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Ten Poisonings That Were Never Solved
From the classic play Arsenic and Old Lace to a whole surfeit of Agatha Christie novels, death by poison is a staple of the mystery genre. It is also frequently an incredibly unpleasant way to die. Cyanide poisonings can cause violent seizures and heart attacks, and strychnine can cause painful muscle spasms or one’s muscles to lock up entirely. And these are two poisons among many that have been used in stories from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Stephen King
Where death by poison is an often used trope in murder mystery novels, it is unfortunately just as often a tool used in real-life unsolved murders. Due to the nature of this crime, it’s possible to commit a poisoning remotely, and murderers often have more than enough time to make a getaway before the toxins are even ingested. This is a list of ten such poison-related crimes that have yet to be solved.
10 Lieutenant Hubert Chevis
In the summer of 1931, a decorated lieutenant of the British military named Hubert Chevis was found dead in Hampshire, England. Strychnine was found in a partridge that the lieutenant had refused to finish. Apparently, he took one bite and deduced that it tasted awful, though that one bite was enough to lead to Chevis’s demise the next morning. His wife, Frances Chevis, was lucky enough to survive, for she, too, had tasted the tainted partridge that evening.
The poisoning was never officially solved, though the top suspects included Frances, who had only been married to Hubert for six months. Or perhaps it was someone from India since Chevis was a judge in the British-occupied country and may have made enemies. Some even speculate that the partridges accidentally ate berries that contained strychnine and that the poisoning was an accident. However, one day before the news of Chevis’s death was made public, the lieutenant’s father received a mysterious telegram from Dublin, stating only “Hooray, hooray, hooray.”
9 The Affair of the Poisons
The Affair of the Poisons was a particularly brutal scandal in France in 1679, where thirty-six people were sentenced to death for alleged poisonings among the French aristocracy. And though trials were officially held, they were very much actual witch trials instead, as people were accused of literal witchcraft and burned at the stake, making the authenticity of the court at the time difficult to completely trust.
There indeed was an underground market in Paris for “inheritance powders,” or poisons, which were sold by a fortune-telling crowd. At the heart of the investigation lay such a fortune teller, going by the pseudonym “La Voison.” While drunk, La Voison implicated hundreds of commoners and aristocrats alike, claiming that they got involved in black masses and conspired to kill the king. Responding to poisonings around France, King Louis XIV took no chances and put together a court to implicate a slew of people, most of whom were innocent. To this day, the true machinations of the Affair of the Poisons remain a mystery.
8 Rodney Marks
The death of Rodney Marks is perhaps one of the only murders to occur on the continent of Antarctica. In the spring of 2000, the thirty-two-year-old astrophysicist began to feel dizzy before he proceeded to vomit blood. Though it seemed as though Marks would recover at first, he would tragically suffer his demise at the hands of a cardiac arrest later that night. It would be months before a plane could arrive and an autopsy performed, but the tragic situation would turn sinister when it was revealed that Marks had died from toxic methanol consumption.
The murder of the Australian-born astrophysicist seemed completely outlandish. Though it was speculated that the case was either an accident or a suicide, the fact remains that Marks had consumed a wine glass’s worth of methanol; a tricky feat to pull off without noticing. Marks was well-liked among his peers, and no definitive suspect has emerged from any investigation.
7 The Paraquat Murders in Japan
Paraquat is a particularly potent chemical used in herbicides. In the 1980s, in the Japanese city of Fukuyama, it happened to also be used as a means to indiscriminately poison an unwary public. Known as the Paraquat Murders, an event occurred where the herbicide was left intentionally on top of vending machines laced inside of the soda beverage, Omanamin C. This led to the poisoning of thirty-five people and the deaths of eleven unsuspecting civilians. The first victim was a man by the name of Haruo Otsu
The poisonings would also make their way to Tokyo. Despite the trail of evidence that came with the change of location, no suspect has ever been identified in this case, though. Without any leads to go on, Japanese police officers could do very little besides put up flyers to warn the general public against drinking any beverage that they found lying around.
6 Sergei and Yulia Skripal
While plots of revenge that play out like a murder mystery often go hand-in-hand with crimes of a toxic nature, the world of espionage also has its fair share of unsolved poison-based assassinations. Unfortunately, this next example is all too recent, having occurred in 2018, and would involve not only the death of a British double agent but his daughter as well. But unlike the other poisonings featured on this list, the two victims, Sergei and Yulia Skirpal, would recover in the hospital.
