Monthly Archives: December 2012

You Did What? Alcohol Is A Dangerous Drug

With New Year’s Eve just days away I think this post might be appropriate. File this under a fraternity prank gone wrong.

We’ve all heard stories of college students binge drinking, passing out, being tucked in by classmates to “sleep it off,” and then turning up dead the next morning. The reason this occurs so commonly lies in the way the body metabolizes (destroys or breaks down) alcohol. It does so in a linear fashion as opposed to a dose-dependent fashion. This means that the system for destroying alcohol runs at its highest level at all times regardless of how much alcohol is consumed. With increased alcohol intake there is no way to “rev up” the system to handle the excess because the metabolic pathways are already running at maximum capacity. This allows the blood-alcohol level to rise rapidly and this is what leads to death from respiratory depression and asphyxia.

This nearly happened to University of Tennessee student Alexander Broughton, but not in the usual fashion. Most students drink alcohol but it seems that Alexander was given an alcohol enema as part of a fraternity hazing ritual. An activity that seems to go by the colorful moniker “Butt Chugging.” Really?

Broughton denies that this is the case but, whether it happened to him or not, it is still a lesson for anyone who might wish to try this. Though for the life of me I can’t see why anyone would.

It is important to note that many drugs can be given through the colon because they are absorbed very rapidly into the bloodstream through the lining of the lower G.I. tract. Alcohol is no different. So taking the alcohol as an enema is probably more dangerous than drinking it as it is absorbed very rapidly into the bloodstream when given by this route.


Howdunnit 200X267


Alcohol Metabolism: From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

The body eliminates most toxins in what is called a dose-dependent fashion. That is, the higher the dose taken, the more rapidly the toxin is metabolized. A small amount will activate only some of the enzymes that break down the toxin, whereas a larger amount will activate more enzymes in order to handle the increased load of toxin. In other words, the body calls up enough workers to get the job done quickly.

But, alcohol is metabolized in a linear fashion in that any amount of alcohol intake activates all the enzyme systems that destroy it. This means that from the first drink, the system operates at almost maximum efficiency and there is little or no ability to increase it. The average rate of ethanol destruction in the body is roughly equivalent to one drink per hour.

Why is this important? With rapid intake of alcohol, as is seen in binge drinking, so common among college students, the body has no method for increasing the removal of the alcohol. The system is already running at top speed and excessive intake overruns the body’s ability to deal with it. The result is that the concentration of alcohol in the blood will rise rapidly and this can lead to coma and death. You’ve no doubt read about such tragedies in the newspaper.

The story usually goes something like this: Joe gets very drunk at a party and passes out. His friends tuck him onto bed somewhere and continue partying, thinking Joe will “sleep it off.” Unfortunately, Joe still has a stomach full of alcohol, which continues to enter Joe’s bloodstream. Since Joe’s alcohol-destroying enzyme systems are already working at maximum capacity, the level of alcohol in the blood continues to rise, finally reaching a level that causes Joe to stop breathing. His corpse is found the next morning when everyone has sobered up. Happens all too often.

The blood alcohol content (BAC) correlates very well with degree of intoxication. The BAC level is expressed in grams percent, which means the number of grams of alcohol in each 100 milliliters of blood. As the level rises, the toxic effects of the alcohol become more pronounced. A level of 0.08 is the legal limit for intoxication in most jurisdictions. You may be impaired at a much lower level, but at 0.08 they’ll cuff you. The correlation of the BAC with the signs and symptoms of intoxication are well established.

BAC of 0.03: Most people will become giddy, but their motor skills will be little affected. This is equivalent to a single beer or one high ball in most individuals.

BAC of 0.03 to 0.08: Coordination, reaction time, and judgment decline.

BAC above 0.12: Nausea and vomiting can occur.

BAC of 0.25: Slipping into a coma is likely.

BAC of 0.30: Usually leads to a deep coma.

BAC of 0.40 or more: Death is likely.



Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


Hickock and Smith: Beyond IN COLD BLOOD

Perry Smith (Top) and Dick Hickock

Perry Smith (Top) and Dick Hickock

Perry Smith and Dick Hickok murdered the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas back in the 1950s. This gruesome killing of four innocent people, fueled by the duo’s belief that Mr. Clutter had a safe filled with money in his home (not true), rocked the citizens of Holcomb and indeed the nation. The story of the brutal murders caught the attention of Truman Capote who brilliantly rendered the story in his landmark book IN COLD BLOOD.

In Cold Blood

The killers were convicted and executed in a Kansas prison in 1965.

Flash forward to 2012. Investigators in Sarasota County, Florida believe that this dynamic duo might also have murdered the Walker family in 1959. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest this but the proof will come through DNA. Maybe.

Christine Walker was apparently raped before she was murdered and samples obtained from her have yielded DNA. This profile has been matched against several suspects but none have panned out. Now the police have exhumed the bodies of Hickock and Smith and taken bone fragments for DNA testing.

