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Category Archives: Cause & Manner of Death

Carbon Dioxide Shows Up (And Kills) in Unexpected Places

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is everywhere. It’s the predominant gas you exhale with each breath. It comes from many other sources, including grape fermentation. This was tragically evident when four members of a winemaking family in Italy attempted to stir their barreled wine. Things didn’t go well.

https://www.newser.com/story/311791/freak-winemaking-accident-kills-4-members-of-family.html

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is present in very low amounts in the atmosphere but when its concentration increases above 10%, it replaces the Oxygen (O2) available for breathing to the point that hypoxia (low oxygen) results and death from asphyxiation becomes a real risk. In the wine-makers’ case, the CO2 generated by the wine fermentation built up within the enclosed space and reached toxic levels. The result of excess CO2 and lowered O2 in the air is confusion, disorientation, collapse, coma, and death from asphyxia.

Not as dangerous as its cousin, Carbon Monoxide (CO), CO2 remains a deadly gas.

On 6-29-21, I recorded a podcast on Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction about Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning.

For more on CO2, CO, and other deadly gases, check out:

OR

 

Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre: What Hollywood Gets Wrong with DP Lyle

Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross have a new gig, Carnival Macabre, which replaces their excellent Haunted Nights show. But it didn’t tamp down their zaniness.

I had a great time talking about Hollywood, crime, and storytelling. Take a listen.

https://carnivalmacabre.libsyn.com/thorne-cross-carnival-macabre-what-hollywood-gets-wrong-with-forensics-expert-dp-lyle

Top 10 Writers’ Medical Mistakes

D. P. Lyle, MD

The Quick Death: No one dies instantly. Well, almost no one. Instant death can occur with heart attacks, strokes, extremely abnormal heart rhythms, and cyanide and other “metabolic” poisons. Cyanide and a few other chemicals prevent the body’s cells from using oxygen so death arrives in a hurry. But trauma, such as gunshot wounds (GSWs) and blows to the head, rarely cause sudden death. Yet, how often has a single shot felled a villain? Bang, and he drops dead. In order for that to occur, the bullet would need to severely damage the brain, the heart, or the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal cord. A shot to the chest or abdomen leads to a lot of screaming and moaning, but death comes from bleeding and that takes a while.

The Pretty Death: I call this the “Hollywood Death.” Calm, peaceful, and not a hair out of place. Blood? Almost never. The deceased is nicely dressed, lying in bed, make-up perfect, and with a slight flutter of the eyelids if you look closely. Real dead people are ugly. I don’t care what they looked like during life, in death they are pale, waxy, and gray. Their eyes do not flutter and they do not look relaxed and peaceful. They look dead.

The Bleeding Dead: Your detective arrives at a murder scene a half hour after the deed. Blood oozes from the corpse’s mouth and from the GSW in his chest. Tilt! Dead folks don’t bleed. You see, when you die, your heart stops and the blood no longer circulates and it clots. Stagnant or clotted blood does not move. It does not gush or ooze or gurgle or flow or trickle from the body. 

The Accurate Time of Death: Determining the time of death is neither easy nor very accurate. It is always a best guess and is stated as a range and not an exact time. Yet, how many times have you seen the detective or the ME confidently announce that the victim died at “10:30 last night”? I always wonder exactly how he made this determination. Was it rigor mortis, body temperature, or lividity? Was it the presence of absence of certain bugs? Of course, the problem is that none of these is accurate. In real-life the ME would say that death likely occurred “between 8 p.m. and midnight.” But that might make him appear wishy-washy and Hollywood likes its heroes to be smart. Smarter than they could possibly be.

The One-punch Knockout: You’ve seen and read this a million times. The hero socks the bad guy’s henchmen in the jaw. He goes down and is apparently written out of the script, since we never hear from him again. It’s always the henchmen, because the antagonist, like most people, requires a few solid blows to go down. Think about a boxing match. Two guys that are trained to inflict damage and they have trouble knocking each other out. And when they do, the one on his back is up in a couple of minutes, claiming the other guy caught him with a lucky punch. Listen to me. Only James Bond can knock someone out with a single blow. And maybe Mike Tyson. Your car-salesman-turned-amateur-sleuth cannot.

The Disappearing Black Eye: If your character gets a black eye in Chapter 3, he will have it for two weeks, which will likely take you through the end of the book. He will not be “normal” in two days. A black eye is a contusion (bruise). It is caused by blood leaking from tiny blood vessels, which are injured by the blow. It takes the body about two weeks to clear all that out of the tissues. It will darken over two days, fade over 4 or 5, turn greenish, brownish, and a sickly yellow before it disappears. On a good note, by about day 7, your female character may be able to hide it with make-up.

The Quick Healing: This is a corollary to the above. If your character falls down the stairs and injuries his back, he will not be able to run from or chase the bad guy or make love to his new lover the next day. Give the guy a few days to heal and make him limp and complain in the interim. If he breaks an arm, he’ll need 4 weeks minimum.

The Untraceable Poison: No such thing. With fancy equipment like Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectroscopy (GS-MS) virtually any chemical can be identified. The combination of these two tests gives a “chemical fingerprint” of the compound in question. The trick is to disguise the death to look like something else so that an expensive and time consuming full toxicological examination will not be done.

The Instant Athlete: Your PI drinks too much, smokes too much, and eats donuts on a regular basis. He will not be able to chase the villain for 10 blocks. Two on a good day. If he must, then make him capable. Remember “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman) in Marathon Man? He had to run for his life as Dr. Christian Szell (Sir Laurence Olivier) and his Nazi bad guys chased him endlessly. But earlier in the film we learned that he ran around the reservoir in Central Park everyday. He could run for his life.

The Instant Lab Result: The world is not like CSI. They get results in a New York minute. In the real world the same test can take days, even weeks. A preliminary or presumptive test may be done quickly, but most confirmatory testing takes time. And the coroner will not likely release a report until the results are confirmed.

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #43: Gunshot Wound Analysis

Criminal Mischief: Episode #43: Gunshot Wound Analysis

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/43-gsw-analysis

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

In the criminal investigation or injuries or deaths from gunshot wounds (GWSs), the anatomy of the entry and exit wounds, particularly the former, can reveal the nature of the weapon, the bullet size and characteristics, and of great importance, the distance between the muzzle and the entry wound. This distance can be a game changer when distinguishing between a self-inflicted wound (suicidal or accidental) and one from the hand of another (accidental or homicidal). It can also support or refute suspect and/or witness statements and help with crime scene reconstruction. A wound from a gun several feet away can mean something much different as opposed to one pressed tightly against the victim’s skin. 

FROM FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES:

Studying Entry and Exit Wounds 

Even when a bullet enters a body, leaving an entry wound, it does not necessarily come back out, or create an exit wound. More often than not, the bullet remains within the victim. When evaluating GSWs, an ME searches for and examines entry and exit wounds and tracks down any bullets retained within the victim. Although the distinction isn’t always apparent, the ME also attempts to distinguish between entry wounds and exit wounds because doing so can be critical in reconstructing a crime scene. Knowing the paths the bullets followed can implicate or exonerate suspects or help determine which bullet caused lethal injury. 

The character of a wound produced by a gunshot depends upon several factors, including:

1—The distance between the victim and the muzzle of the gun

2—The caliber and velocity of the bullet

3—The angle at which the bullet enters the body (if it does) 

4— Whether the bullet remains within the victim or passes completely through, exiting the body (a through‐and‐through gunshot wound)

The anatomy of a gunshot entry wound depends upon the distance between the gun muzzle and the point of entry. Wounds may have an abrasion collar (a), tattooing (b), charring (c), or a stellate pattern (d). 

The ME can estimate the distance from which a single bullet was fired by looking closely at the entry wound: 

If the muzzle was 2 or more feet away from the victim, the entrance wound usually is a small hole, with an abrasion collar (a blue‐black bruising effect in a halo around the point of entry). Some black smudging can also occur where the skin literally wipes the bullet clean off the burned gunpowder, grime, and oil residue it picks up as it passes through the barrel of the gun (a).

If the muzzle was between 6 inches and 2 feet from the point of entry, the skin may appear tattooed or stippled. This effect is the result of tiny particles of gunpowder discharged from the muzzle embedded in the skin, in a speckled pattern around the wound (b).

If the muzzle was less than 6 inches from the victim, the gunshot produces a hole, a more compact area of stippling, a surrounding area of charring (from the hot gases expelled through the muzzle), and a bright red hue to the wounded tissues (c).

If the muzzle is pressed against the victim when the gun is fired, hot gases and particulate matter are driven directly into the skin, producing greater charring and ripping the skin in a star‐shaped or stellate pattern (d).

Exit wounds, on the other hand, typically are larger than entry wounds because the bullet lacerates (cuts or tears) the tissues as it forces its way out through the skin. The shape and size of an exit wound depend upon the size, speed, and shape of the bullet. 

For example, soft lead bullets are easily deformed as they enter and pass through the body, particularly if they strike any bony structures along the way. When that happens, the bullet may become severely misshapen, which, in turn, produces more extensive tissue damage that often results in a gaping, irregular exit wound. 

Distinguishing entry wounds from exit wounds is not always easy for the ME, particularly when the exit wound is shored, which means clothing or some other material supports the wound. The ragged nature of most exit wounds is caused by the bullet ripping its way through the skin. However, if the victim’s skin is supported by tight clothing or the victim is against a wall or other structure, the skin is less likely to tear. The exit wound therefore will be smaller and less ragged, and it will look more like an entry wound. 

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES Info: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

Howdunnit:Forensics Info: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

 

Dry Ice Can Kill You

OK, we all know that dry ice will keep things cool in your cooler, and even freeze things rock hard. You can also make that cool smoke coming out of a glass of water or maybe a centerpiece for a banquet or some such. Guess what? It can also kill you. 

It seems that at a birthday party in Moscow, they wanted to cool the pool down to take a nice bracing dip. So, they dumped some dry ice in. It cooled the water but also created a cloud over the top. Bet it looked really, well, cool.

The problem is that dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2). That’s the gas your body exhales through the lungs in order to get rid of it. High CO2 levels in the body are deadly. Normal ambient air is about 21% oxygen but contains only 0.04% CO2. So when the cloud of CO2 gas collected over the pool that obviously increased the level of CO2 while decreasing the level of oxygen (O2) by simple replacement. That is, each liter of air above the pool now contained a reduced amount of O2 and a greatly increased level of CO2. As the people breathed this mixture they became weak and dizzy and ultimately lost consciousness simply because they were not getting enough oxygen through their lungs to the bloodstream and ultimately to the brain. Apparently three of them died and many others were close. The take-home message is: don’t do this.

https://www.newser.com/story/287606/dumping-dry-ice-into-pool-kills-3-people-at-moscow-party.html

Lake Nyos

In 1986, a similar thing happened on a much larger scale at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. Some sort of geological event—-there is still controversy over exactly what happened—-created a CO2 cloud that spread across the area, killing over 1700 people. CO2 is heavier than air, so tends to hug the ground and settle in valleys and low areas. That’s what happened here. And at that Russian swimming pool.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Nyos_disaster

 

Talking About Forensic Science on the For Dummies Podcast Series

 

Had I a great time chatting with Eric Martsolf on the For Dummies podcast series about FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES and Forensic Science. Drop by and take a listen:

http://fordummiesthepodcast.twa.libsynpro.com/for-dummies-the-podcast-forensics

More Info and to order FORENSICS FRO DUMMIES:
http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

 

 

 

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #16: Arsenic: An Historical and Modern Poison

Arsenic

Criminal Mischief: Episode #16: Arsenic: An Historical and Modern Poison

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-15-arsenic-an-historical-and-modern-poison

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/16-arsenic-an-historical.html

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

Howdunnit200X267

From HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS

Toxicology is a relatively new science that stands on the shoulders of its predecessors: anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and medicine. Our knowledge in these sciences had to reach a certain level of sophistication before toxicology could become a reality. It slowly evolved over more than two hundred years of testing, starting with tests for arsenic. 

Arsenic had been a common poison for centuries, but there was no way to prove that arsenic was the culprit in a suspicious death. Scientist had to isolate and then identify arsenic trioxide—the most common toxic form of arsenic— in the human body before arsenic poisoning became a provable cause of death. The steps that led to a reliable test for arsenic are indicative of how many toxicological procedures developed. 

1775: Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742–1786) showed that chlorine water would convert arsenic into arsenic acid. He then added metallic zinc and heated the mixture to release arsine gas. When this gas contacted a cold vessel, arsenic would collect on the vessel’s surface. 

1787: Johann Metzger (1739–1805) showed that if arsenic were heated with charcoal, a shiny, black “arsenic mirror” would form on the charcoal’s surface. 

