in the mid-1800s, died sometime around October, 1871, on his 3rd expedition. The ship was frozen in for the winter, and he'd returned from an outing with an Inuit guide, when he had a cup of coffee, collapsed, and fell into vomiting and delirium. After the expedition, an official investigation said he died of apoplexy, but a 1968 exhumation showed monumental levels of arsenic. It seems there might have been a feud between him and Dr. Bessels...

And there was pretty Madeleine Smith of Glasgow:  In 1857, when she was 20, she (GASP! HORROR!) had an affair with an apprentice nurseryman named Pierre Emile L'Angelier. Her parents, meanwhile, knowing nothing of Madeleine's behavior, found her a husband. Miss Smith tried to break off her affair with L'Angelier, and asked him to return her letters; instead, he blackmailed her. So off she went to an apothecary's and bought some arsenic - for flies, of course.  Or her complexion.  In any case, you could buy it over the counter.  A few days later, L'Angelier died of arsenic poisoning. Her letters were found, she was arrested and charged with murder, and the trial proceeded. Somehow, she was acquitted. (She was young, she was lovely, she had a good lawyer, and the police had messed up the letters, mixing up the pages...) But she had to leave Scotland. (She later married - twice - and lived until 1928.)

Neil-cream.jpg
Dr. Thomas Neill Cream
Strychnine. Distilled from the seeds of the strychnos nux-vomica tree, which arrived in the West in the 17th century from China and India, strychnine became the standard poison used to kill birds in the country and rats in the city. And people. Dr. William Palmer was the first to be caught using it in England, for killing his gambling associates.  Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (what is it with doctors?), a/k/a the Lambeth Poisoner, used it to kill a number of prostitutes, and claimed to have killed more as Jack the Ripper just before he was hanged. (No, he wasn't "Saucy Jacky", because he was in prison in 1888, when Jack the Ripper was writing letters and postcards.)

Chloroform. Also available over the counter. The most famous story of murder (?) by chloroform is the Pimlico Mystery, and the death of Thomas Edwin Bartlett. A wealthy grocer, he married a Frenchwoman 10 years his junior, Adelaide. The couple had a special friend, the Reverend George Dyson, who hung around a lot. Anyway, one morning Adelaide got up and found her husband dead in bed. The coroner opened him up and nearly passed out from the odor of chloroform rising from the stomach. Adelaide said that he'd been threatening suicide. Dyson said he'd bought the chloroform for the Bartlett's to remove grease stains. (Who knows? Maybe it works.)  But there were no burn marks on the inside of Bartlett's throat, which there should have been if he'd been drinking chloroform.  So Bartlett's father - who'd never been able to stand Adelaide - thought it was all suspicious and had her charged with murder.


At the trial what really spared Adelaide's life was a simple incident, remembered by the servants. One day, Mr. Bartlett was looking through his wife's drawers (God only knows why, but it certainly sounds like the archetypal Victorian paterfamilias), found a pill, and took it, without asking anyone what it was or why it was there.  (Again, God only knows why.)  Later he told everyone, including the servants, what he'd done. Adelaide's barrister suggested that Mr. Bartlett had gotten up in the middle of the night with stomach pains or some such, found the bottle of chloroform, and knocked it back without asking any fussy questions of anyone first. (The barrister said that by drinking it quickly, there would be no burns on the throat.)  The jury didn't entirely believe this, but she was acquitted, to rapturous applause from the spectators. An internationally famous surgeon/pathologist of the day, Sir James Paget, said of the case, "Now that she has been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it!"  Feel free to post any solutions to that little problem. Adelaide never told anyone, because she vanished immediately after acquittal, and no one knows where she went.

So, the Victorian Age - your environment is deadly, the food could kill you, poisons abound, and the symptoms of all are pretty much the same.  It was a coroner's guessing game, a jury's whim, and there was no CSI team waiting in the wings.  There was only one Sherlock, and he was on paper only.  No cameras, no social media, no radio, no publicity.  You really could get away with murder.  Especially if you were young and pretty...