Stay tuned.


DNA: Chewed Up and Spit Out

Some stories just make you smile.


It seems that Gary Raub murdered a 70-year-old woman in 1976 and by now I’m sure thought he had gotten away with it. But the police never took him off the suspect list. To nab him they needed his DNA to compare against blood left at the crime scene by the perpetrator. The police came up with a very clever ploy.


A fake chewing gum survey.

It seems that old Gary was tricked into taking part in the survey and from the gum his DNA was obtained and the match made.

Lady Justice might be slow but she is relentless.


Posted by on December 17, 2012 in DNA, Police Procedure, Stupid Criminals


Connecticut Massacre Not New, Just Disturbing

Multiple murderers are often classified as Mass, Spree, or Serial Killers. The definitions vary from expert to expert but the general classification is:


MASS MURDERERS: Those who kill more than four people in one place at one time would fit this classification. These killers often have a clear agenda and want to send a message. This is the killer who walks into his workplace and shoots several people in a rapid-fire assault. The attack often ends with the killer taking his own life or in a “blaze of glory” with the police killing him in an exchange of gunfire. The motive is often some perceived wrong by his co-workers or employer. Examples are the University of Texas Tower shooter Charles Whitman, Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and Virginia Tech University killer Seung-Hui Cho.


Charles Whitman

Charles Whitman


SPREE KILLERS: These individuals kill several people at two or more locations with the killings linked by motive and with no “cooling-off” period between. The spree killer goes on a rampage, moving from place to place, city to city, even state to state, leaving bodies in his wake. It is as if an underlying rage pushes the perpetrator to act, and once he begins, he doesn’t stop or deviate from his goal. As with mass murders, the spree often ends in suicide or a confrontation with law enforcement. Andrew Cunanan offers an example of a spree killer.


Andrew Cunanan

Andrew Cunanan


SERIAL KILLERS: These offenders kill several people at different times and loca- tions with a cooling-off period between the killings. The cooling-off period, which may be days, weeks, months, even years in duration, distinguishes se- rial from spree killers. The catalog of serial killers includes some very famous names: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Henry Lee Lucas, Gary Ridgway, Jeffrey Dahmer, Randy Kraft, Dennis Rader, and many others.

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy


They all look so innocent don’t they?

The events in Connecticut would be classified as Mass Murder. This is always a shocking crime but when children are involved the shock is greatly magnified. Sadly, the mass killing of children is not confined to small town Connecticut and is definitely not new.

It just happened in China, and in her article “Who Shoots Children?” my friend Dr. Katherine Ramsland puts it in historical perspective.


Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Forensic Psychiatry, Multiple Murderers


RUN TO GROUND signing next Saturday in Huntsville, AL

Those of you in the Huntsville, AL area drop by The Coffee Tree next Saturday the 22nd between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. I’ll be signing RUN TO GROUND and the other Dub Walker books. And they have excellent coffee and beignets. Should be fun


Coffee Tree Books & Brew

Saturday, December 22, 2012, 8:30-11:30 a.m.

7900 Bailey Cove Rd, Suite A&B

Huntsville, AL



RTG 300X450

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Writing


Drug Smuggling Gets Creative

Criminals are for the most part not all that bright but sometimes their creativity is amazing. Drug traffickers notoriously go to great lengths to slip their product past inspectors and detection devices at airports and border crossings. Last year I posted about diamond and drug smugglers swallowing their booty in an often misguided attempt to avoid detection. Condoms filled with cocaine are one trick that can result in death if one of the condoms breaks.


X-ray of swallowed cocaine-filled balloons

X-ray of swallowed cocaine-filled balloons


Now two other clever methods have popped up:

A Panamanian woman was recently arrested in Barcelona, Spain as she attempted to smuggle 3 pounds of cocaine secreted inside her breast implants. I wonder if she got the idea from watching re-runs of NIP/TUCK, where this was one of the story lines in the quirky series.


BReast Implants

Breast Implants


The other is a very unique pneumatic-powered canon that fires barrels packed with marijuana over the border near Yuma, AZ. It didn’t work, at least this time, but you have to give them an A for creativity.


Barrels of marijuana scattered like unexploded mortar shells

Barrels of marijuana scattered like unexploded mortar shells


DNA Imaged

Using an Electron Microscope, Enzo di Fabrizio and his team at the University of Genoa have produced the first clear image of the DNA double helix.

Very cool.


DNA Double Helix Structure

DNA Double Helix Structure



The DNA Double Helix

EM Picture of the DNA Double Helix





Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


Quacks Are Everywhere and Have Been For a Long time

One of the things I like about reading the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is the section on articles published in the Journal 100 years ago. In November of this year an interesting article that was published on November 9, 1912 was republished. There was titled “Telepathic Diagnosis!”

