The Poisoner’s Poison: Killing Your Characters
Hugh Killdme let the spoonful of peas and carrots rest on his tongue. He closed his eyes, savoring the combined taste of his two favorite vegetables. In his mind, he pictured the green and orange delicacies as they danced and rolled in boiling hot water. He saw tendrils of wispy pea-carrot flavored steam shimmying and twisting their way from the blue porcelain Rachael Ray pot to the gleaming stainless steel hood above the range.
Hugh shifted his thoughts to the basement freezer. He’d ordered the Super-Duper Chill-Zero model from Acme (Wile E. Coyote isn’t the only character in the world who knows where to shop for a good deal).
The day after Acme’s number one best-selling frost-making machine arrived, he’d packed it to the brim with bags of frozen peas and carrots. Bought every single package within a twenty-mile radius.
Thinking about the plentiful stockpile of veggies caused his meaty lips to split into a lopsided grin. Thirty seconds later he was graveyard dead.
The instant Hugh’s face crashed into his dinner plate, sending airborne little green pellets and perfectly cut squares of orange, his wife of thirty years scurried toward the basement to unplug the freezer, muttering along the way about never again cooking another pea or carrot as long as she was able to draw a breath. For that she was thankful. She was also thankful that the poison had worked so quickly. Not because her husband hadn’t suffered long, though. Instead, she had plans to play Bingo at the Presbyterian church over on Save-a-Soul Drive, and to have her husband flopping around on the kitchen floor for hours on end would have absolutely ruined her evening. Probably would’ve ruined the shine on her brand new linoleum too. Her mother always said things have a way of working out. She, too, went quickly … bless her heart.
Questions about poisons. I get them all the time, and the number one question that most often pops up is, “What’s the best poison a wife could use on her husband that would act quickly and be difficult for police to detect?” So lets dissect this one, but strictly for use in works of fiction.
First of all, police officers won’t be the folks who detect the poison. That’s the job of the medical examiner and/or laboratory scientists. Next, to detect a specific poison the medical examiner would have to request testing for the substance/toxin/chemical/etc.
A tox screen is not a one-stop-shop and does not detect most poisons. This is where the police can be a big help to the M.E. and lab technicians and scientists. For example, a savvy detective may notice a bottle labeled “Husband Killer” on the kitchen table next to the head of the deceased. If so, he/she would collect the bottle as evidence and report his/her discovery to the M.E., who would then order testing for the potentially deadly concoction.
Another huge clue that sharp detectives should pounce on would be the fact that the widow works as a scientist for a bio-pharmaceutical company. And that’s sort of what happened in the case of Tianle Li, the Chinese woman who was convicted of murdering her husband, Xiaoye Wang. Her weapon of choice—thallium.
Thallium, a metal that’s used in electronic switches and some medical devices, was once used as a major component in insecticides and rat poisons. It’s basically odorless and tasteless. And it is well known as the “poisoner’s poison” because it is so difficult to detect in the human body. Thallium use as a pesticide was banned in the U.S. in the early 70’s.
Biotech and pharmaceutical companies are permitted to conduct research using dangerous chemicals, toxins, poisons, extracts, etc. That’s how Tianli Li obtained the thallium she used to murder her husband. As a chemist for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Li ordered thallium to research its effect on humans.
After receiving doses of thallium (how Li introduced the thallium into her husband’s body is not clear) Wang became ill with flu-like symptoms and checked himself into a local hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and died two weeks later.
Had it not been for a quick thinking nurse who’d read about a thallium poisoning case in China, Li would have gotten away with murder…the “perfect murder,” using the “poisoner’s poison” as her instrument of death. The nurse alerted officials who then conducted tests and indeed found thallium in Wang’s body.
So there you have it, my writer friends—two very important bits of information for possible use in your work (writing, that is). One: thallium is the poisoner’s poison because it is difficult to detect. Two: people who work in biotech and pharmaceutical research are able to purchase just about anything in the name of “science.”
By the way, it takes a while for most poisons to get the job done. Having your character go as quickly as Hugh Killdme is, well, fictional. Thallium, like many poisons, is slow acting, and to die from poisoning by it is a slow and painful death.