1806: Valentine Rose discovered that arsenic could be uncovered in the human body. If the stomach contents of victims of arsenic poisoning are treated with potassium carbonate, calcium oxide, and nitric acid, arsenic trioxide results. This could then be tested and confirmed by Metzger’s test. 

1813: French chemist Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (1787–1853) developed a method for isolating arsenic from dog tissues. He also published the first toxicological text, Traité des poisons (Treatise on Poison), which helped establish toxicology as a true science. 

1821: Sevillas used similar techniques to find arsenic in the stomach and urine of individuals who had been poisoned. This is marked as the beginning of the field of forensic toxicology. 

1836: Dr. Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806–1880) developed the first test for arsenic in human tissue. He taught chemistry at Grey’s Medical School in England and is credited with establishing the field of forensic toxicology as a medical specialty. 

1836: James Marsh (1794–1846) developed an easier and more sensitive version of Metzger’s original test, in which the “arsenic mirror” was collected on a plate of glass or porcelain. The Marsh test became the standard, and its principles were the basis of the more modern method known as the Reinsch test, which we will look at later in this chapter. 

As you can see, each step in developing a useful testing procedure for arsenic stands on what discoveries came before. That’s the way science works. Step by step, investigators use what others have discovered to discover even more. 

Acute vs. Chronic Poisoning 

At times the toxicologist is asked to determine whether a poisoning is acute or chronic. A good example is arsenic, which can kill if given in a single large dose or if given in repeated smaller doses over weeks or months. In either case, the blood level could be high. But the determination of whether the poisoning was acute or chronic may be extremely important. If acute, the suspect list may be long. If chronic, the suspect list would include only those who had long-term contact with the victim, such as a family member, a caretaker, or a family cook. 

So, how does the toxicologist make this determination? 

In acute arsenic poisoning, the ME would expect to find high levels of arsenic in the stomach and the blood, as well as evidence of corrosion and bleeding in the stomach and intestines, as these are commonly seen in acute arsenic ingestion. If he found little or no arsenic in the stomach and no evidence of acute injury in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but high arsenic levels in the blood and tissues, he might suspect that the poisoning was chronic in nature. Here, an analysis of the victim’s hair can be invaluable. 

Hair analysis for arsenic (and several other toxins) can reveal exposure to arsenic and also give a timeline of the exposure. The reason this is possible is that arsenic is deposited in the cells of the hair follicles in proportion to the blood level of the arsenic at the time the cell was produced. 

In hair growth, the cells of the hair’s follicle undergo change, lose their nuclei, and are incorporated into the growing hair shaft. New follicular cells are produced to replace them and this cycle continues throughout life. Follicular cells produced while the blood levels of arsenic are high contain the poison, and as they are incorporated into the hair shaft the arsenic is, too. On the other hand, any follicular cells that appeared while the arsenic levels were low contain little or no arsenic. 

In general, hair grows about a half inch per month. This means that the toxicologist can cut the hair into short segments, measure the arsenic level in each, and reveal a timeline for arsenic exposure in the victim. 

Let’s suppose that a wife, who prepares all the family meals, slowly poisoned her husband with arsenic. She began by adding small amounts of the poison to his food in February and continued until his death in July. In May he was hospitalized with gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, vomiting, and weight loss (all symptoms of arsenic poisoning). No diagnosis was made, but since he was doing better after ten days in the hospital, he was sent home. Such a circumstance is not unusual since these types of gastrointestinal symptoms are common and arsenic poisoning is rare. Physicians rarely think of it and test for it. After returning home, the unfortunate husband once again fell ill and finally died. 

As part of the autopsy procedure, the toxicologist might test the victim’s hair for toxins, and if he did, he would find the arsenic. He could then section and test the hair to determine the arsenic level essentially month by month. If the victim’s hair was three inches long, the half inch closest to the scalp would represent July, the next half inch June, the next May, and so on until the last half inch would reflect his exposure to arsenic in February, the month his poisoning began. Arsenic levels are expressed in parts per million (ppm).

An analysis might reveal a pattern like that seen in Figure 11-1. 

IMAGE in HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS

 The toxicologist would look at this timeline of exposure and likely determine that the exposure occurred in the victim’s home. The police would then have a few questions for the wife and would likely obtain a search warrant to look for arsenic within the home. 