It seems that Dr. J. A. Quackenbos uncovered the story of a telepathic Belgian woman who apparently had the power to diagnose diseases from afar. It seems to perform her magic she must be put into a quasi-trance by hypnosis and from there she can psychically travel to the afflicted person and look inside them and determine what their medical problem might be. Wow. Wish I could do that. It would’ve saved me countless hours of head scratching and worry over the past 40 years.

Patent Meds

Patent Medicines

At first glance you might think that Dr. Quackenbos is the origin of the term quack. But that’s not the case. It actually comes from the old Dutch word kwakzalver, which means  a person who chatters or prattles. From that the word quack, which means someone who fraudulently pretends to have medical skills that are not real, evolved. Quacks have been with us throughout history from the ancient patent medicine and snake oil salesman to the modern day manufacturers of pills and tonics and potions that are supposed to cure everything from schizophrenia to diabetes. Is all PT Barnum supposedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”


PT Barnum and Tom Thumb

PT Barnum and Tom Thumb



Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Medical History, Medical Issues


Blog Repost: Katherine Ramsland: Self Reflections From Serial Killers

Self Reflections from Serial Killers

A nineteenth-century French pathologist invented criminal autobiographies.

Published on November 7, 2012 by Katherine Ramsland in “Shadow Boxing”

It was an innovative idea: get incarcerated offenders to tell their life stories. Collectively, they might thus offer clues about the nature of criminality. And it wasn’t a psychiatrist who thought of this, but a Jack-of-all-trades pathologist.

By the late 1800s, Dr. Jean Alexandre Eugène Lacassagne, a medical professor from the University of Lyon, had already initiated or invented a number of forensic practices, and to this list he added criminal autobiographies.

He believed that solid data might come not just from scientific observers like himself and his medical colleagues but also from the subjects themselves. Lacassagne first tried a few interviews, but then he devised what he viewed as a more productive idea that would benefit the offender as well. He identified those who wished to express themselves, either in writing or with drawings, and he encouraged them to do so.

Lacassagne supplied the instruments they needed and told them to address their writings or drawings to him. Each week, he visited the prison to check their notebooks, correcting and sometimes guiding the budding authors into productive directions. If they filled a notebook, he gave them another, and sometimes he would publish their work in his professional journal. Occasionally, he paid them.

From both males and females, Lacassagne collected more than sixty such manuscripts, averaging about twenty-five pages. However, one inmate, set for execution, had filled six notebooks.

If Lacassagne thought a manuscript was not acceptable, he made the prisoner rewrite it, but he usually left the choice of material to the subject. A few participants came to view Lacassagne as a friend or father figure, especially those who felt improved by the experience. Many were keen to work with a such a prominent scientist to try to understand themselves.

As his theory suggested, Lacassagne learned from these writings that many prisoners’ family histories were full of violence, tension, poverty, and disease. This taught him a great deal about the origins of, and influences on, criminality.

Some of the men had never had a relationship with a woman, he discovered. They often had little education and only a precarious means of supporting themselves. Their marginality contributed to their impulse to commit crimes and most had started young, earning numerous short prison sentences.

Writing their life story, some attested, made them feel slightly less anonymous, as if they might actually have something important to say. A few made observations about other prisoners they’d met, too.

Scholars who have studied these documents suggest that some offenders had deliberately blackened their character or mentioned a background that supported Lacassagne’s theory simply to capture the doctor’s attention. However, he had no sympathy for malingerers, and he caught a few.

Yet this is, indeed, a primary concern with the scientific study of criminal personalities via personal contact. Examiners have difficulty veiling their interests as they listen, and astute subjects who want to impress them figure out what to say. Despite the oft repeated desire to “assist science,” either party can become more interested in his own goals.

A few offenders wanted to be viewed as experts in crime or at least in their particular variety of crime (sort of like incarcerated serial killers today who want to help the FBI). Some of Lacassagne’s subjects even believed that the “docs” had it all wrong: these professionals viewed criminals through the distorted lens of a pet theory. Because they want the crimes to make sense, i.e., to have an understandable motive, they leapt too readily to their own conclusions.

One killer of four claimed that while the professionals who evaluated him attributed his offenses to greed, he saw the influence of a childhood head injury, lifetime substance abuse, and the sudden blinding sensibility that preceded each stabbing event. No one who examined him had even considered these items as causal, and in this, said the offender, they were remiss.

Lacassagne once said, “Societies have the criminals they deserve.” Although he believed that disease and addiction, passed on to successive generations, could cause mental and physical degeneracy, he leaned toward the idea that poverty, social marginalization, and other such factors were significantly involved.


Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 46 books and over 1,000 articles. She teaches forensic psychology and her area of specialization is serial murder. Her latest book on the subject is The Mind of a Murderer.


%d bloggers like this: