Monthly Archives: August 2009

On This Day: Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker

“Big deal. Death always went with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”
Richard Ramirez after receiving multiple death penalties.

Richard Ramirez

Between June,1984 and August, 1985 a series of brutal rapes and murders occurred throughout Southern California and the Bay Area, putting the entire state on edge. The killer became known as the Night Stalker because he entered his victims’ homes at night through unlocked doors, often after he had cut the phone line. He would shoot any adult males present and then rape his female victims. The assaults often took place in the bed next to where the woman’s spouse lay dead or dying. Sometimes he would then kill his female victim and at other times not.

Survivors described him as a thin, foul-smelling Hispanic male with bad teeth. At one scene he scrawled a satanic pentagram on the wall and on the woman’s thigh. He made other victim’s swear an oath to Satan.

His final victim was a Mission Viejo, California woman who he raped in the bed next to her boyfriend who had been shot in the head. Both survived the attack. The woman saw her attacker leave in an orange Toyota station wagon and called 911.

Earlier, a teenager, working on his motorcycle in his parents’ garage, saw the station wagon enter and then leave the neighborhood. Thinking it looked suspicious, he wrote down the license plate number. The stolen car was later found abandoned.

The car had been wiped down but a partial latent fingerprint was found and sent to Sacramento where it was entered into the newly installed AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) system and within hours a match was made. It was estimated that to perform a by-hand match of the print against the 1.7 million print cards in the Los Angeles area alone would have taken an agent 67 years.

The print revealed that the Night Stalker was Richard Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from El Paso, Texas. Once his likeness was transmitted by the media, residents of East Los Angeles recognized him and overpowered him as he attempted to steal another car. The police arrived in time to save him from an angry mob. It was August 31, 1985.

On November 9, 1989 he received 19 death sentences.

He still resides in San Quentin.

On October 3, 1996 he married Doreen Lioy. Go figure.

TruTV Crime Library


Associated Content News


Body Parts and Patricia’s Law

New Jersey has a problem. It seems that body parts have been washing up on the Jersey Shore. Legs and fingers mostly it seems. One of the legs appeared to have been cleanly cut just below the knee and a small patch of skin had been removed from the ankle area. Where did this person come from? Is this the work of a new serial killer? Was this some horrible boating accident?  Did the Mafia have a hand in this? Is this perhaps medical waste from some hospital? Maybe it’s an alien abduction gone wrong. The possibilities are intriguing.

The big question: Who is this person?

In a recent post I talked about the importance of identifying a corpse in any criminal investigation and mentioned the fact that in a high percentage of murder cases the victim knows the killer. As Detective Sergeant John Donegan of the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit said, “First, we have to get the ID, and then we can start thinking about the investigation.”

In this case the leg revealed that the victim was a female between 5-1 and 5-5 in height and wore a 5 1/2 sized shoe. Interestingly the toenails of this victim had been removed.

The New Jersey State Police obtained DNA from the leg and entered it into the FBI’s national DNA database known as CODIS or the Combined DNA Index System. They also hooked up with the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, an agency that attempts to identify unknown bodies by using new DNA techniques. This union of investigative agencies in Texas and New Jersey was allowable under Patricia’s Law, a law that has been on the New Jersey books for just under two years. The law allows law enforcement to request DNA samples from willing family members of any missing person. These profiles are then uploaded to CODIS. The hope is that at least a partial match can be found between unidentified bodies and body parts and living relatives, a connection that could lead to the identity of the unknown victim.

Philadelphia Daily News Article

Patricia’s Law

University of North Texas Center for Human Identification

And now it seems that Brooklyn has a similar problem. A foot inside a sock and a Timberland shoe was found inside a bag by a homeless man while digging through garbage. Are these two connected? Maybe a mobile serial killer? To quote Alice: “Curiouser and curiouser.”

