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Category Archives: Medical Issues

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.

 

Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition Coming Soon

 

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

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

Pre-Order now

 

Surgery in Space: A Matter of Timing

Looking into the future, what would happen if an astronaut on Mars or a colonist on the Moon needed surgery? Who would do it? It’s not like a surgeon could be dispatched  to Mars on an emergent basis. Nor would it be likely one would be part of the small and carefully selected crew. So how can this problem be solved?

Maybe have a marginally trained person perform the needed procedure guided by a surgeon on the ground. Or a robotic device could be employed, while the surgeon sat at console on Earth. This is how most so-called robotic procedures are done now—-the patient is on the table while the surgeon sits at a console several feet away.

 

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The key words here are “several feet away.”

In an Earth-controlled surrogate-surgeon or robotic procedure, the main problem the Mars-exploring patient and the Earth-bound surgeon would face is the time lag for the instructional signals to travel back and forth. This would be a significant and make surgery extremely difficult if not impossible. Depending on where each planet is in its own orbit, the two planets are separated by 34 million to 250 million miles. And the time required for a signal to travel one way varies accordingly—-between 4 and 24 minutes. Meanwhile, incisions are being made, blood if flowing, and the surgeon is twiddling his thumbs waiting to see the results of his most recent action. Not a pretty or effective situation.

So what about a completely self-contained, self-controlled robotic device? One that operated—so to speak—on its own? That would be cool. And research is moving that way.

This concept played a significant role in my second Dub Walker thriller HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL.

 

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2 Comments

Posted by on December 8, 2015 in Medical Issues, Space Program

 

Q and A: Can a Crochet Hook Be Used For Murder?

Q: I’m wanting the victim in my next mystery novel to be murdered with a crochet hook. The attacker and victim would be facing each other. The hook would be grabbed off a table and could be either hook end out the thumb side of the hand or out the pinky side of the hand (depending on what you would determine to be the easiest for delivering a fatal blow). It is an impulsive act. The victim is a 5ft. 11in., 157lb. female. Murderer is a 6ft. 1in., 298lb. male. He is a chef.

What would be the most likely spots for inflicting a fatal wound? Would the hook need to be removed (the victim bleeds out)? Can the hook be left in and the wound still fatal?

The hook is a size F 3.75mm crochet hook made of Brazilian bloodwood by the Furls Fiberarts company. I know the different woods they use have different strengths as some do not come in the smaller diameter sizes. (For example: the olivewood hooks start at 4.00mm while the blackwood starts at 3.25mm.)

Pearl R. Meaker, Lincoln, IL.

Crochet Hooks

A: Since this style of hook is made of wood rather than metal, the attack would have to be to a relatively “soft” area. Not likely this could penetrate the chest and reach the heart or get thru the skull without breaking or shattering. But grabbing the thick end and using the pointed (hooked) end as the weapon could prove deadly.

Two areas could work:

The eye–the skull behind the eye is thin and fairly easily penetrated. So a stab to either eye could reach the brain cavity and cause bleeding into and around the brain that could prove deadly. Here there would be some external bleeding from the eye wound but most would be internal within the skull. Here it makes little difference whether the

device is removed or left in place after the attack.

The carotid arteries—there are 2 carotid arteries–one on each side of the neck in the soft area on either side of the trachea–windpipe. This device could easily penetrate one of them. These arteries supply 90% of the blood to the brain. If punctured, the blood would spurt out in great pulses. Here it would be best if the device were yanked back

out after the stab so the blood would have a clear path.

In either case, the victim could die in a couple of minutes or, in the eye stabbing scenario, it could take some time—even 30 to 90 minutes or longer. Anything is possible.

 

The Plague—Yes That Plague—Is Alive and Well

Black Death

The Black Death. It hit Europe in the mid 1300s and killed millions—-some say 100 million or between 1/3 and 1/2 of Europe’s population. It changed history. It altered mankind’s view of religion. It disrupted travel and trade. It helped bring on the so-called Dark Ages.

The Black Death marches through Europe

The Black Death marches through Europe

In truth there were several plagues. caused by several different diseases, but the Black Death was especially destructive. Though it has been challenged by some, the Black Death was in all likelihood caused by a nasty little critter called Yersinia Pestis.

But that was centuries ago. Now we know what causes plague and we know how to treat it. It’s passed to humans by bites from infected fleas and can be eradicated with antibiotics. At least in most cases. So like small pox, isn’t it a relic of the past? Not really. The bug is out there and every now and then it raises its head as if to say—-Remember me?

Several cases have cropped in Colorado in the past couple of years, with two recent deaths: high school athlete Taylor Gaes and an as yet unnamed adult. Last year there were other cases of this infection.

And now another case has occurred in California–a child camping in Yosemite National Park.

So the plague is not just of historical significance, but rather is still with us.

I’ve blogged about this before and here are the links to those posts:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/black-death-bug-identified-again/

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/the-plague-kills-researcher-maybe/

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Medical History, Medical Issues

 

Preacher Killed By Poisonous Snake—-Again.

rattlesnake

Mark 16:17-18 (King James Version)

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

18 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.

Luke 10:19 (King James Version)

19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

Biblical passages such as these serve as the justification for some church congregations to take up the serpent. This is not a relic of the past; the practice is alive and well in the US. Maybe not well, but alive none the less. Though most such churches are along the Appalachian chain, they can be found literally from coast to coast.

From time to time, stories of snake-handling deaths pop up in various media sources. Witness John David Brock of Bell County, KY. He took a hit to the arm, and as is often the case, refused medical help. He didn’t make it. I do wonder if he treated his bite with sips of strychnine as this is the treatment in many such communities.

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My third Samantha Cody thriller ORIGINAL SIN deals with such a church and its followers. During my research I stumbled on an National Book Award nominee and many useful sites. Such as:

National Book Award Finalist SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN by Dennis Covington:

http://www.amazon.com/Salvation-Sand-Mountain-Redemption-Appalachia/dp/0201622920/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1438119485&sr=1-1

Holiness Serpent Handling Website: http://www.freewebs.com/holiness-snake-handlers/

Rev. John Wayne “Punkin” Brown Jr’s Death: http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/religion/pentecostal/snakeskill-fool.shtml

Videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J79ThhMuxWg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thk20h1lmVg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TXsxEyFGsE&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL78176138E5FECFDA

 

Are the Brains of Psychopaths Different?

mri-head1

There has been a long running debate on whether those labeled as psychopaths, or sociopaths, have an anatomical, or perhaps a chemical, basis for their aberrant behavior. It’s actually a debate that has raged for many years. Back to the days of phrenology, and before. Phrenology was the study of the shape of the skull and its use in predicting behavior and personality. It didn’t, it couldn’t, but it was a belief that had its loyal followers.

Dr. Kent Kiehl has spent years studying the possible connection between brain anatomy and physiology and behavior. As part of his research he performed MRI brain exams on thousands of prisoners. His findings have shown that the amygdala—an area of the brain involved with emotions and decision making—-tends to be smaller in psychopaths.

Kiehl

Also he uncovered evidence to suggest that assessing the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), an area of the brain involved in error processing, might be useful in predicting which inmates might be prone to re-offend after prison release. Those with reduced ACC activity were twice as likely to re-offend when compared with those with high ACC activity.

Scan

This, of course, will require further study but it’s an interesting concept and could be useful. It could also lead to the creation of a real “Minority Report.” Remember that movie? A futuristic sci-fi story that dealt with the ability to predict future crime—called predictive policing. The future just might have arrived.

MinorityReportTomCruise-1

 
 
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