Tag Archive for: toxicology

We are pleased to announce that renowned toxicologist Dr. M. Fredric Rieders has joined the 2021 MurderCon stellar lineup. This is an unbelievable opportunity to learn from one of the world’s leading toxicology experts! His session, “Forensic Toxicology: Homicidal Poisoning,” is an entertaining and educational discussion of the history of homicidal poisoning with case discussions of real poisoners and elaborate M.O.’s.

There’s still time to sign up, so hurry!



About Dr. Rieders

Dr. M. Fredric Rieders serves as Treasurer and a Director at NMS Labs in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

NMS Labs, Inc. is a US and internationally (ISO) accredited private, independent clinical diagnostic toxicology and forensic science laboratory serving justice and public health since 1970. Dr. Rieders was CEO from 1988 – 2008 and interim CEO from January – July 2020.

Dr. Rieders is a Fellow of The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) where he was Chairman of the AAFS Opioids and Emerging Drugs Crisis Committee from 2017 – 2019. He remains active as Chair of the Information Sharing Sub-Committee and as a member of the Toxicology Section.

He is a Member of the American Public Health Association (APHA) where he participates in the following Sections: Alcohol/Tobacco and Other Drugs; Environment; Aging and Public Health.

Dr. Rieders is a member of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT), The International Association of Forensic Toxicologists (IAFT), the World Association of Medical Law (WAML), and The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) where he serves on their Strategic Planning Committee, Foundation Board and Advocacy Committee. He served on Pennsylvania’s Commission on Wrongful Convictions where he worked with the Forensic Science Subcommittee on recommendations to improve the forensic science investigation system. Dr. Rieders has qualified as an Expert in Forensic Toxicology and testified in numerous criminal, civil and arbitration proceedings.

He earned a Chemistry degree from Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College) in 1980, and a PhD in Pharmacology/Toxicology from Thomas Jefferson University in 1985 where he was active as volunteer faculty and lectured in Toxicology. He is past President of the Jefferson College of Graduate Studies Alumni Association where he was honored as Distinguished Alumnus. Dr. Michael F. Rieders was the 2015 honoree of the Jefferson President’s Award which is given to Jefferson’s strongest supporters, truest servants and closest friends. He continues to serve on Jefferson’s Institutional Advancement Pillar Board.

Dr. Rieders served as a Term Trustee on the Arcadia University Board from 2009 – 2012, and as a volunteer faculty member serving as a course director and lecturer in Toxicology at Arcadia’s Master of Science in Forensic Science (M.S.F.S) program. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Advisors and Fellows at The Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Sciences at New Haven University and is on the Board of Trustees of the Fredric Rieders Family Foundation in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, as a Director and Chief Scientific Officer. Dr. Rieders is a member of The Vidocq Society, the premier US cold murder case investigation organization which examines cases and assist law enforcement agencies in identifying leads that may help solve homicides. He was awarded the Dr. Halbert E. Fillinger, Jr. Medal and Lifetime Achievement Award by The Vidocq Society in 2013.

He was an editor of the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences publication Science Technology and National Security, and wrote a chapter in Forensic Aspects of Chemical Terrorism and recently published an article on his work with NASA: “Management of a Potentially Toxic Accidental Trialkylamine Ingestion during Spaceflight” in Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine.

Dr. Rieders was featured as a Forensic Scientist in the BBC film, “How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World of Forensic Science” and Smithsonian Channel’s “Forensic Firsts: Proving Poison”. He is a frequent guest speaker and presenter at numerous conferences and seminars. Dr. Rieders is an avid advanced open water scuba diver, a sushi chef and enjoys gardening, photography and international travel.


MurderCon is a killer event that features renowned experts who train top homicide investigators from around the world.

Writers, please take advantage of this opportunity to learn from those who are the best in the business of crime scene investigation. I say this because this incredible event may not come your way again.

Sign up today while there’s still time.

*2021 Guest of Honor – Andrew Grant

Register here



As a police detective in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I investigated a vast assortment of criminal cases ranging from forged checks to robbery to B&E, major narcotics cases, murder for hire, occult crimes, and murder, to name a few. Solving those cases, including murders, often involved laboratory scientists who conducted a range of tests on various types of evidence.

Determining the Cause of Death

In Virginia  it is the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Office (OCME) that’s responsible for determining the cause and manner of deaths that that fall under a handful of circumstances. Those specific conditions are:

Pursuant to § 32.1-283 of the Code of Virginia, all of the following deaths are investigated by the OCME:

  • any death from trauma, injury, violence, or poisoning attributable to accident, suicide or homicide;
  • sudden deaths to persons in apparent good health or deaths unattended by a physician;
  • deaths of persons in jail, prison, or another correctional institution, or in police custody (this includes deaths from legal intervention);
  • deaths of persons receiving services in a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • the sudden death of any infant; and
  • any other suspicious, unusual, or unnatural death.

