Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dose were the days


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The English word "poison", first used around the early 14th century, meant "dose" and indeed dose were the days when a favourite method of getting rid of people who stood in your way or who had something you coveted was to poison them. Take the case of Pope Alexander VI, the patriarch of the notorious Borgia family. He appointed rich men as Bishops and Cardinals, encouraged them to become wealthier and then invited them to dine with his family which included his daughter Lucrezia who, like the invitation, had a hollow ring. Hers, however, had a mechanism that allowed her to release poison into a glass of wine. According to Cathy Newman in a National Geographic article "Twelve Toxic Tales": "The house wine, dry, with overtones of arsenic neatly dispatched the guests, whose wealth, by church law, then reverted to their host." In other words, Lucrezia proved lucrative.

Poison was first used around 4500 BC to kill animals and later the Romans used it for assassination. The National Geographic article listed several famous stories through the years. Socrates was executed with a cup of hemlock. Medieval Tatars catapulted plague-infected corpses over enemy walls to spread disease. Hannibal's sailors tossed pots of venomous snakes onto the decks of enemy ships. The British gave blankets infected with smallpox to Indians during the French and Indian War. At the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps during World War II, the Nazis killed more than a million people with a cyanide-based gas called Zyklon B. In the 1960s, the CIA planned to poison Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's cigars or his scuba gear. In 1978, a Bulgarian dissident was assassinated in London with a poisoned umbrella tip.

In addition to Lucrezia, there have been several famous female murderers. Agrippina, the wife of the Emperor Claudius; Mary Ann Cotton, a 19th century poisoner; Nannie Doss, known as the "Black Widow"; Anna Marie Hahn, an American serial killer (1938); a woman known as Arsenic Annie who fed cyanide to her four husbands and most of her family; and then there is the woman known as "Banana Pudding Lily" who filled her husband's banana pudding with arsenic.

Wives poisoning husbands is not unusual. Take the case of Jake who was dying and whose wife Becky maintained a candlelight vigil by his bedside. She held his weak hand, tears running down her face. Her praying roused him from his slumber. He looked up, and his pale lips began to move slightly. "Becky, my darling," he whispered. She told him, "Shhh, my love, rest. Don't try to talk." He was insistent. "Becky," he said in his tired voice. "I have something that I must confess." "There isn't anything to confess," replied the weeping Becky, "everything's all right, go to sleep." "No, no, I must die in peace, Becky. I... I had illicit relationships with many women!" "I know," whispered Becky sweetly, "that's why I poisoned you."

Generally, the poison is put in food but in a recent case a Brazilian woman attempted to murder her husband by putting poison in her vagina and inviting him to perform oral sex on her. The husband became suspicious because the odour was unfamiliar and then had to rush the woman to the hospital because it seemed that the poison had seeped into her system. It was both bizarre and ironic. She tried to take his life and, even though he now wants her charged with attempted murder, he ended up saving hers. If this proves anything it is that the proof of the pudding is not necessarily in the eating.

As the Trinidadian man revealed to his priest. He was deeply disturbed and told the priest, "Father, there is something terribly wrong happening in my life. My wife is slowly poisoning me." The priest was aghast and asked the man if he was certain. The priest did not believe the man but wanting to calm him down promised that he would personally speak to the man's wife, find out what he could and then advise him what to do. A week later the priest called the man and said, "Well, I spoke to your wife on the phone for three hours. You want my advice?" The man anxiously says, "Yes." "Take the poison," advised the priest.

Sometimes the roles are reversed. Answering a call of nature deep in mesquite territory, the Lone Ranger was bitten by a deadly rattlesnake right where it hurts most. Reeling from the shock and pain, he called his Indian buddy Tonto who, on seeing his friend in trouble, raced to nearby Dodge City, found Doc Holliday and asked him what to do. The Doc advised, "You must work quickly, time is of the essence if your friend is to live. You must take a sharp knife, make a very small incision at the bite area and suck the poison out. Place your mouth over the wound and gently suck, then spit, suck, then spit. Do this for at least fifteen minutes. Now hurry back." When Tonto returned, the Lone Ranger was barely conscious and asked weakly "Well, what did the doctor say?" Tonto replied stoically, "He said you're going to die."

* Tony Deyal was last seen saying that two men were served rum on the rocks from the same bottle. One drank slowly and died. The verdict was poisoning. The other man drank fast, left hurriedly and lived. Why? The ice was poisoned.