03 December 2017

A Castor Oil Dose Too Many

by Leigh Lundin

castor blossoms, Ricinus communis
Castor blossoms, Ricinus communis
It’s not often a crime surprises me, but a story out of Vermont is jaw-dropping.

First, I like the Shelburne area and the little ‘city’ of Vergennes below it. Dairy products are rich, maple syrup is unparalleled and, despite reports of New England reserve, folks are friendly, with perhaps one exception.

A 70-year-old resident of the upscale Wake Robin Retirement Community, Betty Miller, taught herself to manufacture ricin… you know, the deadly nerve agent. She’s been arrested and, at a minimum, faces federal charges of possession of a biological agent.

Ricin? When I was little, my father warned my brother and me to leave plants that grew by the milk barn strictly alone. They were castor plants, taxonomically named Ricinus communis, source of castor oil, among other things, and ricin.

Castor beans
Castor beans
Ms Miller did what we were instructed to avoid. First, she researched the process on the internet. Who says the elderly aren’t technically savvy? She harvested wild-growing castor beans from the grounds of the retirement complex. Following lab instructions, she concocted ricin powder.

But wait… there’s more… there’s always more. She told FBI investigators she planned to ‘harm’ herself, presumably to commit suicide, not an unusual wish amongst older people coerced into nursing homes. But, she first tested the powder on other residents of the care facility.

The lady is a bloody twisted genius. Although reports conflict, apparently no sickness was reported amid patients administered test doses. Authorities are keeping Miller safely locked up as a threat to herself and others.

To sum up this astonishing little tale, a 70-year-old woman, confined to what’s politely called a retirement home with only access to a kitchen,
Ricin powder
Ricin powder
  1. ID’d castor plants, Ricinus communis,
  2. Signed on to the Internet,
  3. Researched how to manufacture ricin,
  4. Harvested the deadly castor beans,
  5. Produced poison in her room, and
  6. Tested it on other patients first.
Already, Wake Robin is advertising a vacancy.

Although involving others repels me, I confess a grudging admiration for her brilliance and resourcefulness. Another thought occurs to me. I like to think she intended to administer ricin to whoever confined her to a nursing home.

Wait, is that wrong?

Don’t screw with old people. There’s a reason they lived so long.

8 comments:

janice law said...

Shades of Arsenic and Old Lace!

R.T. Lawton said...

She may have wanted to commit suicide, but she probably didn't want the process to hurt or inadvertently turn her into a vegetable. But, since she had a ready supply of available guinea pigs to observe, she could judge the effects of her homemade ricin in advance before she took it herself. Amazing how people rationalize their actions.

Elizabeth said...

R.T., I think you nailed it. Possibly Ms. Miller rationalized it further by telling herself that her test subjects were lonely, broke, and/or incurably ill anyway & would soon be in "a better place".

There's a bumper sticker that says, "Be nice to your children, they'll pick your nursing home." 🙃

Leigh Lundin said...

Ha, Janice! I’d like to see a story where someone fights back against nursing homes. The mother of my friend Steve was apparently badly beaten at a local nursing facility. The staff claimed she ‘fell out of bed’, resulting in two black eyes, bruised cheeks, bruises all over her body. He moved her from a 2-minute drive in Orlando to a place in Lake Mary, Florida. He made the nearly 1-hour drive to see her from St. Cloud almost every week.

Elizabeth and RT, I’m sure you’re right. Miller may have assumed nobody would check if patients started to croak. Fortunately no one died.

Eve Fisher said...

R.T., I think you're right.
Also, there's the little fact that retirement centers and nursing homes are perhaps the last place where someone can once again re-invent themselves. Do you really know that Judge Corey was ever a judge? Or ex-teacher Leslie actually taught? Sometimes people lie. A lot.
In other words, who knows who Betty Miller really was? She could have been a professional chemist in her pre-retirement life. The simple fact that she knew that those weeds were castor plants which could make something poisonous is, in this day and age (where almost no one has ever even heard of castor oil anymore) fairly suspicious.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, part of that occurred to me too. I don't know what castor oil tastes like, only that it was the source of myriad jokes among kids who hated being dosed by it. It's a 'meme' that will be lost to the future.

Anonymous said...

I heard that go by in a news feed and thought, no way! Amazing. Yeah, don't screw with old people.

mary fernando said...


"Don’t screw with old people. There’s a reason they lived so long." - best line ever Leigh!