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Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.: Review of Criminology of Homicidal Poisoning

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The Subtle Art of Poisoning

Expert discusses investigative criminological toxicology.

In 1993, Glenn Turner, a police officer in Georgia, named his wife, Lynn, as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. After she began an affair with a firefighter named Randy Thompson, Turner grew sick and died. The medical examiner ruled it natural. Lynn quickly moved in with Randy. He purchased a life insurance policy but her overspending threatened a potential rift. Pretty soon, he, too, was sick. When he died, it was another “natural death.”

The mothers of these men joined forces and got a new investigation. By the fall of 2001, it became clear that both men had been poisoned with ethylene glycol, i.e., antifreeze, which causes organ failure. Lynn was arrested. An abundance of circumstantial and behavioral evidence linked her to the deaths, and the “black widow” was found guilty. In 2010, she committed suicide in prison by poisoning herself with a prescription medication.

This is just one of the seven “instructive” cases that Dr. Michael Farrell provides in his book, Criminology of Homicidal Poisoning. Others are “American Beauty Killer” Kristin Rossum and the Cooper brothers. He also discusses healthcare killers like Harold Shipman, many of whom used lethal levels of medications. Farrell, a private consultant on the use of poison in homicides, has a substantial background in psychiatry and medical research. This comprehensive textbook links forensic toxicology with criminology, making an important contribution to both fields.

Farrell not only describes how homicidal poisoning fits the most popular criminological theories for why people kill but also examines the nature and lethality of various poisons, identifies trends in poisoning, provides a history, and shows offender traits and victim characteristics. In one chapter, he even discusses issues for investigators and prosecutors who will be taking a poisoning case to trial.

These perpetrators have a lot on their side, and case reconstruction often depends largely on circumstantial evidence, with an emphasis on motive. (Kristin Rossum, for example, was having an affair, for example, and her husband, who’d supposedly committed suicide by fentanyl overdose, was known to be pill-aversive. Rossum had access to the drug.) It took years and persistent family members, along with acknowledgment of investigative errors, to bring Lynn Turner to justice.

Cold case investigators should take note! Many poisonings initially look natural or accidental, or can be passed off as a suicide. Suspicious circumstances, no matter how seemingly slight, should be investigated. Intentionality is key – what do these suspects gain from it? Poisoners can go undetected for years, especially if their victims are members of populations who are expected to die (the sick and elderly).

Successful poisoners are cunning, remorseless, and often greedy or looking for a way out of a difficult situation. They must have the intelligence to study the behavior of a poison and to plan ahead for its use and consequences. They need to know if they prefer a quick or slow death and how to hide the symptoms. Staging plays a significant part.

Stagers find ways to mask symptoms or defer investigation. They might oppose an autopsy and have a body cremated. They might write a suicide note or “confide” to a doctor that the victim was suicidal. They might clean up the scene, wipe a computer search, or surround a search with context that subtracts evidentiary value. They might have a ready explanation if poison is detected. (A minister who “discovered” his overdosed wife dead told police that she was a sleepwalker and must have taken the pills by accident.)

It’s a popular notion that females are more likely to use poison than any other means, which gives the false impression that males rarely poison. Male poisoners apparently outnumber females – at least, of those who are caught. Medical professionals are over-represented, possibly because they have more knowledge of, and access to, drugs and potential poisons. Over and over, we find that healthcare serial killers have administered the “wrong” meds or given an overdose. It’s important that we understand those who decide to kill someone in this manner.

Farrell believes that homicidal poisoning is underestimated. Given how easy it can be to overlook evidence, to accept other explanations, and make investigative missteps, he’s probably right. Poisons can be easy to acquire, and motives to use it are all-too-human.

Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 60 books.

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Posted by on December 27, 2017 in Book Review, Guest Blogger, Poisons & Drugs

 

A-LIST Launch Party

3 Books

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Mystery Ink Bookstore
www.mysteryink.com/mysteryink@hotmail.com
8907 Warner Avenue, #135, Huntington Beach, CA
714 960-4000

Sunday, December 17, 2:00 p.m. – D. P. Lyle, A-LIST Launch Party!
Cake!  Wine & Cheese!
Award-winning author D.P. Lyle will be talking about and signing his latest Jake Longly
thriller, A-LIST.  Jake and Nicole Jemison are off to New Orleans at the behest of Nicole’s uncle, movie producer Charles Balfour, when his megastar, A-list actor, Kirk Ford, awakens in his hotel bed with the body of Kristi Guidry, a local college co-ed. Ford, remembers little of the evening and nothing of the murder. And, to make matters worse, Kristi is the niece of a local mafioso-type who will do whatever is necessary to avenge her death. The clock is ticking as Jake and Nicole struggle to decipher who’s lying, who’s telling the truth, and exactly who schemed to murder Kristi Guidry.

D.P. Lyle, MD, is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar Award nominated author of the nonfiction books FORENSICS: A GUIDE FOR WRITERS and FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES.  He has been the consultant on numerous TV shows including, Law & Order and Monk and is the author of the ROYAL PAINS books based on the TV series. His crime novels include STRESS FRACTION, HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL and RUN TO GROUND.  His first novel in his Jake Longly Thriller series is DEEP SIX.