LINKS: 

Arsenic Poisoning (2007): CA Poison Control: https://calpoison.org/news/arsenic-poisoning-2007

Arsenic Poisoning Cases Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenic_poisoning_cases

Arsenic” a Murderous History: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/arsenic/history.html

Facts About Arsenic: LiveScience: https://www.livescience.com/29522-arsenic.html

Poison: Who Killed Napolean?: https://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/on-exhibit-posts/poison-what-killed-napoleon

Victorian Poisoners: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Victorian-Poisoners/

12 Female Poisoners Who Killed With Arsenic: http://mentalfloss.com/article/72351/12-female-poisoners-who-killed-arsenic

 

 

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #12: Fentanyl—A Most Dangerous Game

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/fentanyl-a-most-dangerous-game

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES: 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is as much as 300 times more powerful than morphine sulfate. It can be injected, ingested, inhaled, and will even penetrate the skin.

It is used in medical situations frequently for pain management, sedation, and for twilight-anesthesia for things such as colonoscopies. 

Fentanyl is the number one cause of drug ODs.

Americans have a slightly higher than 1% chance of ultimately dying of an opioid overdose. That’s better than one in 100 people. In fact, 60 people die every day from opioid ODs. That translates to over 22,000 per year. In fact, US life expectancy dropped slightly between 2016 and 2017 due to opioid overdoses.

Thirteen people suffered a mass OD at a party in Chico, Ca in January 2019.

It is often added to other drugs such as heroin to “boost” the heroine effect. Unfortunately, Fentanyl is much more powerful than heroin and when the two are mixed it becomes a deadly combination. It’s also often added to meth and cocaine.


How powerful is fentanyl? A single tablespoon of it could kill as many as 500 people; 120 pounds as many as 25 million people. A recent bust, the largest in US history, recovered over 250 pounds of Fentanyl secreted in a truck crossing the US-Mexico border-—enough to kill 50 million people. 

When cops arrest people who possess or are transporting fentanyl they must take precautions not to touch or inhale the product as it could prove fatal. The opioid crises is the reason many cops carry Narcan (Naloxone) with them as either an injection or a nasal spray. It reverses the effects of narcotics very quickly. 

The “Dark Web” is a source for many things that can’t be purchased or the open market. Weapons, hitmen, and drugs. But even many of these dealers won’t deal Fentanyl.

Could fentanyl be used as a weapon of terror? Absolutely. A fentanyl aerosol sprayed into a room of people could easily kill everyone present in a matter of minutes. It is a powerful narcotic that acts very quickly and depresses respiration so that people die from asphyxia.

In 2002 a group of around 50 Chechen terrorists who took 850 people hostage in a Moscow theater. Many of the attackers were strapped with explosive vests. The standoff lasted 4 days until the Russians pumped Fentanyl-maybe carfentanil or remifentanil—through the vents and took everyone down. All the terrorists were killed but unfortunately, over 200 of the hostages died before medical help could reach them. 

Carfentanil—-Been around since 1974 but just now entering the world of drug abuse. Used in darts as a large animal tranquilizer. AN analog of fentanyl but is 100X stronger.

The famous Kristin Rossum “American Beauty” case involved fentanyl.

Kristen Rossum

 

Fentanyl Deaths Top Car Accidents: https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2019/01/15/accidental-opioid-deaths-top-car-accident-deaths-for-the-first-time/

Mass OD in Chico, CA: https://www.ems1.com/overdose/articles/393267048-Calif-mass-overdose-highlights-severe-new-phase-of-opioid-epidemic/

Narcan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naloxone

Even many “Dark Web” Dealers won’t sell Fentanyl: http://www.newser.com/story/268019/even-dark-web-dealers-refuse-to-sell-this-drug.html

Fentanyl As Terror Weapon: https://www.breitbart.com/asia/2019/01/03/report-experts-insist-opioid-fentanyl-could-be-used-as-tool-of-terror/

Fentanyl as WMD: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/killer-opioid-fentanyl-could-be-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction#gs.UwnsSzO8

Carfentanil Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carfentanil

Kristin Rossum Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristin_Rossum

 

 

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #10: Rattlesnakes and Murder

rattlesnake

Episode #10: Rattlesnakes and Murder Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-10-rattlesnakes-and-murder

Past Criminal Mischief Podcasts: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES

“Good fences make good neighbors”—Robert Frost, “Mending Wall” 

I suspect Ryan Felton Sauter’s neighbor, Keith Monroe, would agree.