Autopsies in the state are conducted at one of four district offices: Manassas, Norfolk, Richmond or Roanoke. The chief medical examiner’s office is located in Richmond. At the time when I worked as a detective the Central Laboratory, where the majority of forensic testing of evidence was conducted, was located in a downtown in a building shared with the medical examiner’s office. Ironically, much like a TV show setting, the morgue was in the basement.

Dinner with the Inspiration for Kay Scarpetta

I know this may sound a bit morbid, but I often made my way to the morgue simply to hang out and to learn. After all, this was the morgue  that gave birth to Kay Scarpetta, the famous fictional medical examiner created by Patricia Cornwell. The character was based on real-life Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Marcella Fierro, a brilliant, renowned medical examiner. Dr. Fierro was the M.E. who conducted the first autopsy I attended, an event I detailed in my book police procedure.

When Denene received her PhD (in pathology) from the University of Virginia, we celebrated at the Commonwealth Club in downtown Richmond. Dr.Fierro and one of her assistants, Dr. Kay, joined us for dinner. Tell you what, nothing beats a good autopsy conversation during dinner.

Another point to ponder – Cornwell’s first book, Postmortem, was based on the case(s) involving the brutal murders committed by serial killer/rapist Timothy Wilson Spencer. Spencer was the first person in the country convicted of a capital crime through DNA testing.

Spencer’s victims were discovered nude or partly nude in their bedrooms with their hands firmly tied, with rope, belts, or socks secured tightly around their necks. Spencer entered their homes through windows and then raped, sodomized, and then choked them until they were dead.

In April of 1997, the man known as the Southside Strangler was electrocuted and pronounced dead at 11:13 p.m. I sat just a few feet away and watched him die a gruesome death. To read the entire story of that night, click here.

Okay, enough rambling and reminiscing, so back to the lab – The upstairs floors of the laboratory high-rise complex housed various labs where scientists and laboratory personnel examined and tested every from gunshot residue and fingerprints to blood stains and poisons.

When I and other officers delivered evidence to the lab we were required to check in with an official stationed at the front desk. It was there where we submitted the items and the accompanying forms (see below).

Request for Laboratory Examination forms must accompany all submitted items. I’ve hidden the suspects’ identifying information in the form above, this one from my own case files. The items tested positive cocaine and the individuals involved accepted plea deals.

After the evidence was logged into the system and assigned a number(s) it was officially/physically received by the lab’s police officer on duty. They then delivered the materials/items to their proper place(s) where it would then be picked up by the expert who’d conduct the testing.

While a the facility I often visited various labs to see how far along other evidence was in their respective processes—fingerprints, trace evidence, DNA, etc. One of the places I visited was the toxicology lab. I did so for three reasons. One – I found the place to be fascinating. Two – I knew the person in charge and we’d been friends for quite a while. Three – They offered free coffee and sometimes a doughnut or two.

Back to my fascination with the tox lab. I find poison cases to be intriguing since they’re often so personal. They typically require a bit of planning and a ton of patience. And, to solve those kinds of murders, it take a good toxicologist to help put the pieces together in a form that’ll point to the killer.

In Virginia’s tox labs, they (per their website) “analyze body fluids and tissues for the presence and concentrations of alcohol, drugs, and other potential poisons. Support is provided to Medical Examiners to assist in determining cause and manner of death, and to law enforcement agencies investigating crimes where drug or alcohol use may be implicated.

The toxicology lab is often key to DUI and DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) cases Here’s how (again, from their website):

“Driving Under the Influence (DUI/DUID)
The Toxicology Section receives all blood samples taken by law enforcement agencies during DUI/DUID investigations to determine alcohol and drug content. After alcohol, the most frequently detected drugs are marijuana, prescription pain relievers (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin), benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Klonopin), cocaine and zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo). While statutory limits exist for alcohol, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy) in blood, none are set for other drugs. Consequently, expert toxicology testimony regarding the effects of a drug or a combination of drugs on human performance and driving behavior is often necessary to establish impairment.”

And …

“The Department supplies Blood Collection Kits for use in DUI/DUID cases in Virginia. With these kits, the DUI/D Submission Information Sheet  may be used instead of a Request for Laboratory Examination Form.

