Wicked Wednesday – Favorite Murder Method

It’s Wicked Wednesday again! Some of you might remember the time the Wickeds were interviewed for the Boston Globe. One of the questions we were asked was, What’s your favorite murder method? So I thought it would be fun to revisit the question and see if any of our answers changed!

So Wickeds, what’s your favorite way to off someone?

Julie: I am old school. I like poison. I find it fascinating, unexpected, a bit passive aggressive, and confounding.

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Barb: I don’t think I have a favorite murder method. I remember being flummoxed by the question from the Globe. But for the Maine Clambake Mysteries, I like to tie the murder weapon to the subject of the books. I used the clambake fire in Boiled Over, and the victim gets tangled in the lines under a lobster boat in Musseled Out. There’s another murder weapon like that coming up in the seventh Maine Clambake Mystery, Steamed Open, but no spoilers!

Edith: Like Julie, I like poison. I’ve taken inspiration from Luci Zahray, the Poison Lady, a Texan pharmacologist who gives talks to writers about readily available poisons. In recent books I’ve used liquid nicotine (yes, that stuff you put in vaping “cigarettes”) and rosary peas, and worked Tylenol and whiskey into a short story. I blogged about her a few years ago here.

Sherry: I don’t think I really have a favorite method but have had a few of people die by getting whacked on the head. Many of my killers have struck out in anger instead of carefully planning out a murder. It seems to me that is how most murders occur — in a moment of crazed thinking. I love that the murder weapon is on the cover of my first book, Tagged for Death.

Jessie: No question, blugdeoning. It allows for endless creativity of improvised weaponry and it makes it far more possible for a wide range of suspects to have done the deed as it requires no specialized knowledge and often uses heft and momentum to aid smaller killers in going about their tasks It’s a total win in my book. Or books!

Liz: I continue to be fascinated by poison, but like Barb, it depends on the book and the victim. And, of course, the killer. I have to say, I did like the method I used in my second book, A Biscuit, A Casket – a nice scythe to the chest!

Readers, do you have a favorite murder method? Tell us in the comments!

Murder Then and Now

Delivering the TruthCoverEdith here, delighted that Delivering the Truth releases…tomorrow!

Because I write an historical murder mystery series as well as two contemporary ones, I got to thinking about the ways killing someone in 1888 might be the same or different from now.

Certainly, pushing a victim over a cliff or beating them to death with a large blunt object hasn’t changed in the last 130 years. There were stabbings and shootings then, just as we hear about now. But did unique murder methods exist in the era of my Quaker Midwife Mysteries that wouldn’t or couldn’t be used today?

Death by hatpin comes to mind. When bonnets gave way to hats in the late 1800s, WikiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApedia says, the use of hatpins soared. And a couple of decades later, the same article states, “Laws were passed in 1908 in America that limited the length of hatpins, as there was a concern they might be used by suffragettes as weapons.” Hatpins were about eight inches long and had a decorative head to hang onto. Sounds like a good weapon to me, and an article at Smithsonian.com backs me up.hatpin-defence

And then there were the readily available poisons. You could buy aresenic-containing rat poison at any hardware store, which I used in my Agatha-nominated short story, “A Questionable Death.” Cyanide and strychnine were also widely used. Today all these are highly regulated and unlikely to be a contemporary murder weapon.

AisforArsenicOpium is another good one. When dissolved in alcohol, it was called laudanum. In Rose Carroll’s day, it was sold without a prescription and used to relieve pain, including that of menstrual cramps, induce sleep, and calm the nerves. But because it’s a depressant, taken in excess it can induce coma and death, according to Kathryn Harkup’s excellent book, A is for Arsenic: the Poisons of Agatha Christie. Sadly, we hear about too many heroin deaths even today.

One modern poison likely not used in 1888 is liquid nicotine. With the rise of vaping, tiny vials of liquidwiskey in a glass some pills and the bottle behind on black background nicotine can be bought anywhere. According to Luci Zahray, the Poison Lady, two cartridges will kill an adult. Tylenol didn’t exist back then, either, so it couldn’t be combined with alcohol to destory someone’s liver (see my short story, “An Idea for Murder“). 

Readers: Do you have a favorite Victorian murder weapon?