People commit murder for a host of reasons. Things like financial gain, revenge, lust, anger, to cover another crime, and many other motives. It seems that these motives can even include a dispute with the dude who parked his RV next to yours.

All sorts of weapons are used for committing murder. Guns, knives, poisons, explosives, ligatures, drownings, and gentle pushes off buildings or cliffs. Oh, don’t forget rattlesnakes. This seems to be what Mr. Sauter decided to employ. Simply slipping the reptile into his neighbors RV might not work since rattlesnakes make that buzzing noise to warn people away. So, wouldn’t it be best to simply remove the rattle. And I guess the best way for that is to bite it off.

You simply can’t make this stuff up.

But snakebites are not always the result of some criminal activity. In fact, they rarely are. Most snakebites occur accidentally. Hunters and hikers know this all too well. As a kid growing up in Alabama, and stomping around in the woods on a daily basis, I knew snakes well. I knew which ones to avoid and which ones were harmless. A black racer was scary and fast, but harmless. Stumble on a rattlesnake or a copperhead and that’s a different story. And until you’ve seen a water moccasin, or as we call them cottonmouth, you haven’t seen an evil looking serpent. These guys are thick, dark, and prehistoric looking. And very dangerous. Yes, they can bite you in the water. So before you jump into that swimming hole deep in the woods, you better make some noise and shake up the water runoff any cottonmouth might be around.

But other people are bitten while they are handling snakes. I don’t mean just biologist or herpetologist, those that study these creatures, but also those who use them in religious ceremonies. You might think that snake handling is a thing of the past and something that is only found in the South, but that’s not true. There are still several snake handling churches from coast-to-coast. Even though in many locations snake owning and handling is not legal, the laws get shaky when it’s under the guise of religion.

snakehandling

Their justifications come from Mark 16:17-18

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Snake handling in churches is often traced back to 1910 when George Went Hensley began incorporating them into his services at his Church of God with Signs Following. Many others have followed in his footsteps. And many have been bitten such as John Wayne “Punkin” Brown and Jamie Coots, whose son Cody was also bitten while preaching but saved when friends defied the church dictates and got him medical treatment.

For the most part, medical treatment is not offered in the circumstances because it is felt that it’s up to the Lord whether the preacher survives or not. After all, it is religion and the Lord can save you then what’s the point? Not to mention, that many of these groups feel that sipping strychnine is also good for you and will prevent you from dying if you are bitten by a snake. Yeah, that makes good medical sense. Add another poison to the poison authority in your system.

I use much of this in my third Samantha Cody book, Original Sin. One of the bad guys in this story is a snake-handling preacher. During my research for this book, I stumbled across a wonderful book titled Salvation on Sand Mountain. Sand Mountain is maybe 30 or 40 miles from where I grew up so obviously the title intrigued me. Once I got the book and began reading it I discovered it was wonderfully written and then discovered that it was nominated for a National Book Award. It is written by Dennis Covington and is the story of Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling preacher who attempted to kill his wife with a snake.

os 533x800

 

From ORIGINAL SIN:

“I knew you’d come back to us,” John Scully said as Lucy and Sam walked into the church. He and Miriam were standing near the pulpit. 

“Back?” Lucy said. 

“Back to the church.”

“That implies I was ever here.”

“You were,” Miriam said. “From the moment you breathed your first breath.”

“You’re not making sense.”

Scully smiled. “You have always been a part of us. Martha and your parents saw to that.”

Lucy glanced toward Sam. “Am I missing something here?”

“Doesn’t make sense to me either,” Sam said.

“You were baptized into the church when you were only days old.”

“No offense, but I don’t remember that. And no one ever bothered to tell me.”

“But deep inside you know it’s true,” Scully said.

“I don’t think so.”

Felicia walked in, carrying a wooden box. She placed it on a table to Scully’s left. The unmistakable buzzing of snakes rose from the box. Scully raised the lid and casually removed a fat rattlesnake. Its buzzing now adopted an angry tone.

Lucy and Sam each took a step back. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sam said.

“Don’t worry. I’m immune to the poison.”

“I’m more worried about me and Lucy,” Sam said.

“He’s been bitten a dozen times,” Miriam said. “His faith protects him.”

“That and a little strychnine,” Scully said.