  • Non-Implied Consent Cases
    Law enforcement agencies also submit blood, urine or other body fluids from suspects or victims of other crimes. Examples of these situations include drug-facilitated sexual assault, DUI/D investigations not pursuant to the implied consent statute, and child abuse or endangerment.
  •  Alcoholic Beverage Testing
    The Central Toxicology Section in Richmond also tests suspected alcoholic beverages submitted by law enforcement agencies.  Most of these cases involve the investigation of minors in possession of alcohol, open intoxicants in vehicles and illegal sale/distribution of alcohol.  These types of cases require the analysis of alcohol content.  Any beverage containing greater than or equal to 0.5% ethanol is defined as an alcoholic beverage (Code of Virginia § 4.1-100).”


Since the holiday season is nearly here, I’ve decided to feature a few fun items for your mystery shopping needs and wants. I’ll post these regularly throughout the remaining weeks of 2018.

So, for day five of MSC, especially for those of you who’re shopping for writer friends who enjoy a bit of research and/or relaxation, here are my picks. By the way, someone asked why I post all Amazon links for the books I recommend. The answer is that they work well for and with this site, but by all means feel free to purchase books anywhere you like. But why not here by simply clicking the links I provide?

First up, Postmortem, Patricia Corwnell’s book based on serial killer Timothy Spencer.

Next is my book about police procedure. Inside, in addition to valuable information about cops and what they do, you’ll find a detailed chapter on autopsy as well as the complete story on the night I watched Spencer die in the electric chair.

Tactical pen/Self-Defense Weapon and Flashlight.

Multi-Tool Pliers and Handtools

Case Police Mini Trapper Pocket Knife

Recommended specimens collected by medical examiners/coroners in post mortem examinations/autopsy

Manner of Death  Evidence Samples/Specimens
Suicides, vehicle crashes, and industrial accidents Blood, urine, vitreous humor, liver
Homicides and/or all suspicious deaths Blood, urine, bile vitreous humor, hair, stomach contents, liver
Drug-related deaths Blood, urine, bile vitreous humor, hair, stomach contents, liver
Volatile substance abuse Blood, urine, vitreous humor, lung fluid, liver

Human Liver, superior view

Keep in mind that the liver is a primary solid tissue for use in post-mortem toxicology. It’s where the body metabolizes most drugs and toxins. Many drugs collect in the liver and can be found even when their presence is absent in the blood.

Blood poisoning

Vitreous Humor, in case you were wondering, is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the eye. It is commonly analyzed for blood alcohol levels. The coroner uses a needle to extract the vitreous humour for testing.


Other samples used for post-mortem testing



Hair and Nail specimens (usually taken from the back of the head), can be examined for exposure to heavy metals and drugs over a period of weeks to months. Hair is typically tested for heroin, marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine. Fingernail and toenail testing provides an even longer timetable than the results of testing hair samples. However, since so little is known about how the nails process toxins, the analysis is more involved and difficult for those who conduct and read and interpret the results of those tests.

Stomach Contents contents can provide clues—undissolved capsules or tablets, for example—in cases such as potential overdoses or poisonings. Results depend upon how much time elapsed between ingestion and death.

Bone and Bone Marrow can be used for testing but the availability and condition of bones may hinder the process and/or test results.


Drugs typically included in routine post-mortem toxicology

Alcohol (ethanol). Test also includes methanol and acetone1.

Analgesics – Paracetamol (acetaminophen), tramadol 9 (ConZip™, Ryzolt™, Ultracet, Ultram in the U.S.), Salicylates (aspirin)

Antidepressants – Tricyclics (e.g., imipramine, amitriptyline), SSRIs (fluoxetine [Prozac®], sertraline [Zoloft®])

Antihistamines (sedating) – doxylamine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine

Antipsychotics – old and newer generation including subcutaneous or intramuscular injections of long-lasting medication. Haloperidol and Risperidone

Benzodiazepines and “Z” drugs –  (diazepam [Valium®], alprazolam [Xanax®]; zolpidem (Ambien®, Ambien CR, Intermezzo®, Stilnox®, and Sublinox®), zopiclone (Imovane®, Zimovane), zaleplon (Sonata® and Starnoc)

Cannabis – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (Marijuana)

Cardiovascular drugs – Diltiazem (calcium channelblockers), Disopyramide (Norpace® and Rythmodan®), propranolol


Narcotic analgesics – codeine, methadone, pethidine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl

Stimulants – amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), pseudoephedrine, fenfluramine, phentermine, caffeine

*Remember, it is not possible to test for every possible drug or poison. Investigators or the medical examiner/coroner must suspect the ingestion of exotic or unusual toxins in order to examine for those substances.

For additional informational, click here.