NY Daily News Story

Gothamist Story


Doc Gurley Talks About Bad Drugs and Good Medicine

Dr. Jan Gurley, a board-certified internist physician, is the only Harvard Medical School graduate to have been awarded a Shoney’s Ten-Step Pin for documented excellence in waitressing. Her training includes years of basic science research in labs (graduating magna cum laude from Harvard), then a residency at UCSF in Internal Medicine, afterwards receiving a Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship (Stanford/UCSF Joint Program) in epidemiology, public health and public policy. Her health/science background covers the vast territory from sub-cell systems, to human studies, to the captivating science of seeing patients one-on-one. She sees patients at a San Francisco clinic for the homeless – and knows more than any other suburban soccer mom about the underside of urban life. Survival sex, prison time, injection drug use, street violence, mental illness, and addictions of all kinds are part of the background fabric of her patients’ lives.


Doc Gurley’s health writing has appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chronicle Sunday magazine, with letters in the Washington Post and UK’s Daily Telegraph. Her research has appeared in academic publications including the New England Journal of Medicine. She is a frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.

DPL: Did you really win a Shoney’s Ten-Step Pin for excellence in waitressing? How?

JG: Okay, I hate to toot my own horn, but the fact is (blush) yes I did win a Ten Step Pin. And let me tell you, that thing’s frickin’ hard to win. Shoney’s (at least back in my day) used Secret Shoppers – regular customers who secretly rate your every move. That means…how many minutes to the table, whether you smile enough, if you give silverware and water in the right order, how long the food takes, if you return at the right time to ask whether the food is okay…and so on. It’s a random check and you have to get it all perfect (without knowing someone is rating you) to Win The Pin. I’ve often thought (and said) that doctors should have Secret Shopper patients. Would your doctor win a Ten Step Pin?

DPL: Tell us about your clinic in San Francisco. What types of patients do you see there?

JG: Ah. That’s a good question. We see the lost, the broken, the angry, the hurting, the altered, and the desperate. There’s the homeless stereotype we all know – the person muttering under a tent of stiff hair. And there’s the woman padded with four coats who’s been raped on the street three times in the last year. There’s the newly homeless tech programmer living out of a car, applying for jobs and using the exam room sink (you get a glimpse when you open the door) to do a quick sponge bath. There are college students and mechanics and artists who don’t have insurance. There are middle-aged housewives who lost insurance coverage in the divorce. And so many people who cycle in and out, seeing us in-between stints in prison.

DPL: What are the most common drug problems you encounter? Most dangerous?

JG: We’re always aware of our toilet. Patients know the drill too – they’ll tell us if it’s occupied too long, and we bang on the door. Are we just that controlling about sewage? Nope. The sad fact is, it’s all too common to discover someone has used the toilet to shoot up and is now nodding off (if not frankly overdosed) in there. We see IV drug use of all kinds – opiates and stimulants. We see tweaking meth addicts who are vibrating and ready to blow. We see all the complications of drug use – massive abscesses, heart valve infections, overdose, withdrawal, delirium tremens – you name it.

DPL: Have you seen any change in the patterns of drug use in your clinic?

JG: More meth. That’s probably a reflection of the world at large. San Francisco has had the notoriety of being the heroin overdose capital of America for many years. Speedballs seem to be increasing in popularity over the last 5 years – probably in line with the increased meth availability. We also see a hefty trade in prescribed drugs. On the street, oxycontin can sell for a buck a milligram – making a 60 milligram pill a much-desired prescription item. We also have the constant, but relatively low-level, backdrop of crack use – but less (non-crack) cocaine usage than, say, 7 years ago. And we also have the ever-present toll of alcohol abuse – which never seems to get as much press-coverage as other drugs, but certainly commands a large chunk of our population’s drug use.

DPL: You have a book coming out called Dodging Death that’s a humorous take on healthcare advice. Great concept. Tell us about it.

