Monthly Archives: September 2012

Smiles: Not the Good Kind

The recent murder of an elderly woman and the possible suicide of actor Johnny Lewis (Sons of Anarchy) smacked of mental illness, drug abuse, or more likely both. Lewis apparently beat his landlady, 82-year-old Catherine Davis, to death, attacked a neighbor, and then fell or jumped from a roof to his own death. The insanity and violence of attacks such as this always raises the possibility of drugs and mental illness.


On first look it seemed to be classic for PCP (Phencyclidine or Angel Dust) or Methamphetamine. Both if these drugs can cause acute psychotic breaks and violent behavior. But maybe something else was involved. Something fairly new.



Smiles can be gotten as a white powder or compressed into pills

Sound so innocent doesn’t it. It is actually 2C-1, a form of hallucinogenic amphetamine that can be very destructive. Another gift from the infamous Alexander Shulgin.

Why the cute name? To attract young users of course.


Nightmare Sperm Donation

It seems that a Danish sperm donation facility failed to determine that one of its donors had an uncommon genetic disorder and might have passed it along to several of his “offspring.” The usual screening apparently failed to uncover the genetic markers for the disorder and as many as five children might have “inherited” the abnormal genes.

The disease in question is called Neurofibromatosis Type 1, or Von Recklinghausen’s Disease. It is characterized by multiple types of neurological tumors and cafe-au-lait spots–patches of light brown pigmentation whose color is reminiscent of coffee with milk.


Severe Neurofibromatosis

Severe Neurofibromatosis


Cafe au lait spots (black arrows) and a Neurofibroma (white arrow)


Though controversial, and over the years other diagnoses have been entertained, this might be the disorder that afflicted Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man.


Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man


A medical nightmare for these children and their families.



Sarah Yarborough Murder: A Cold Case Dating to the Mayflower

Do you know me?



On the morning of December 14, 1991, 16-year old Sarah Yarborough of Seattle went to school early. She didn’t want to miss the bus that woud take her cheerleading team to a competition. An exciting day for her. Except she didn’t make the bus. Her body, clad in her cheerleader uniform, was found near her parked car. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Several witnesses saw a man in the area, who was described as twenty-something, with long blonde hair, clad in a black trench coat, and driving a tan 1970 Chevy Nova, or similar car. A composite was created from these accounts.

Months and then years went by, and despite thousands of tips, no suspect was ever developed. The case went cold, as they say.

In a creative move, the King County Sheriff’s Department sent the DNA profile obtained from young Sarah’s body to forensic consultant Colleen Fitzpatrick in California. Employing genealogical techniques, she matched the crime scene DNA to the Massachusetts family of Robert Fuller, whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower in 1630.

Did this solve the case? Not yet. By now, the Fuller’s of 1630 would likely have thousands of descendants so the suspect pool remains large. But having the name Fuller attached to the other evidence might eventually be the key connection that leads to this killer. Let’s hope.


Posted by on September 21, 2012 in DNA, Forensic Art


Want To Read an Award-winning Book? And Maybe Win a Trip to France?

My friend Anne Trager, founder of Le French Book, has just released the English translation of THE PARIS LAWYER, by Sylvie Granotier, the master of French crime fiction. THE PARIS LAWYER, a police procedural set in France, won the prestigious Grand Prix Sang d’Encre Crime Fiction Award in 2011.



Check out Anne’s guest post on Mystery Writing Is Murder.


Purchase a copy, enter the contest, and keep your fingers crossed. You could be off to France.


There are several other contests and sweepstakes associated with this release, including a chance to win a signed first edition of my latest Dub Walker thriller RUN TO GROUND.


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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Writing


Electrotactile Stimulation: I feel You. Sort of.

Here is a bit of cool technology that might one day help surgeons “feel” their way around inside the body.


Rather than simply feeling the physical nature of the tissues they cut and dissect and suture, they can now, with this new technology, sense the tissue’s pressure, temperature, and electrical properties. Bet this will take some getting used to but its potential is interesting. Did Bones have this stuff on the Enterprise?



Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Medical Issues


Arson, Heart Attacks, and the Manner of Death

Back in May, I discussed the issue of Cause and Manner of death and the two killers who went to trial for murder when their victim died 30 years after the initial attack. The victim died from “natural causes” but the cascade of events that led to his death began with the assault by the two defendants.

In a slightly different situation, but one that weighs equally on the manner of death, Rickie Fowler has been convicted of the murder of five people who died from fatal heart attacks. But aren’t heart attacks natural events? How could he be guilty of murder?


Back in 2003 in San Bernardino County, CA, dear old Rickie decided to set the countryside ablaze by driving around the drought-dried hillsides and tossing flaming objects out the window of his vehicle. Here in California we deal with these morons every fire season. The result of Rickie’s little spree was a nine-day fire that consumed 91,000 acres, more than 1000 buildings, and the five heart attack victims, who suffered their fatal events while trying to escape the flames.


Sure heart attacks are natural, but the inciting event in the death of each was their fear, anxiety, stress, and physical activity as they rushed away from the conflagration. If not for the fire, the heart attacks would not likely have occurred. At least not on that day. A jury agreed and convicted Rickie on all five counts.


Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


Can Amyl Nitrite Cause Death And If So Would It Appear To Be Natural?

Q: Under what circumstances can poppers (Amyl nitrite) kill a victim so it looks like natural death? If this is not possible in reality, could you provide a pseudo-medical explanation?

L. Mitana, Slovakia

A: Amyl Nitrite is what we call a vasodilator–meaning it opens up all the blood vessels in the body. Too much can lead to an immediate and profound drop in blood pressure (BP) and this can cause death directly from shock or indirectly by generating a cardiac arrhythmia due to poor blood flow to the coronary arteries. If the victim has coronary artery disease (CAD), this drop in BP can cause a heart attack (myocardial Infarction or MI). So, too much Amyl can definitely be lethal and do so in several ways.

At autopsy the coroner would see nothing unless the victim had CAD. Either way he might write the death off as a cardiac arrhythmia. If he did test for amyl nitrite he might find it or not–it is destroyed very quickly by the body’s enzyme systems but some might remain after death–or not. But he would not test for this unless he had some evidence that Amyl Nitrite might be involved in the death.

This same vasodilatory effect is why Viagra should not be taken with long-acting nitrates. Some people who suffer from CAD are prescribed long-acting nitrates to help relieve angina—chest pain due to poor blood supply to the heart muscle. Like Amyl, these nitrates and Viagra are vasodilators and when taken in combination can cause a dramatic decline in BP and death can follow.


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