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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Yes, You Can Die From A Broken Heart

The term “broken heart” is well known to everyone. From Romeo and Juliet, to shattered romances, to many a teenager’s angst, a broken heart seems to be part of life. Everyone’s been there. But can you die from a broken heart? You bet.

In a very unusual medical condition known as Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy, dying from a broken heart can actually occur. Takotsubo is a Japanese octopus trap and is shaped like a dilated and damaged left ventricle as happens in a cardiomyopathy.

Takotsubo Pot and LV

Cardiomyopathy is a big word but when broken down into its components is fairly easy to understand. Cardio means heart, myo means muscle, and opathy means disease. So a cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. It often results from coronary artery disease where multiple heart attacks (myocardial infarction or MI) have occurred, damaging the muscle severely. It also can occur after viral infections, certain meds and drugs that are toxic to the myocardium, odd diseases like amyloidosis, some members of the disease group we call autoimmune disorders, and other maladies.

We analyze the pumping function of the heart in many ways. Echocardiograms, CT and MRI angiograms, and with a ventriculogram done as part of a cardiac catheterization procedure. Here a catheter is passed through an artery and into the left ventricle—the heart’s main pumping chamber—and contrast material is injected while a digital video is made. A normal ventriculogram shows the heart squeezing in tightly as the heart muscle contracts.

Normal LVgram

An abnormal one, such as is seen in a cardiomyopathy, will show diminished “squeezing” during the contraction phase (systole) of the cardiac cycle.

CMP LVgram

An odd form of cardiomyopathy is Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy. In this circumstance, extreme emotional upset changes the physiology of the heart muscle in some fashion and leads to it being “stunned” or damaged. The actual mechanism for how this happens is not known but the result is a significant weakness of the heart muscle, which, in turn, can lead to heart failure and death. It is not common, but it is real.

This is likely what happened to Joanie Simpson and perhaps the famous actress Debbie Reynolds.

 
 

The Mystery of Chopin’s Heart

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Did Frederic Chopin die from Tubercular Pericarditis? And what the heck is that anyway?

Pericarditis is an inflammation has occurred of the pericardium, the sac that contains the heart. Most often it is due to a viral infection but there are many others causes. One of the worst is tuberculosis (TB).

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Tubercular Thickening of the Pericardium

 

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X-Ray Showing Thickened Pericardium
(White ring around heart shadow)

Tuberculosis has wreaked havoc in humans for centuries. It has been found in Egyptian mummies and has devastated entire populations. Treatment didn’t appear until the 20th century and in recent years new, more malignant forms have appeared. Even after several millennia, it remains a difficult medical problem.

It attacks the lungs and slowly destroys the tissues, leading to cough, fatigue, weight loss, and muscle wasting—-the reason it was called “the consumption.” It, at times, literally consumed the sufferer.

When it spreads to the heart, particularly the pericardium, it can quickly become deadly. A thick viscous fluid collects in the pericardial sac, compresses the heart, and interferes with its function as a pump. This fluid can also solidify into a leathery trap around the heart so that even survivors of the initial infection can suffer severe, long-term problems that we term constrictive pericarditis—-the encasement restricts cardiac filling and thus effects pumping.

Recent studies suggest that this is what happened to Chopin. His heart took a strange and convoluted journey. He had requested that at his death that his heart be removed and returned to his native Warsaw, Poland. When he died in Paris in 1849, his heart was indeed removed, placed in a crystal jar, and encased in a stone pillar at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. In a recent examination, researchers found evidence that suggested he had suffered from TB pericarditis.

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Holy Cross Church

 

Burking Still Lives After 200 Years

Asphyxia is the interruption of oxygen (O2) supply to the body, particularly the brain. Normally, air contains O2 and, when breathed in, it passes into the blood, using hemoglobin as a transport molecule, where it is distributed to the tissues. Any interruption of this delivery chain can lead to death from asphyxia.

The air might be deficient in oxygen such as at high altitude or when another gas such as carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulates, depressing the O2 content to dangerous levels. Or flow into the mouth and nose could be restricted by smothering, choking, or strangulation, or by anything that restricts the expansion of the chest. Or the inhaled air could contain a toxin such as carbon monoxide (CO) or cyanide (CN), and these, in turn, interfere with O2 delivery to the tissues.

Burking is the term applied to asphyxial deaths that result from someone sitting on another in a fashion that restricts breathing. The victim dies from asphyxia. This is a form of Mechanical Asphyxia, where the movement of the chest wall is restricted to the point that breathing isn’t possible. Burking refers to the famous case of Burke and Hare.