JG: Dodging Death is a book for the lay-person – it’s a user-friendly guide to the kinds of things that Googling your symptoms might miss. Triage is one of the ways internet symptom-searches fail people. For example, Dodging Death is divided into chapters like Things That Can Kill You in 48 hours or Less, Things That Can Kill You in a Week or Less (etc.), as well as a chapter titled Things You Don’t Know You Have (also known as Hypochondriac’s Corner). It’s a book that’s meant to be practical, but it’s also purposely designed to make learning about how to triage symptoms and recognize the odd and rare symptoms fun.

DPL: What’s next for you in the literary world?

JG: Wow. That may be the first time anyone has ever mentioned myself and the word “literary” in the same sentence! Although this is not actually a literary endeavor, I am right now working with a team to create medical iPhone apps – ones you can download on the spot for symptom-specific issues. Our first ones out are meant to be fun and practical, like the Dodging Death concept. The “Party Pack” can be bought individually or as a group – and includes topics like “Passing Out At A Party,” “The Morning After,” and “I’ve Got A Thingie On My Doo-Hickey,” as well as “Do I Need Stitches?” and “It Burns When I Pee.” These apps also can be bought and sent to friends, like greeting cards. There will also be more joyful and interactive apps coming next year focused on long-term health issues like eating better and exercise, etc. – these apps will all incorporate practical approaches from the burgeoning new science of behavior change. Keep an eye out for them – coming soon in the iTunes Store.

Visit Doc Gurley’s Website


Theresa Schwegel And Chicago Noir

Theresa Schwegel was born and raised in Chicago where she received her Bachelors from Loyola University. During her undergraduate studies, she interned for an independent commercial production company, which sparked her interest in all things Hollywood. In 1998, she moved to Southern California and soon after pursued her Masters in Film/Screenwriting at Chapman University.


In 2002, under the guidance of her teacher and mentor Leonard Schrader, she began rewriting her thesis screenplay OFFICER DOWN as a novel. Three years later, OFFICER DOWN was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur and went on to win the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel. PROBABLE CAUSE, her second book, was a New York Times’ Editor’s Choice in January 2007. PERSON OF INTEREST, her third novel, was a hit with Janet Maslin at the New York Times and a Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 mystery of 2007. In 2008, Theresa accepted the Twenty-first Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation in recognition for an emerging artist with ties to Chicago.

Her fourth book, LAST KNOWN ADDRESS, was released July 7, 2009.


DPL: Your fiction is Chicago–the good, the bad, and the ugly. I know you live in the city but how do you go about researching all the great locations and neighborhoods you include in your stories?

TS: You also know I didn’t always live in the city! When I lived in Southern California, my trips to Chicago for the holidays always included at least one day of driving to places I’d never seen or on an architecture or neighborhood tour. I took photos and notes. Often, there would be at least one photo that really inspired me—for PERSON OF INTEREST, it was a shot of the back of a bunch of shops in Little Chinatown. I wrote the whole third act based on that photo.

Now that I’m back, I have to be careful or I’m over-stimulated—instead of working from memory I have the whole city right outside my windows. I have to give every draft at least one read to make sure I haven’t written a travelogue—especially since I wouldn’t encourage anyone to visit most of the places I write about…

DPL: You have cops down pat. What they do, what they say, how they think. How do you get it so gritty and so right?

TS: I’ve been asked this question before, and it wasn’t until a recent MAD MEN rerun that I realized where my knack for getting away with writing things I don’t necessarily know. In the episode I’m talking about, Don Draper’s pajama-dressed kids are sitting on the steps up to the bedrooms listening to their parents talk to dinner guests. I don’t remember what the Drapers were talking about, but I remember being that kid. I grew up an only child, and I spent a lot of time listening to grownups talk to each other. I don’t have any cops in my family and I haven’t spent nearly enough time with police to know how they ‘really’ talk, but I think I learned the important, subtle ways people communicate early on. We talk about things by talking around them. We develop shorthand between friends, coworkers, partners, and lovers. So, even when I’m writing cops, I think the key is to include those universals.

DPL: Any scary incidents during your research?

TS: There have been a number of adrenaline-releasers and those are usually right when things go from normal to nuts. The police I’ve been with have always considered my safety first and foremost, but I’ve been ordered to “get out of the crossfire,” to “stay in the car,” or to “wait here” (here being the side of the road while an officer drove off after a crook). I get it: when things go nuts, I’m another risk.

DPL: What’s the coolest police procedural or forensic technique you’ve used in a story?

TS: That’s a tough one since most of my cops don’t play by the rules. After four books, it seems to me “procedure” is another word for “frustration.” Go figure: my favorite part of writing the Job is getting people to talk. I do have Sloane Pearson, the ex-homicide cop in Last Known Address, take a look at a body and tell another cop everything he missed—and that’s thanks to you, Dr. Lyle…

DPL: Your characters are definitely flawed. What, to you, is the most interesting character flaw you’ve ever given one of your characters and how did it effect the story?

TS: Vince Marchetti, the character in the story I’m working on now, is the most flawed and most interesting. Vince is an ex-homicide cop who was wounded on his last case by a killer who did a number on his face. He’d been a handsome guy, and a popular cop, and now his appearance and self-image are forever altered. I’ve never worked with a character who’s already knowingly hit rock-bottom. I’ve had trouble getting him to go to work.

DPL: Writers hate the question–Where do you get your ideas? Your stories seem to come right out of the Chicago streets. Do you devour newspapers or hang out with cops or reporters? So I guess I’m asking: Where do you get your ideas?

TS: I do hang out with reporters and cops—so much so that they’ve become friends and rarely have anything juicy to tell. I read all kinds of stuff—from the Iliad to Modern Criminal Procedure to The Urantia Book, and I watch old movies. I read old newspapers, I talk to people. I overload on ideas and wait a while to see what sticks.

DPL: I know you just finished a tour for Last Know Address and I suspect you’re going to relax a bit, but then what’s next? Any conferences coming up? A new book in the works?

TS: Megan Abbott and I will be in Ann Arbor at Aunt Agatha’s on September 18, and I will also be at Bouchercon. Other than that, I’m cracking the whip on this new book—I’ve got a lot to learn, as usual, about why people do what they do. (Expect an email.)

Visit Theresa’s Website

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 27, 2009 in Interviews, Writing


On This Day: Allan Pinkerton Born

On this day 190 years ago Allan Pinkerton was born in Scotland. He came to the United States in 1842, settling in Chicago, where he began work as a detective for local and federal police. His duties predominantly dealt with counterfeiting and mail fraud. In 1855 he formed his own agency known as the North West Police Agency.

Pinkerton’s rise to national fame came during the Civil War when he successfully thwarted an assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Later during the war he was asked by General George B. McClellan to act as a spy. He indeed became a very effective spy in and around Virginia and his unit became known as the “Secret Service.”


Allan Pinkerton with Abraham Lincoln and General John McClernand at Antietam in 1862.

His career included the investigation of such criminals as the James Gang, the Dalton Brothers, and the infamous Molly Maguires. Some of his more controversial activities revolved around his involvement in labor disputes where his men served to strike breakers. Perhaps the most notorious of these was the famous Pullman Strike of 1894.

Pinkerton Wikipedia



Posted by on August 25, 2009 in On This Day, Police Procedure


Forensic Graphology: A Key to Understanding Killers by Sheila Lowe

Like her Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series (Penguin/Obsidian) character, Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in a variety of handwriting-related cases. A frequent guest in the media when there are interesting handwritings to comment on, Sheila recently appeared on Dateline NBC, discussing the Clark Rockefeller case. She’s the author of the best-selling Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and award-winning Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.

Sheila was kind enough to share her expertise with us.

It’s been fifteen years since Susan Smith, “killer mom,” strapped her two little boys into their car seats and sent them into John D. Long Lake, drowning as she watched, hysterical, from the shore. In the late 1980s Christine Falling became infamous as the babysitter who, over a period of time, smothered six small children in her care. In more recent times we have Casey Anthony. What news watcher in 2009 has not heard of this young woman who is awaiting trial for the murder of her toddler daughter, Caylee? Or American student Amanda Knox, currently on trial in Italy for the murder of her roommate in a sex game gone horribly wrong?

Besides being tried for murder, what do these women have in common? Their handwritings have been studied by forensic graphologists. Graphology is the generic term for handwriting analysis and simply means “the study of handwriting.” More specifically, the study of handwriting to understand personality, and in these cases, to understand what might have driven them to kill.

Can handwriting of women who kill really tell us something about them?
In reality, this is an enormously complex subject, but it can be boiled down to this basic fact: handwriting can reveal important information about what motivates the writer.
To be properly understood, a handwriting sample needs to be viewed as if it were picture. It’s not a simple case of “this means that.” There is no direct relationship between a single stroke of writing and a personality trait such as if you make high t-bars it mean you have high goals. Picking out bits and pieces such as how you dot you i’s or how big your loops are, is not particularly useful unless they are examined within the context of the whole writing sample.

In examining these women’s handwritings, are there commonalities?

Susan Smith:



Christine Falling:



Casey Anthony:



Amanda Knox:

Knox, A


Smith, Falling, Anthony, and Knox all have handwriting that is very rounded and is concentrated in an area known as the “middle zone” (which includes letters that don’t have upper or lower loops, or the middle parts of letters that do). In general, people with these characteristics (excessive roundness and large middle zone) have been found to need far more love, nurturing, and attention than the average person. Looking back on their early life, they felt deprived of those qualities. As adults, they spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to get their unfulfilled emotional needs satisfied in relationships, yet they invariably choose relationships with men who are unable to meet their needs.

Falling’s handwriting has some interesting features, marked by arrows. The first part of the word ‘me,’ for example, is formed in a way that looks like an X, as the long initial stroke of the ‘e’ crosses the downstroke of the ‘m’. Interestingly, people who make this form often have a “death consciousness.” In many cases, someone close to them has died and they may be feeling guilty about it. In Falling’s case, the cause is much more sinister, of course. The other arrow in her sample points to a letter ‘l’ that is twisted on top, and which indicates idiosyncratic thinking—she doesn’t see the world the way the rest of us do. It is reported that when Falling was a child of eight, her mother hit her in the head with a two-by-four, resulting in epileptic seizures.

A notable characteristic in Susan Smith’s handwriting are the letter ‘t’, which have a cross so low that the cross bar sits on the baseline. It also stays on the left of the ‘t’ stem, rather than crossing through it. This has been identified in the handwritings of “professional victims” who set themselves up for punishment. Her letters squeeze together, bumping up against each other, which suggests a lack of social boundaries, and is sometimes seen as an aspect of suicidal thinking.

Casey Anthony’s handwriting has some letters that are close together and others that are far apart, which reveals ambivalence abut who she is. It also contains letters that are hard to distinguish, or that look like something they’re not, an indicator for not telling things like they are.

Amanda Knox’s handwriting is fairly typical of modern young women. Once again, the letter spacing is extremely narrow, and as with the other writers, the writing is concentrated in the middle zone. People who use this form tend to believe that the world revolves around them, they manage to rationalize their behaviors, and they look to no authority beyond their own noses.

Does handwriting reveal that someone is a killer? No. But it does provide information to help understand the motives behind their behavior. For the women whose handwritings appear here, the chief motivating factor is the need for love, attention, and approval. Smith rid herself of her children because the man she was seeing didn’t want children and she desperately wanted his love and approval. Falling killed children to get attention. Neither Anthony nor Knox have been convicted so far, but their motivations are the same—they see only their own needs.

The few characteristics that I’ve pointed out here are only a tiny section of the dozens of elements that a handwriting professional considers in making an assessment, and that’s true regardless of whether the writer is a killer, a salesman, a teacher, or a doctor. And, by the way, when it comes to their handwriting, doctors get a bad rap—like everyone else, doctors are individuals, some with bad handwriting and some with beautiful handwriting. And, like the killers and possible killers we’ve looked at here, their handwriting tells the truth about them!

Visit Sheila’s website.


Posted by on August 24, 2009 in Document Examination, Guest Blogger


Jasmine Fiore’s Killer Found Hanged in Canadian Motel

This bizarre story has finally reached a conclusion–of sorts. Doesn’t it seem these cases always end this way? The killer takes his own life and leaves the victim’s family with a lifetime of WHY?

AP Story

Vancouver Sun Story


Fond Du Lac Jane Doe: A Unique Method for Corpse ID

The ME will use any and all tools at his disposal to help identify an unknown corpse. Such is the case with the young lady known as the “Fond du Lac Jane Doe.”

She is unidentified and has remained so since her badly decomposed body was found in a rural wooded area near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin last November. The ME determined that she was between 15 and 21, just over 5-feet tall, and weighed between 110 and 135 pounds. Police believe she might be Caucasian, but a University of Wisconsin anthropologist determined that she was Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. Scouring missing persons reports has not turned up an ID and even though the manufacturer of her clothing was identified, this offered little help. DNA has been obtained but with nothing to compare it to it is of no use.

A forensic artist created a composite likeness and the clothing manufacturer provided copies of her clothing so that police could construct a composite picture. Then they took the unique step of creating a Facebook page for Jane Doe. Hopefully this will lead to her identity.


ABC News Story

Facebook Page

Sheriff’s Department Site


Jasmine Fiore: Corpse ID from Breast Implants

The recent murder of Jasmine Fiore, which took place right here in Orange County, is an interesting case of body identification.  Her corpse was found on August 15th in a suitcase that had been dumped in a dumpster in Buena Park California. The primary suspect in her murder is Ryan Jenkins.


Apparently the couple had stayed at a hotel in San Diego where video surveillance cameras showed Jenkins leaving the hotel with a suitcase. There was no evidence on any of the tapes of Jasmine being with him and in fact no evidence that she ever left the hotel at all. At least not walking. When her body turned up stuffed in a suitcase similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video, Jenkins immediately became a suspect. His whereabouts at this time is unknown but there is speculation that he fled the country to his native Canada.

It seems that she had been strangled and her body mutilated in that her teeth and fingers had been removed. I read one report that stated that only her fingernails had been removed but I think the more reliable sources say that it was her fingers. Why would someone remove the teeth and fingers of the corpse? Obviously to prevent identification of the body. With no dental records and no fingerprints this can make body identification much more difficult.

When the medical examiner is confronted with an unidentified corpse, he must go through several steps in order to identify the victim. This identification is crucial, not only because loved ones and family need to know, but also this is the first and perhaps the most important step in identifying the killer. It has been said that over 90% of the time murder victims know their killer. So identifying the body will help police focus on the proper pool of suspects.

To make the identification, the medical examiner will first determine the size, age, sex, and race of the victim and then compare this with missing persons reports in the hopes that one of these missing people is the victim. He will also rely on the clothing, jewelry, and of course a wallet or purse with a driver’s license would be a big help. But clothing and jewelry are often distinctive and can help with identification. A laundry mark on clothing, an inscription on jewelry, or an unusual and one of a king piece of clothing of jewelry can lead to a positive ID.

Fingerprints would also be obtained and compared with those of any missing persons — if their fingerprints are available — or they can be run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). If the individual is in the database the identification can be made.

