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Author Archives: D.P. Lyle, MD

About D.P. Lyle, MD

Author, Lecturer, Story Consultant

Q and A: Can My Villain Cook Attempt a Murder Using Contaminated Food?

Q: My villain is a cook and he wants to kill the hero by feeding him tainted food. I want to avoid using a detectable poison, so I thought a deliberately introduced food-borne pathogen, such as ptomaine, botulism, E.coli, or salmonella, or something like those, would do it. But how do I get the bacteria/germs/whatever in the food? What will it do to him? How long would it take him to die, and what steps could the hero take to make sure he survives? What could the villain do to make sure the hero dies?

 

E. Coli

E. Coli Growing on a Culture Plate

 

A: This scenario will work but there are a few problems with it. First of all, using bacteria for murder is extremely unpredictable and most killers prefer a more predictable method. Just because your villain feeds contaminated food to the victim it does not mean that he will die because contaminated food rarely kills people but rather merely makes them sick. Typically people survive these types of illness—but not always. The best way to assure, or at least increase the probability, that your victim would die is to prevent him from reaching medical care.

Infectious processes most often kill by two mechanisms. The first is that they alter the function of the infected organ. For example, pneumonia can kill by infecting the lungs and filling the air spaces with bacteria and liquids we call exudates. This is simply the body’s reaction to the infection. Like a weeping wound or one that forms pus. This is what happens in the lungs and if so it interferes with the exchange of oxygen and the victim can die because the lungs fail. An infection in the kidneys can do the same thing by causing kidney failure and infection in the gastrointestinal tract, which is what would most frequently happen with ingested bacteria, can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration or in some cases or severe bleeding and death can follow from shock.

But the most treacherous thing associated with any of these infections is the passage of the bacteria from the infected organ into the bloodstream. We call this sepsis or septicemia, big words that mean infection in the blood stream. When this happens the infection spreads rapidly throughout the body and very quickly the victim can suffer from septic shock–low blood pressure and shock from bacteria in the blood stream. This can lead to death in short order.

So regardless of which bacterium you decide to use, it would need to be added to the food and the victim ingest it. This would make him ill with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and perhaps bleeding in either the diarrhea or the vomiting. If untreated such an infection could then spread to the bloodstream and be deadly. But the key here is that he must be prevented from reaching medical help. Otherwise he would be treated and survive. But untreated his chance of survival is dramatically reduced. So you need to figure a way to prevent him from reaching medical care once he developed symptoms.

As for what bacteria to use, both ptomaine and botulism would be very difficult to come by. They are rare and your cook would have no access to this type of organism. He could of course damage a can of some food product and leave it sitting in a warm environment and hope that the right bacteria grew but most likely it would not be the bacterium that causes botulism. That’s actually quite rare. So there would be no way for him to predict what organism would occur under that circumstance.

On the other hand, things such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella are quite common causes of food-borne gastrointestinal illness. If your chef knew someone who was infected with one of these, perhaps from a recent trip to Mexico where these are not uncommonly encountered, he could then use this individual to supply the needed bacteria. How would he do this? The best way would be to obtain some stool from the infected individual. This could be from contaminated toilet paper or an un-flushed toilet. Gross but that’s the way it is. This could then be placed into some food product and allowed to grow, which he could simply do a closet at home. He could then add some of this bacterial soup to the food product and in this way introduce a large amount of bacteria to the victim. Even better would be if he could find a way to inject this intravenously into the victim but that’s not absolutely necessary.

Again, this would make the victim very ill with gastrointestinal symptoms. Then, as I said, you’ll need to devise some scenario that prevents him from reaching medical help and if so he could easily die from sepsis.

There is an excellent non-fiction book in which a murder is committed exactly like this. It involves the murder of Joan Robinson Hill by her husband Dr. John Hill. It took place in the 1960s in Houston Texas and is an incredible story. The book is titled Blood and Money and was written by Tommy Thompson. If you can a copy of this it might help. Dr. Hill apparently grew bacteria in petri dishes at home and infected cream puffs to kill his wife. He then admitted her to a small hospital in the outskirts of Houston and he managed her care, which amounted to preventing her from getting adequate treatment since he did not offer her the treatment she needed. It became a huge and convoluted case that did indeed involved blood and money.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Working Stiff: An Interview with Forensic Pathologist Judy Melinek and co-author/husband TJ Mitchell

1-30-16: Crime and Science Radio: Working Stiff: An Interview with Forensic Pathologist Judy Melinek and co-author/husband TJ Mitchell

 

Melinek

BIO: Judy Melinek, M.D. is a graduate of Harvard University. She trained at UCLA in medicine and pathology, graduating in 1996. Her training at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York is the subject of her memoir, Working Stiff, which she co-wrote with her husband, writer TJ Mitchell. Currently, Dr. Melinek is CEO of PathologyExpert Inc., and works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland. She also travels nationally and internationally to lecture on anatomic and forensic pathology and she has been consulted as a forensic expert in many high-profile legal cases, as well as for the television shows E.R. and Mythbusters.

T.J. Mitchell, her husband, graduated with an English degree from Harvard and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time-stay-at-home dad to their three children. He is currently collaborating with Dr.Melinek in writing FIRST CUT, the inaugural novel in a forensic detective fiction series. WORKING STIFF is Mitchell’s first book.

