Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's Your Poison??

I've touched on poisoning some in Female of the Species but I'd like to take a different, slightly more in-depth, look at this method of killing by focusing on three common poisons that are used by murderers.  Now there are hundreds, if not more, of poisons that could be used but there tend to be three that are used more than others: Succinylcholine (aka "Sux"), antifreeze, and arsenic (most commonly in the form of rat poison).  It might cause someone to wonder...why these three?  Why are they used more than others?  Well there's a few reasons for each of the poisons popularity.

"Just Hit 'Em With a Little Sux"

Succinylcholine, aka Sux, is most often used as a muscle relaxant to order to help in the aid of intubation during emergencies and surgery.  It is intended to save lives, not end them.  And yet there have been a number cases in which this drug has been used to kill.  Now the question is...why this drug?  Well the first reason is that it's, generally, difficult to trace within the body after awhile...a far shorter period of time than certain other drugs.  There's also the benefit that, rarely, is this drug ever suspected in a death because it's rarely available to the average person.  Being a drug with a specific medical purpose it's generally only found in hospitals and, if someone outside the medical field were to go looking for it, not only would they probably be unable to get it but they'd likely raise a lot of red flags with those around them (never good when planning a murder.)   That being said it's rather easily available to those in the medical field, especially those who work in emergency, critical care, and surgical departments.  For those like Chaz Higgs, a critical care nurse convicted of murdering his politician wife, Kathy Augustine, it wouldn't only have been easy, it'd have been free!  (And a vial being taken from the hospital would mostly go unnoticed.)  The same holds true for Dr. William Sybers, Dr. Carl Coppolino, and surgerical technician Kim Hricko...all convicted of murdering their significant others via succinylcholine.  There was also one other killer, one far more widely known by the public, that used succinylcholine in her murders...Genene Jones, who killed between 11 and 50 young patients during her time as a pediatric nurse.

Don't Drink the Gatorade!

James Keown was convicted of the murder of his wife in July 2008.  How did he do it?  By poisoning, specifically he spiked her Gatorade with antifreeze over the course of months in 2004, culminating with a fatal dose on September 4, 2008.  Outside the rather obvious reason of using antifreeze because it's cheaply and easily accessible to just about anybody there are a few other reasons why Keown likely selected this liquid to spike his wife's drink.  Ethylene glycol, the key ingredient in antifreeze, is colorless, odorless, mostly non-volatile, and tastes sweet...someone who drank it would likely not even know it, especially if it's slipped into a drink that's already sweet.  There's also the fact that, once ingested, the immediate signs and symptoms of a poisoning resemble intoxication - dizziness, coordination issues, headaches, confusion, and sometimes nausea and vomiting...a person could be poisoned right out in the open with no one the wiser for the next 12 hours (or, depending on the dose and person, ever).  There's another reason why a killer would choose antifreeze; the possibility of having plausible deniability.  For the same reasons that a person could be poisoned with the liquid a murderer could claim that the victim ingested it accidently - outside it's taste, which is sweet, it's unidentifiable - or even intentionally as a form of suicide - it's easily available and, again, sweet.  For all these reasons it's likely why not only James Keown chose the poison, but also Stacey Castor (convicted of killing her second husband, David Castor, and suspected of killing her first, Michael Wallace), Mark Jensen (convicted of killing his wife, Julie Jensen), and Julia Lynn Taylor (convicted of murdering her husband, Maurice Glenn Taylor, and boyfriend, Randy Thompson).

Arsenic and Old Lace

The phrase is outlived only by the method of poisoning, arsenic.  The first and foremost reason it's used is because it's found in numerous household items therefore easily available and explained away by a killer - "Of course there's arsenic in my home, it's in my rat poison/pesticide/wood preservative/etc".  And, if the victim is a child, it can simply be claimed that the child got into the product all on their own.  Arsenic can be tested for in a victim but, the problem is, that the test is really only effective within a few days...a year at the most if there are high levels of arsenic in the body.  The other possible problem with the test is that it only shows that there are above-average levels of the toxin in the body and not how, or if, the levels will affect the person...this means that it's possible a defense attorney could claim that, even if it's proven the victim ingested arsenic, this wasn't the actual cause of death.  Many female serial killers of the past used this method, taking advantage of the plentiful arsenic available on their little farms...Nannie Doss (aka "Arsenic Annie" or "The Giggling Granny" who killed 11 family members), Mary Ann Cotton (who killed between 15-21 people using rat poison, which contains arsenic), and Velma Barfield (who is believed to use arsenic on about 5, killing them).