Dental records or DNA are useful if dental records or DNA is available from a compatible missing person. Sometimes DNA can be obtained from family members and used to determine that the unidentified body is related and this can provide identification. But if there is no family and the victim does not match any missing person reports then DNA and dental records are of little use.

Other important method for identification are surgical scars, birthmarks, and tattoos. These can often be distinctive, particularly tattoos. In fact, some tattoos can be traced back to the artists that did the work because because their style is so distinctive. Birthmarks are also unique. Remember Gorbachev’s nevus flammus (port wine stain) birthmark?

Artificial devices such as pacemakers, orthopedic implants (artificial hips and knees for example), and breast implants often carry serial numbers that can be traced back to the manufacturer, the hospital where the device was implanted, and the doctor who implanted the device. Medical records will then reveal who the recipient was and the identification can be made that way. In the case of Jasmine Fiore, identification was completed through her breast implants.

Now if the police can only locate Jenkins they can hopefully solve this case.

MSNBC Article

Want to know more? There is an entire chapter on Corpse ID in my book, Howdunnit: Forensics.

Howdunnit 200X267 copy


On This Day: Elvis Presley

On this day in 1977 at approximately 2:30 PM the King Rock ‘n Roll was found dead on a bathroom floor at Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He had not been seen since around 6 AM, right after he finished playing racquetball.


This was a death that reverberated around the world because Elvis Presley was a world icon. The most recognizable name and perhaps the most recognizable face on the planet.


The autopsy revealed no evidence of trauma or stroke or a heart attack or anything else that would cause a 42-year-old man to suddenly fall dead. Then the toxicology reports returned. These reports have been the subject of controversy and discussion for over 30 years now.

The investigation into The King’s death led to Dr. George Nichopoulos, the original “Dr. Feelgood.” He wrote prescriptions for Elvis for many years and some estimates indicate that he gave Elvis over 10,000 doses of downers, uppers, and narcotics. Seems that Michael Jackson found similar physicians.

The toxicology report indicated that Elvis had significant amounts of Ethinamate (a short-acting sleeping pill taken for insomnia), Methaqualone (Quaalude), codeine (a narcotic), and barbiturates (a class of tranquilizer) as well as smaller amounts of chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine), meperidine (Demerol), morphine (a narcotic) and Valium (a benzodiazepine tranquilizer) in his bloodstream. The question that remains is whether this pharmacological soup directly killed Elvis or did he simply have a cardiac arrhythmia and all of these drugs had little or no role in his death?

This may sound like a simple determination but in fact it is quite difficult and it is problems like these that perplex the medical examiner and the forensic toxicologist on a daily basis. Narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and even antihistamines, when combined, can lead to treacherous results. Though the levels of none of these medications found in Elvis’ body, taken by themselves, would have resulted in death, the combination might very well have. These types of medicines tend to be additive and cumulative. Since narcotics and tranquilizers and sedatives all have depressing effects on the brain’s respiratory center, it is possible that this combination caused Elvis to stop breathing, collapse, and die. It is also entirely possible that his heart simply stopped due to a cardiac arrhythmia and these medications had little or nothing to do with it.

This is not an uncommon problem in forensic investigations. The determination that must be made is whether the drug or the combination of drugs was sufficient to cause death in and of themselves, or did they contribute to the death, or were they simply incidental findings and had nothing to do with the death. These are very difficult problems to resolve since each individual reacts to medications and combinations of medications differently. Maybe what Elvis took was too much for his system. Maybe he was used to these drugs and they had little effect on him. We will probably never know the answer to this question.

Cobain, Kurt

The same dilemma was part of the investigation into the death of Kurt Cobain, a death that was ruled suicidal but might very well might have been something more sinister. Also, these types of questions are coming to the forefront in the investigation of the death of Michael Jackson. Stay tuned.

Elvis Wikipedia

Elvis Tox Report from the University of Utah

Kurt Cobain Wkikpedia

Justice For Kurt

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