A-LIST INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/a-list.html

 

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2017 in Writing

 

A-LIST Review and Interview in ITW’s The Big Thrill

COMING 12-12-17 from Oceanview

FROM THE BIG THRILL 12-1-17:

A-LIST by D.P. LYLE

By R.G. Belsky

Award-winning thriller author D.P. Lyle loves to write about murder – the fictional kind in his novels and the real thing too.

Lyle’s new book A-LIST is about a star actor accused of killing his young girlfriend. It’s the second in the Jake Longly series, featuring an ex-baseball pitcher and somewhat unorthodox private investigator who works (not always well) for his father.

“In this one,” Lyle explains, “Jake and girlfriend Nicole are asked by Nicole’s uncle Charles Balfour—big-time producer and director—to go to New Orleans where Uncle Charles’ franchise A-List actor Kirk Ford has awakened with a dead girl in his bed at the famous Monteleone Hotel. Oh, the girl is a college co-ed who just happens to be the niece of Tony Guidry, a ruthless, mafia-type. Things go sideways in a hurry.”

Lyle says he created the Jake Longly character, who first appeared in Deep Six last year, to make this series comedic as well as a good mystery/thriller.

“I wanted Jake, the protagonist, to have certain qualities. Good-looking, always a hit with the ladies, not overly ambitious, not the smartest guy on the planet but smart in his own way, and likable. I also wanted him to have conflicts with his father who is an entirely different person than Jake. But mainly, I wanted him to be a handsome, ex-jock who more or less skates through life, having fun and avoiding major conflicts.”

Adding to the fun is Nicole, Jake’s sexy girlfriend and partner on his cases. “Nicole is actually one of my favorite characters,” Lyle says. “She is achingly beautiful but not an airhead. Not even close. She’s focused, smart, sarcastic, and knows how to handle Jake, and just about any other situation. I didn’t want her to be the beautiful sidekick or the victim or any other one-dimensional cutout character. I wanted her to have substance and indeed in the stories, she is often the one who comes up with the solution to the problem—and is instrumental to the resolution.”

But as well-known as Lyle is as a thriller writer (he’s won numerous fiction awards), he’s also renowned for his real-life expertise in medicine and forensics. A practicing cardiologist, Lyle writes popular non-fiction books on the subject of forensic science. And he maintains a unique medical/forensic website – The Crime Fiction Writer’s Forensics Blog – where countless writers come for his advice on how to murder someone in their novels or on screen.

This has included many top-selling thriller authors as well as TV crime shows such as Law & Order; Diagnosis Murder; Monk; Cold Case; CSI: Miami; and Medium.  

“I think I have about 6000 questions on my computer from writers over the past 20 years. I work with both novelists and screenwriters. Most of the questions either have a medical or a forensic science slant such as how poisons work, what various traumas look like, how DNA works, and in each case, the questions are geared toward solving a story problem.

“I’ve been asked some amazing questions over the years including things like would Abraham Lincoln have survived with modern medicine, how did David kill Goliath, what would a corpse look like on Mars, or in a swamp or a freezer, how does vampire blood work, what poison would mimic a heart attack, is there a poison that is untraceable, what happens when someone is hanged, or drowned, or beheaded. The list goes on and on.”

There is even a story about how he once helped novelist and TV writer Lee Goldberg with his plot issues – and also possibly saved his life by diagnosing him with dangerously high cholesterol as a cardiologist.

“I love the guy. Lee and I have worked together on many stories over the years. I helped him with several of his TV scripts as well as the Monk and Diagnosis Murder books he wrote—and a couple of the ones he’s doing with Janet Evanovich now,” Lyle recalls. “As for his cholesterol, we were having dinner one night at a conference many years ago, both of us having steaks, and the subject of cholesterol came up. I asked him when he last had his checked and he gave me a blank stare. I had him tested and we went from there.”

So how did Lyle go from a career in medicine as a cardiologist to becoming a writer?

“I grew up in the South where everyone can tell a story, and I grew up in a family of storytellers. So I could always spin a yarn but I wasn’t sure I could write one. I always said that when I retired I would begin to write. But 20 to 25 years ago now I decided if not now when? I took some night classes at the University of California, Irvine writing program, joined a couple of critique groups, and began writing. I found out that spinning a yarn is an entirely different animal than writing one. But it’s been a fun ride.”

Lyle did two other mystery/thriller series before this one – the Dub Walker and the Samantha Cody series. Walker is a forensic and evidence expert, Cody an ex-cop and ex-professional boxer.

He said he loves both characters, but for now, he’s concentrating on writing Jake Longly and a lot of other new stuff.

“I’m working on the next Jake Longly story. It will be set in Florida with all the craziness that goes on down there. I’m also working on a nonfiction project as well as a couple short stories. In addition, I’m working on another book that has an entirely new main character and will be the beginning of a new series.

“Then of course, there are my ITW (International Thriller Writer) duties—putting together CraftFest, Master CraftFest, and Thriller School—always ongoing projects. So, as usual, lots of balls in the air. But I like it that way. I’m not sure whether Dub or Sam will reappear but it’s entirely possible. If I come across a storyline that best fits them then absolutely. If not, then that’s OK too.”

Original Post: http://www.thebigthrill.org/2017/11/a-list-by-d-p-lyle/

A-LIST Details: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/a-list.html

 
7 Comments

Posted by on December 5, 2017 in Writing

 
 
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