 

Ask the Expert: Lessons from the Poison Lady

Edith here, happy it’s summer on the steamy North Shore (and the ebook versions of A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die are on sale right now for only $1.99 everywhere!)

The Wicked Cozys are starting a new occasional series we’re calling Ask the Expert. We’re starting off with a presentation from Malice Domestic, but from here on out we’ll be asking particular questions of an expert. Chime in with requests in the Comments area! The following is an excerpt of an article I wrote for the Volume 18, number 4 issue of First Draft, the newsletter of the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter, edited by Lourdes Venard.

I was lucky enough to catch Texas pharmacist Luci Zahray’s presentation at Malice

Luci Zahray, aka, The Poison Lady, holds a 24-milligram  e-cigarette cartridge during her talk at Malice Domestic. Photo used with permission by G.J. Puhl.

Luci Zahray, aka, The Poison Lady, holds a 24-milligram e-cigarette cartridge during her talk at Malice Domestic. Photo used with permission by G.J. Puhl.

Domestic this year. I had heard Luci speak twice in the last decade, but she varies her presentation so I always learn something new, plus she has that funny southern sense of humor and is a delight for the entertainment value alone. And now I know exactly what the murder weapon will be in my next mystery. (Dibs…)

Here are just two of the common poisons she described. Caveat – this post is from my hastily typed notes during the session. Please check the information out for yourself before using it – in your books, of course!

Nicotine. Luci said it is very dangerous to handle and in its liquid form nicotine can kill you from touching it. Two to three cigarettes would kill an adult, and one ingested cigarette butt would kill a child. You can now buy E-cig cartridges of pure nicotine anywhere. It costs $6.95 for six cartridges, ELiquidenough to kill two adults. It is stable and pure, and is absorbed through every part of the body. Death can be in as little as five minutes. 40 mg is a fatal dose. Death can also be delayed. If it’s ingested in liquid, death will be quick. If it’s applied on a Band-aid, for example, death can be delayed for an hour or so. In a heavy meal, death would be delayed for several hours.

Death is from respiratory failure. Nicotine first stimulates the breathing then slows it down. Blood pressure correspondingly goes up and then down, then heart failure, coma, and death. A high dose can skip a few of those steps. Animals can be found dead with the plant still in their mouth. It has a mild tarry taste, but you can hide it. You can put ten to fifteen drops in a strong-tasting tea, coffee, chai, or a mocha latte. You can also buy flavored liquid nicotine in, for example, watermelon or bubblegum flavors. There is no antidote.

Rosary pea. You can grow your own, obtained on the Internet, or you can buy them as part of a rosary in a RosaryPeasCatholic store. It has red and black seeds, which contain abrin. Abrin is the third most toxic substance in the world. It’s a pretty shrub, can also be grown as a houseplant. One rosary pea in a child’s mouth can kill.; two to three seeds for an adult, if the dried seed has been pierced. You can put it in a soup, grind it in a grinder. It clumps up red blood cells and can imitate arsenic poison. Symptoms are delayed for hours or days. Nausea and vomiting are severe, with abdominal pain. A small dose is gradually toxic to the kidneys and liver. Four weeks later hair will fall out.

Related: Castor beans have ricin. The castor bean has three seeds inside its shell, and eight beans can kill a whole room. Castor beans look like pinto beans. Two beans in a pot of chili will kill.

Poison gardens. Luci has a Texas back yard full of poisonous plants for her research, and she mentioned others in North Carolina (at the North Carolina Botanical Garden at UNC in Chapel Hill) and Philadelphia. Cornell University in Ithaca, New York has the Muenscher Poisonous Plants GardenBlarney Castle in Cork, Ireland also has a Poison Garden, as does Amy Stewart in Eureka, California, the author of the excellent Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.

Luci recommended as a reference The North American Guide to Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas, and the Home Health Guide to Poisons and Antidotes by Carol Turkington. Luci says you’re welcome to email her with questions and she’ll try to get back to you: lhzahray@hotmail.com. If you get a chance to hear her at a conference, go! You will not be disappointed.

Readers: What’s the best poison you’ve read about in a mystery or your favorite that you’ve used in your own writing to kill someone off? And what kind of expert would you like to see here next?