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/01/30/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guests-judy-melinek-and-tj-mitchell

Link goes live Saturday 1-30-16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Working Stiff:  www.drworkingstiff.com

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DrJudyMelinekMD

Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/DrWorkingStiff

Twitter: @drjudymelinek and @tjmitchellWS

Pathology Expert Site: http://www.pathologyexpert.com

Work Stew Podcast Interview: http://www.workstewpodcast.com/?p=1142

Scribner Books Video Interview: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner https://youtu.be/TWyvqtFnA1M

The Real CSI: UCTV Lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFPW016ocXI&feature=youtu.be

NPR Science Friday with Ira Flatow: http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/behind-the-scenes-at-the-city-morgue/

 

Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition Coming Soon

 

FFD 300X378

 

Just got the new cover for Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

It will be released from Wiley on 2-29-16

Pre-Order now

 

Maybe Columbus Wasn’t “The Father of Syphilis” After All

 

Columbus

 

It has long been believed that the sailors who crewed Christopher Columbus’s ships in his famous 1492 voyage contracted syphilis from the natives and transported the deadly disease back to Europe. But was this disease already in Europe long before Columbus was even born? According to a recent article in the Journal of Biological and Clinical Anthropology that just might be the case.

Of course, now most cases of syphilis are treatable and curable with antibiotics, but in 1492 things were a bit different They didn’t know what caused it and indeed that bacteria even existed. Antibiotics? Still centuries away. So syphilis was often deadly, and, if not, it was very disfiguring and incapacitating.

The real culprit is a spirochete called Treponema palladium. And it might have been in Europe as early as 1320.

 

syphilis

 
7 Comments

Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Medical History

 

Crime and Science Radio: Tracking Down the Bad Guys: A Conversation with Retired US Marshal and Novelist Marc Cameron

Join Jan Burke and me as we welcome retire US Marshal Marc Cameron and discuss how the Marshals track down the bad guys—from Texas to Alaska. It’s a great show. Don’t miss it.

BIO: Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He’s published eleven novels, six of them Westerns.

BRUTE FORCE, sixth in his USA Today Bestselling Jericho Quinn Thriller series, is available December 2016 from Kensington. A second degree black belt in Ju Jitsu, Marc teaches defensive tactics to law enforcement agencies and civilian groups.

He lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.

 

Alaska Tracking Unit

 

Tracking in AZ

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/01/16/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-marc-cameron

LINKS:

Marc Cameroon Website: http://www.marccameronbooks.com

Marc Cameron on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarcCameronAuthor

Marc Cameron Blog: http://www.marccameronbooks.com/blog.htm

US Marshals Service: http://www.usmarshals.gov

 

Brute Force

 

Day Zero

 

ITW’s Online Thriller School Is Coming in March

Join us for ITW’s Third Annual Online Thriller School

Seven Weeks! Seven Bestselling Authors!

 

TS Faculty

Join Lee Child, Peter James, F. Paul Wilson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, David Corbett, Meg Gardiner, and James Scott Bell for Thriller School.

ITW’s Thriller School is only two months away and the available student slots are nearly filled. Don’t delay. Grab your spot. Sign up now.

Previous Thriller Schools have been a great success and each year students of all levels have come away with many new skills for their writing tool box. This year will be no different.

The seven-week program begins March 14th, 2016, and as before the craft of thriller writing will be front and center. Each instructor will teach an aspect of craft though a podcast, written materials that include further reading and study suggestions, and an entire week of on-line Q&A with the registered students. The goal is simple: To make each student a better writer.

The class schedule and teachers this year are:

3/14: Storytelling: The Art and Craft Of Story—David Corbett

3/21: Plot: What’s Happening Here?—Meg Gardiner

3/28: Character: The People Who Drive The Story—F. Paul Wilson

4/4: Point Of View: Who’s Eyes Are You Looking Through?—Hank P. Ryan

4/11: Dialog: It’s Not Like Real Conversation—James Scott Bell

4/18: Setting, Mood, Atmosphere: Bringing the Right “Feel” to Your Story?—Peter James

4/25: Voice: What Does A Good Story “Sound” Like?—Lee Child

 

TS Banner

Every writer knows that learning to write well is a life-long pursuit and writers must never cease improving their craft. There are many wonderful books, classes, and online sources that will help you improve your storytelling craft, but where can you learn directly from the best? From New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors?

Right here. At ITW’s next Online Thriller School.

Please join us and let us help you take your writing and storytelling to the next level.

Visit ITW’s Online Thriller School for more information, or click here to register.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in Writing

 

Sisters in Crime Forensics Day Coming 1-24-16

Join Dennis Palumbo, David Putnam, and me for the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s annual Forensics Day. It’ll be a fun afternoon as we dig into what makes the bad guys (and gals) do what they do.

Details:

Orange County Sisters in Crime Forensics Day
Dennis Palumbo, David Putnam, and DP Lyle
“What Makes Your Bad Guys Tick? Dark Motivations and Heinous Acts
Sunday, January 24th, 2016, 2:00 p.m.
Irvine Ranch Water District Community Room
15500 Sand Canyon Avenue
Irvine, CA 92618

ocsistersincrime.org

 

Forensics Fest 16 flyer

 
 
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