Tuesday, December 05, 2006
A very brief history of poison
The poisoning of the former Russian spy in London has all of us thinking about other famous poisonings. So I took a look, and wow, what a history.

The use of poison to kill or maim stretches back millennia, but it really took off in the 8th century, when an Arab chemist turned arsenic into an odorless, tasteless, undetectable powder, making it an attractive murder weapon. By the Renaissance, people were selling poison rings, knives, letters, and even poison lipstick.

Today, poisoning is the method of choice for many killers. The United States saw more than 147,000 poison-related deaths from 2001 to 2004, according to the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Of these, 434 were considered homicides. Were there more? Nobody knows, because poisoning deaths often resemble natural deaths.

See if you remember any of these:

The "CandyMan," otherwise known as Ronald Clark O'Bryan. He poisoned his 8-year-old son with cyanide-laced pixie sticks back in 1974.

How about the "Gatorade Murder?" James Keown is charged with slipping antifreeze into his wife's Gatorade, killing her. He's pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

One of the more mysterious cases involves a Bulgarian defector who was struck by a ricin-laced dart investigators believe was shot from an umbrella. The case is still unsolved.

A poison expert I talked with told me that poison is considered a "white man's weapon," even though plenty of women poison too. He said most poisoners are serial killers and that they tend to be greedy and manipulative.

Do you remember any famous or mysterious poisoning cases you want to share?
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 4:44 PM ET
  26 Comments
Aren't you sensationalizing this a bit?
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 4:56 PM ET
Hi Randi ~
Marilyn Lemak, formerly of Naperville, IL, fed her 3 little kids drug laced peanut butter and smothered them in their beds. She allegedly committed the murders to get back at her doctor husband who had a girlfriend while they were going through a divorce. Interesting post. Take care.
Posted By Anonymous Ilene Ann, Kenilworth, IL : 5:24 PM ET
Here's something interesting about the PixieStix case. The father was so convinced by the media that candy tampering was positively epidemic in the US that he thought his crime would be lost in the hundreds or thousands of cases of Halloween candy-tampering.

As it turns out, 'razorblades in apples' and other candy tampering 'cases' are urban legends, so when there was an actual case of tampering, the police, rather than looking for the sinister stranger, immediately knew to look at who benefited.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 5:31 PM ET
Two cases come to mind that I've seen on CourtTV using rat poison. The first involved an irate neighbor who took out his anger by poisoning his neighbors soda that was stored in the garage. The second involved a woman who was being poisoned by her lover. He would give her drinks mixed with the poison - reason unknown since he didn't have insurance on her. In both cases no one died but I'm sure their trust in humanity has.
Posted By Anonymous M. Wong, Van Nuys, CA : 5:34 PM ET
When it comes to poisonings the first that comes to mind for me is Julia Lynn Turner, who killed her husband by lacing his food with antifreeze. She later went on to kill her boyfriend the same way.
Posted By Anonymous Tanya, Campbell River, BC : 5:35 PM ET
I don't have any titillating stories to share, but the more I learn about the devious nature of the human race, the more I want to go live in a cave. Our only hope is that the evolutionary chain will begin to reverse itself until we're apes again.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie Darby, Denham Springs, LA : 5:39 PM ET
Hi Randi~
I grew up in Houston so this particular poisoning incident sticks with me. Remember the plastic surgeon in Houston,Tx. John Hill who murdered his socialite wife with bacteria he cultured in his lab? If memory serves me correctly, this was in the 1960's. I didn't see the movie but I read the book. Dr. Sicko added the bacteria to her favorite dessert, chocolate eclairs. He would surprise her with this treat when he came home from work. Wasn't he SWEET?
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 5:44 PM ET
Hi Randi: Several years ago in Chicago were the Tylenol murders. My neighbor is a flight attendant for United and one of her workmates purchased a tampered bottle and died. I think that incident started tamper proof packaging. I'm a fan of murder mysteries and poison seems to be a favorite way to bump people off. Who can forget the substance slipped into a beverage and the dramatic death scene! I hate to see it played out in real life. This has been an interesting story and I hope they find out who did it.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago, Il : 5:57 PM ET
I don't think I'm ready to go live in a cave yet (terrified of spiders!) but I have learned a lesson, one my Mother taught me, which I had long forgotten: Don't accept jewelry from "strangers" and be very careful who you kiss.

Forgive me, the Devil made me do it!