Author's Note: The quote "Just hit 'em with a little sux" came from the testimony of one of Chaz Higgs' coworkers during the man's murder trial.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It Takes Two to Kill

The phrase is French, "folie a deux", which is literally translated as "the folly of two" but is much better and widely known as "the madness of two".  In the field of psychology is it defined as "a rare psychiatric syndrome in which a symptom of psychosis (particularly a paranoid or delusional belief) is transmitted from one individual to another".  ...However, more often than not, this definition isn't quite what is meant when the term is used in criminal profiling.  With killers the term is used for two individuals who kill together when, if on their own, they likely never would have.  The reasons these pairings have for killing differ, but the result is always the same...murder.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb were two bright, wealthy, young men from Chicago, Illinois.  They met at the University of Chicago while still in their teens - Leopold 14, Loeb 13 - and seemed to form an almost instant bond on the principles of shared age, intelligence, and a strong belief that they were superior to all those around them.  It was Loeb who preferred to commit crimes, Leopold simply agreed to it in exchange for a sexual relationship with his new friend.  That being said it seemed Leopold was the one who found the pairs "right" to do their misdeeds.  In his misunderstanding of the definition of Friedrich Nietzsche's Neitzchean superman...He believed, in his still childish and superficial understanding, that a Neitzchean superman had the moral freedom to violate the rules and laws that applied to ordinary people (and, of course, he considered himself and Loeb just these sorts of supermen).  To start the boys stuck with petty crimes vaguely common to troubled youths - petty theft, cheating at cards, and random acts of vandalism.  But, after four years and with Leopold about to move onto Harvard Law, the two decided to do something more dramatic to permanently solidify their commit the "perfect crime" in the form of the kidnapping and murder of a 14-year-old boy from their neighborhood named Bobby Franks.  A "perfect crime" to prove just how superior they were to those around them - one without mercy, without clues, and without either of them ever getting caught.

Mother Issues

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme of Christchurch, New Zealand, were best friends...BFFs as one would say these days.  They met how many teens meet, being classmates in high school, and bonded quickly over shared experiences of illness in their childhood (Parker had bone disorder known as osteomyelitis and Hulme had pneumonia), a love for writing, and their creativity in general.  Interestingly, like Leopold and Loeb, the girls also bonded over what appeared to be an above average intelligence and the shared belief that they better than everyone else around them.  The girls were inseparable and soon began to create their very own shared world, "Fourth World", which they spent more and more time working on and, seemingly, living in.  At first neither girls' parents had much of an issue with this, in fact Pauline's mother was thrilled since her daughter frequently had trouble making and keeping friends due to a sometimes explosive temper.  After two or three months though the girls' relationship with one another went from very close to super intense causing their parents to grow worried...and when Pauline's mother grew worried enough about their closeness to consider separating them, the two teens made a plan to ensure that would never happen.  They would kill Pauline Parker's mother.

The Wife Problem

Stephen Marsh had a little problem...he had a wife.  A wife was not exactly conducive to the things he wanted to do, like drink and sleep with other women.  Not that his wife seemed to stop him from flirting or, well, indulging in liquor anyway and, soon enough, it didn't stop him from having an affair with a married woman, Rebecca Harris, either.  Stephen and Rebecca's affair started where many others did, at the office.  It began with shared drinks and stories about their lives, their current marriages, and soon developed into a sexual relationship.  There was, however, something different than most in this aspect of their relationship...while it started out loving and sensitive under Stephen's direction and guidance it quickly turned darker and, eventually, into full on sadomasochism.  While Rebecca didn't ever seem to realize it this was the start of Stephen's testing her, seeing how far he could get her to go for him.  How many of his dark and violent desires would she fulfill to keep his love?  She'd let him abuse her, call her names, even cut her with knives and film it all to keep him satisfied.  Would she kill for him too?  Apparently, yes, she would.  With the promise that, if she killed his wife for him, Stephen eventually got the desperate-for-his-love Rebecca to agree to murder.

Different, Yet the Same...

Despite the differences in motive and seeming differences in relationship each of these cases have a fair number of similarities...similarities that make them each, in their own way, cases of folie a deux.  The first similarity is obvious - each of these pairs did, in fact, commit murder together.  Leopold and Loeb kidnapped and then stabbed young Bobby Franks to death.  Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme got together to beat Pauline's mother, Honora Parker, to death with a brick stuffed inside a stocking.  And Stephen Marsh set up his wife, Jaspal Marsh, to be brutally murdered by his lover, Rebecca Harris, with the same knife he'd used in the S&M sex games with Harris.  In each case there was one partner who had a slightly greater tendency towards violence - Loeb was the one who wanted the pair to commit crimes together, Pauline who had outbursts of anger, and Stephen had to press his lover into the acts of sexual violence he enjoyed so much.  Also true for all these killers is, without their partner in crime, they never would've killed in the first place.  Perhaps some already had violent tendencies but the ability to truly carry them out to their full potential was found in the partnering with their, well, other half.  Each of these individuals were, for lack of a better word, incomplete on their own - disoriented in their lives and, mostly, unable to function.  When they got together these people were completed but, sadly, this completion made them very dangerous to made them murderers.

Thankfully though there is one other thing these cases all have in common.  They were all solved and the murderers brought to some kind of justice.  Leopold served 33 years (of a life + 99 years sentence) in prison before being paroled; he later died of a heart-attack at age 66.  Loeb died at 30 as the result of a knife attack by another inmate while serving the same sentence that his partner received.  Both Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were sentenced to five years each (due to their age) and told, after the trial, to never contact one another again which they obeyed after release.  Each girl got a new name and new life after their release and neither have been in trouble with the law since.  Stephen Marsh was sentenced to 18 years for, essentially, masterminding his wife's murder and Rebecca Harris got 12 years for the actual deed...they are both currently serving their sentences.