 

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From FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES:

Applying Pressure: Mechanical Asphyxia

Mechanical asphyxia results when some external force applied to the body prevents the expansion of the chest and leaves the victim unable to breathe. A person trapped beneath a heavy object, such as a car or a collapsed wall or ceiling, can die because the force of the external pressure prevents the victim from taking in a breath.

A boa constrictor kills in exactly this way. This muscular species of snake wraps itself around its prey. Each time the prey exhales, the snake coils a little tighter. So, each successive breath becomes increasingly shallower until the prey can’t take another breath. Death follows quickly.

 

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Suffocation by “Burking” 

Experts have come to know a particular form of mechanical suffocation as Burking. William Burke was a merchant of sorts around Edinburgh, Scotland, in the early 1800s. In 1827, he hooked up with William Hare, who ran a beggars hotel in the village of Tanners Close. In December of that year, a resident of the hotel died, and Burke arranged to sell the body to a Dr. Knox, who needed corpses for his dissection demonstrations. Burke and Hare loaded a coffin with bark and buried it in front of many witnesses. They then delivered the body to Dr. Knox and received seven pounds and ten shillings. The men struck an arrangement whereby Burke and Hare would deliver the doctor more bodies for eight pounds in summer and ten in winter. (Apparently grave robbing was more difficult when the ground was cold.)

Burke and Hare began digging up fresh corpses for their new enterprise, but the local populace refused to die fast enough for the greedy men. They began kidnapping and killing people who were not likely to be missed. Burke sat on his victims, holding their mouths and noses closed until they suffocated, after which Burke and Hare delivered the corpse and collected their fee.

A lodger at the hotel notified authorities when she discovered the sixteenth and last victim beneath a bed. Police arrested the two men. Hare then cut a deal and testified against Burke. Burke was convicted and experienced asphyxia for himself when he was hanged on January 28, 1829, an event attended by as many as 40,000 people.

 

Burking is alive nearly 200 years later. It seems that 325-pound woman sat on her 9-year-old cousin to punish her for some indiscretion. Unfortunately, the child died from mechanical asphyxia—-“Burking.”

 

Guest Blogger: Anne Trager: Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Anne Trager, translator
The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Can you actually make your own gold? I uncovered the truth recently while working on a fun thriller by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne called The Lafayette Sword. The plot has gold fever, Freemasonry, murders, and the quest for a stolen, priceless sword. It also has alchemy. It’s fiction, but to write it, the authors did a lot of research, and to translate it, so did I.

What exactly is alchemy?

Alchemy dates back four millennia, spans three continents (China, India and Europe), and includes a lot of symbolic mumbo-jumbo. But in short, it was part science, part magic.

Medieval European alchemy set out to make a substance called the philosopher’s stone—it was not actually a stone, but similar to wax in consistency. It was supposed to transform base metals into gold. Perfect for the greedy and power hungry, you may think. In fact, alchemy was more than a quest for a money-machine. It was also a symbolic journey of self-realization and the precursor to chemistry.

Magnum Opus

At the time, people thought everything was made up of fire, air, water and earth. If a common metal like lead was made of these elements, then gold was too. Thus, in theory, one could be transformed into the other.

The alchemical world view also included the idea of progression or maturation. Gold was considered the most mature metal because it had a perfect balance of these four elements. In some traditions, it also symbolized the most advanced stage in a person’s spiritual refinement. The transmutation of lead into gold was like the transmutation of the physical body into a higher energy—that is, becoming immortal.

The key was in the philosopher’s stone, which not only transformed metals, but also had healing powers, and was an essential ingredient in the elixir of life.

So, the alchemical Great Work, or Magnum Opus, was the process of working with the prima materia to create the philosopher’s stone. It ultimately led to gold, a perfect body and soul, and enlightenment—an enticing promise.

Pseudo-science?

Not so fast. As an article in Scientific American states,

“Alchemists have often been dismissed as pseudoscientific charlatans but in many ways they paved the way for modern chemistry and medicine. The alchemists of the 16th and 17th centuries developed new experimental techniques, medicines and other chemical concoctions, such as pigments. And many of them ‘were amazingly good experimentalists,’ says Lawrence Principe, a chemist and science historian at Johns Hopkins University. ‘Any modern professor of chemistry today would be more than happy to hire some of these guys as lab techs.’ The alchemists counted among their number Irish-born scientist Robert Boyle, credited as one of the founders of modern chemistry; pioneering Swiss-born physician Paracelsus; and English physicist Isaac Newton.”

Isaac Newton, who was a Freemason and practiced alchemy throughout his life, even played an important role in the gold market. In 1696, he was appointed to the Royal Mint. At the time coin counterfeiting was rampant. He managed to recall all the coins in circulation, manufacture and issue new secure coinage and introduce the gold standard. Go Isaac!