Maggie
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 5:57 PM ET
Hi Randi, I remember reading about most of the poisoning incidents that you write about. All are viscious and evil. Everyone should be seriously concerned about radioactive polonium 210. The idea is out there and this will happen again. Also, do we really know the long term effect of this radioactive material? On a scale of 1-4 knowledge level, the information available to us is about .7 so our scientists hardly know everything or understand all possibilities. Evil pervades in the absence of light so keep shining the light on this evil.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn MI : 6:09 PM ET
Saw your show on the poisoning - good job. Just remember, the rad symbol is regulated in 10 CFR 20 (both dimension and color) - two blades are up and one blade down. It just looked unprofessional.
Posted By Anonymous Jean Moore Huntsville AL : 6:10 PM ET
Hi Randi, how about the one involving Kristin Rossum of San Diego? She was convicted of poisoning her husband with an overdose of fentanyl, a poison and recreational drug. She was having an affair with her boss/lover. She tried to cover it up as a suicide.
Posted By Anonymous Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 6:22 PM ET
Randi: What comes to mind is the "Black Widow", Mary Ann Cotton, who, I believe, was one of the first female killers who got labeled as such based on the behaviors of the female poisonous spider. After the death of her first husband where she collected from his life insurance policy, she then became employed as a Nurse's Aide and had access to arsenic and other poisonous substances which she would steal and use on newly married spouses in an effort to collect money from their deaths. I think all-in-all she murdered 4 husbands, 1 lover, and several children. Don't know how much money she ended up making but that was back in the 1800's and it took years before she was ever caught.
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 6:34 PM ET
Wow... To think about someone poisoning another is horrifying. I never knew that there is such a thing as poison lipstick that just reminds me of the Batman movie with Poison Ivey when she would have poison kisses... Anyways, I'll be tuning in tonight to watch AC360!
PS Thanks Randi Kaye that was a very interesting passage
God Bless,
JOANNA
Posted By Anonymous Joanna Parker, Millsboro: DE : 7:19 PM ET
Hi Randi,
In the 1980's, Claus von Bulow was suspected of killing his wife, Sunny.
Sunny had diabetes and it was believed that Claus poisoned her with insulin or one of her meds. He wasn't found guilty, although some of her family and others suspect he is. Isn't it good to find out who's poisoning the well whenever possible?
Posted By Anonymous Carol B., Frederick, MD : 7:40 PM ET
As an historian, I can add another method of poisoning-clothing. I can't remember the year, but an attempt on the life of Queen Elizabeth I was made in the form of a very elaborately decorated poisoned gown given her as a gift by an unknown person. Fortunately, she never wore it. One of her ladies in waiting tried it on first and died a horrible death for her trespass of the Queen's wardrobe.
Posted By Anonymous Christine Williams Columbia, MO : 8:33 PM ET
Randi, we love it when you step up to the plate and produce a great story. Does the Kristen Rossum story fits this piece? and if it does, will Anderson or yourself make an attempt to get an exclusive interview? It would be interesting to find out Kristen's reason for doing what she did, being in the trusted position she had.
Posted By Anonymous Claude Calgary AB Canada : 8:53 PM ET
Hello, There is a few good resources for poisoning cases you could look into. The first is the book Hitman by Rex Feral. that talks about his experience with poisons. The second, adn maybe where you found the ricin case, is Biohazard, a book by Ken Alibek. The third is Silent Death by Uncle Fester (obviously a pseudonym). Anyways for more reading fun refer to www.mipt.org.
Posted By Anonymous Casey, Lawton, OK : 11:16 PM ET
How about Marie Hilley (serial arsenic poisoning in AL), the Jonestown Kool - Ade (cyanide).
Posted By Anonymous forrest, new orleans, LA : 1:20 AM ET
Poison deaths are by far the most complicated yet interesting to reasearch about.
One famous poison death that has to me mentioned is of the Russian Priest RASPUTIN. Legend has it that after ingesting a half dozen pasteries laced with poison;with no effect, he had to finally be shot to death.
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Windhoek Namibia : 1:51 AM ET
The problem is that this Russian spy case is becoming more and more like fiction (actually better). I enjoy reading crime stories and this is more intriguing and spine-chilling than what I've read so far (except Jurgen Thorwald's books). By the way, this polonium 210 is probably the most sophisticated poison till date. Is there any antidote? Its frightening what ideas people could get with things like that around.
Posted By Anonymous Ivy, Pondicherry, India : 3:47 AM ET
What about Lucrezia Borgia from the 15th century? Wasn't she known for wearing a ring containing poison that she used in drinks?
Posted By Anonymous Ellen, Boise ID : 8:45 AM ET
The depravity of the human race knows no limits.
Posted By Anonymous Roscoe Johnson Pocatello, ID : 11:18 AM ET
There is an interesting story from ancient India about beautiful young women who were fed small portions of poison regularly so that they developed immunity to it and in turn became poisonous. Anyone who touched them were poisoned and died. These women were called "vish kanya" (meaning poisonous maiden). Its believed that kings used to gift vish kanyas to their enemies to kill them.
Posted By Anonymous Ivy, Pondicherry, India : 12:09 PM ET
It is fascinating how fascinated we are with this type of murder... And of course, if some of us were honest, we'd want to know the symptoms and suffering that goes with the poison... Terrible but titillating...
Posted By Anonymous Sheri Sarasota Fl : 1:29 PM ET
Back in the early 80's as you recall
someone laced tylenol capsules with
cyanide I think 7 people died.
Posted By Anonymous John Chicago, IL : 4:27 PM ET
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