“Strychnine?” Lucy asked. Her attention never drifted from the snake that now waved its head around as if looking for a suitable target. She felt perspiration gather along her back as her heart rate clicked up a notch. God, she hated snakes.

“A little sip neutralizes the poison,” Miriam said.

“I must have missed that day in med school,” Lucy said.

Miriam offered a maternal smile. “Can’t learn everything from man’s books. Only from the word of the Lord.”

The snake coiled around Scully’s arm, head raised. Lucy felt as if it was watching her. She took another half step back, Actually, she wanted to run out the door, but fought the impulse.

“Why snakes?” Sam asked. “What do they have to do with Jesus?”

Lucy knew Sam was playing cop now. Ty and Bump had told them about Scully’s insane beliefs. And Sam had told her that Gladys Johnston had said the same thing. Sam was merely asking questions she already knew the answer to. Seeing if Scully changed his story in any way. 

Now it was Scully’s turn to offer a paternal smile. It faded and his gaze seemed to glaze over. He spoke.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

The quote Sam had shown her. The one Scully had written on the back of a menu.

“Mark Sixteen,” Felicia said.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Sam said. “This is the scripture that tells you to play with snakes?”

Scully gaze hardened. “It’s not play. But you wouldn’t understand.”

 

LINKS:

https://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/police-caldwell-county-man-uses-rattlesnake-neighbor-dispute/NUFO8d5JNM4ggWDdliKS2I/

Snake Handling In Religion Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling_in_religion

Snake Handling Churches: http://www.cerm.info/bible_studies/Apologetics/snake_handlers.htm

Church of God With Signs Following: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_God_with_Signs_Following

George Went Hensley—the First Snake Handler?: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Went_Hensley

Punkin Brown: http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/religion/pentecostal/snakeskill-fool.shtml

Jamie Coots Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Coots

Cost Coots: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6070685/Snake-preacher-gets-bitten-four-years-father-killed-rattlesnake.html

Salvation on Sand Mountain: https://www.amazon.com/Salvation-Sand-Mountain-Snake-Handling-Redemption/dp/0140254587?_encoding=UTF8&redirect=true

Original Sin: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/original-sin.html

 

Weather Balloons and an Elaborate Suicide

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Alan Abrahamson went for a morning walk. The security cameras where he lived documented this and they also recorded the sound of a gunshot. Later, Abrahamson’s body was found, the victim of a gunshot wound. Looks like a murder. But it wasn’t. It was an elaborate suicide.

No weapon was found at the scene. How could someone commit suicide with a gun and yet the gun not be present? Did someone pick it up and walk away? Without reporting the crime? Didn’t make sense. But the scene revealed other things—-most notably a red streak of blood angling away from his chest wound and toward his shoulder. In addition, it was found that in the days prior to his death he had purchased a pair of weather balloons and a tank of helium. As investigators reconstructed the scene, it appeared Abrahamson had rigged the balloons to the weapon, shot himself, and as he died, the weapon slipped from his hands, was carried skyward by the balloons, ultimately out over the Atlantic Ocean never to be seen again.

Why he wanted to stage his suicide as a murder is unclear but it’s a very elaborate scheme. Maybe it had something to do with insurance, or framing someone, or maybe just to have a clever exit. The only person that knows is no longer with us.

 

Your Eye Drops Can Kill You

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Anything can be a poison, it all depends on the dose. This includes the drops you use to clear your eyes. 

The active, and dangerous, ingredient in many of these preparations is tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride. If ingested in sufficient amounts, it can elevate the blood pressure, drop the heart rate to dangerously low levels, reduce body temperature, and cause nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, blurred vision, an unsteady gait, seizures, coma, and death. And you thought those little dropper bottles were harmless.

In a new case, it appears that Lana Clayton killed her husband by adding a few drops to his water over several days. He apparently fell down the stairs. Since this chemical causes walking difficulties, blurred vision, and even seizures, he could easily have staggered and fallen down the steps. Or even been pushed. Regardless, a significant amount of the chemical was found in his blood at autopsy.

I’ve blogged about this before in discussing a case of possible munch Munchausen By Proxy. Samantha Elizabeth Unger apparently poisoned her children by adding a few drops of the medication to their juice on multiple occasions. Here is the link to that post:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/visine-and-munchausen-syndrome-by-proxy/

 
 
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