On March 4, in the English city of Salisbury, the two victims were found unconscious on a park bench, having been exposed to a deadly Novichok nerve agent. It is thought that Sergei worked for Russian intelligence and then proceeded to give information to the British. Though a few individuals showing up on CCTV footage nearby have been thought to be suspects, no court has come to any definite conclusions. Sadly, a similarly mysterious poisoning would occur in Salisbury, involving two other people: Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess. The latter would sadly pass away in the hospital.
5 Urooj Khan
The next case is also far too recent and involves the tragic poisoning of a man who had just won one million dollars in the lottery. The forty-six-year-old dry cleaning proprietor, Urooj Khan, lived on the north side of Chicago when he purchased a lucky winning lottery ticket from a 7/11 in 2012. Unfortunately, it was only a few weeks later when Khan was found deceased in his home. Though at first, it appeared as though the man had passed away from accidental poisoning, it was later discovered in an autopsy that he had ingested a lethal dose of cyanide, and foul play was suspected.
Khan’s widow and brother fought hard to convince authorities that his death was a murder, but even to this day, no definite suspects have been identified. As a result of this case, many people have championed keeping the identity of lottery winners anonymous, fearing that the public announcement of people receiving large sums of cash makes them potential targets for murder.
4 Georgi Markov
Ricin, a fine powder derived from castor beans, is perhaps one of the deadliest poisons that a person can ingest, and it is nigh impossible to come across a lethal dosage accidentally. In 1978, on Waterloo Bridge in London, a man by the name of Georgi Markov was poisoned with ricin. It is suspected that the toxin was administered through a poison-tipped umbrella. As a result, the man would succumb to the poison in the hospital less than twenty-four hours later.
Though it may seem like it at first, this murder is not a case of spy-against-spy assassination. Georgi Markov was a journalist and writer of political plays and fiction in Bulgaria who routinely spoke out against the government. In addition, Markov was also the target of two other failed assassination attempts in Munich and Paris. Despite allegations against the Bulgarian government, no specific person has been officially deemed a suspect.
3 The Tylenol Murders
In the early ’80s, throughout the city of Chicago, seven different people would tragically find themselves the victims of a random cyanide potassium poisoning. At first, the link between the seven people seemed nebulous until it was later revealed that acetaminophen Tylenol pills found in their homes had been laced with the potent toxin. The company that owned Tylenol, Johnson and Johnson, immediately pulled the products from Chicago shelves so that an investigation could occur.
In the investigation, it was discovered that each of the tainted bill bottles was manufactured at different factories, meaning that the tampering crime had to occur in the store. However, the perpetrator remains a mystery to this day. At the very least, the incident known as the Tylenol Murders would lead to significant changes in the anti-tampering methods used in the sale of over-the-counter drugs.
2 The South Croydon Poisonings
England is once again the scene for a streak of wicked poisonings. Over a period of time from April 26, 1928, to March 22, 1929, three people were poisoned via ingestion of arsenic. The first victim was a fifty-nine-year-old man by the name of Edmund Duff, who lived in the Croydon suburb of London. Though his passing was thought to be a natural death at first, suspicions arose a year later when Duff’s sister-in-law, Valerie Sydney, suffered a similar fate, followed by Violet Sidney, Valerie’s mother, a month later.
With all three victims being related, the perpetrator of such foul play was thought at first to be quite easy to determine. Once foul play was suspected, however, the only leads that investigators could determine were what they could find from the exhumed bodies. The only thing that could be concluded was that arsenic was present. The leading theory is that Violet poisoned her relatives before taking her own life or that the crime was perpetrated by Edmund’s then-widow, Grace Duff. However, to this day, no one has been charged.
1 Alexander Litvinenko
The last poison victim on this list is also a startlingly recent spy assassination, well past the heyday of Cold War-era espionage. Unlike the other methods of poisoning on this list, however, the spy suffered at the hands of toxic radiation instead. In November 2006, investigators found that polonium-210 was laced inside a cup of tea of a man named Alexander Litvinenko.
While Litvinenko originally worked as an agent for the Federal Security Service in Russia, an organization that basically succeeded the KGB, he fled to the UK after getting into intense disagreements with the Russian government. He was both highly critical of Putin and worked hard to uncover another assassination, that of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. It is thought that these actions painted an enormous target on the ex-spy’s back. Former FSS Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun are the main suspects, though no conclusions have ever been completely settled in this case.