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Poisons

Poisoning is the most common method used in murder mysteries because it means that the murder can take place in front of the audience. A shooting or stabbing, for example, would be hard to pull off because the audience would clearly see who did it. Here are some facts about various poisons, some of which turn up in our scripts.

Arsenic

The chemical symbol of arsenic is As. The element was first isolated by Albertus Magnus in 1250 AD, but knowledge of it goes back to ancient times. The Greeks called it arsenikon and the Roman's called it arsenicum. It smells strongly of garlic and tastes metallic.

How much arsenic is fatal?

A dose of between 70 and 200 mg of arsenic is fatal. It depends on the individual and particularly how big they are. One teaspoon of salt is about 5,600 mg, so you can see that it's a small amount.

How does arsenic kill?

Arsenic interferes with the ATP pathway which disturbs neurological and cardiovascular systems. It kills through multi-system organ failure with death most likely caused by heart failure or hypovolemic shock.

Cyanide

Potassium cyanide has the chemical formula KCN. It was discovered in 1782 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish chemist.. It smells faintly of almonds and burns the tongue, tasting acrid according to an Indian suicide victim who scrawled a note to this effect before he died.

How much cyanide is fatal?

As small a dose as 25 mg of cyanide can be fatal. It is the poison used in fake teeth by spies and this is how many Nazis committed suicide at the end of WWII including Rommel, Goebbels, Himmler, Goering and Eva Braun. It was also used to assassinate Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, so while it is associated with suicide it can also be effectively used for murder.

How does cyanide kill?

Cyanide causes an inhibition of cellular respiration. The body effectively stops oxidising food to produce energy and shuts down, the victim loses conciousness and eventually dies. It may cause reactions such as convulsions. The cause of death is hypoxia of neural tissue.

 

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