Perhaps the most famous alchemist of all times was Nicolas Flamel, who figures in The Lafayette Sword, as readers follow his quest for the philosopher’s stone. The legend around him grew during the seventeenth century, when alchemy was all the rage, and continues to this day. He’s quoted in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, he figures in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, he’s mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. (Now, that’s an odd combination of titles to have in one sentence.)

Yes, you can

Today alchemy is actually possible. We have the technology, and it’s been done. Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg tranmuted tiny quantities of bismuth into gold in 1980. What you need, again according to Scientific American is: “a particle accelerator, a vast supply of energy and an extremely low expectation of how much gold you will end up with.” The current consensus is that it would cost way too much (a quadrillion dollars per ounce) to be worth it.

Find out more

¥ For an in-depth examination of gold from antiquity to modern times, read Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession.

¥ The World Gold Council, www.gold.org, provides information about current prices, mining, supply and demand and research.

¥ For more about gold market manipulation, and the inspiration for the worldwide gold conspiracy in The Lafayette Sword: Gold Anti-trust Action Committee www.gata.org.

¥ On the science of turning lead into gold: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-lead-can-be-turned-into-gold/

¥ More on Newton: Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson

¥ More on alchemy: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/

Gold. Obsession. Secrets.

Cover

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English.

Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt. A priceless sword is stolen and deaths ensue setting the Freemason detective on a case of Masons turned bad. A clue points to mysteries and conspiracy about elusive pure gold, launching a frantic, deadly race between two symbolic places—the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. A captivating plot weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages into a modern-day thriller.

Web page: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/the-lafayette-sword

Praise for the series

•“Vivid characters, evocative international settings, and a history darker than midnight. I highly recommend!” —Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling coauthor of the famed Pendergast series of novel

•“A race against the clock.” —Le Figaro

•“A superbly esoteric blend of history and adventure.” —Glenn Cooper, internationally bestselling thriller writer

•“Giacometti and Ravenne’s series kickoff has abundant visceral appeal.” —Kirkus Reviews

•“Brilliantly plotted and well researched.” —Le Parisien

The authors

Authors

Eric Giacometti studied biochemistry and genetics in Toulouse, France, before going into journalism. Then, at the height of his career as an investigative reporter, Eric Giacometti was contaminated by the thriller virus. His life took on another dimension: journalist by day, writer by night. In 2013, he left his full-time reporting job with a French daily newspaper to work freelance and write. He teaches journalism and writing.

Jacques Ravenne is a high-level French Freemason. He is also a literary critic, known for his work on the writers Paul Valéry, Yves Bonnefoy, Gérard de Nerval and Stéphane Mallarmé. In addition to his academic work, he was also a local elected official for a number of years, and contributes regularly to Freemason publications. He discovered the Marquis de Sade’s château in 1985, beginning a

long fascination with the man, which has resulted in an anthology of his correspondence and a novel based on Sade’s life.

Book Info: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/the-lafayette-sword

Best,
Anne Trager
Le French Book
French books you’ll love in English!

Anne1

Anne Trager is the founder of Le French Book, a publisher dedicated to hand-picking, translating and publishing top crime fiction from Europe. Their recent release The Lafayette Sword is by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne, who rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown (over 2 million copies sold) to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English. Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt in a captivating plot that weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages in to a modern-day thriller. Find out more here. Or read an extended sneak preview here.

 

Father’s Unborn Twin Is the Genetic “Father” of His Son

A couple of years ago a happy couple in Washington welcomed a new baby boy. All was good until a paternity test showed that the father was not the father. Uh-oh. Well, it’s not really that bad. Turns out that genetic testing revealed the father was a chimera and the genetic testing was confused by his unborn twin’s DNA, which the father had absorbed in utero. Chimerism is an odd and interesting medical entity.

 

Greek Chimera

In Greek Mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing female that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon. Fortunately, human chimeras, which result from the combining of two or more human embryos in utero, are typically normal in every way—-except for that DNA stuff.

I’ve blogged and had Guest Bloggers comment on chimeras before:

Q&A: How Could My Sleuth Recognize a Chimera?

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/qa-how-could-my-sleuth-recognize-a-chimera/

Guest Blogger: EE Giorgi: I Am My Mother’s Chimera. Chances Are, So Are You

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/guest-blogger-ee-giorgi-i-am-my-mothers-chimera-chances-are-so-are-you/

Guest Blogger: Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/human-chimerism-mindboggling-dna-tests-gone-wrong-guest-blogger/

http://www.people.com/article/man-fails-paternity-test-twins-genes

 
 
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