The people of the Victorian era had a very specific fear: poison murder.
This historical mystery is not a “whodunnit.” It’s more of an “ifdunnit.” In 1908 the emperor of China died a very suspicious death. It took until 2008 for people to know that the person who almost definitely did murder him actually did murder him.
Yesterday, we got to know Leonarda Cianciulli, who turned her victims into soap and cake. Here’s another in our series on female serial killers: North Carolina’s Velma Barfield, the “Death Row Granny” who poisoned four and maybe more, including her own mother, and was executed in 1984 at the age of 52.
Persistence is a trait often associated with officers of the law. But 19th century lawyer Herbert Armstrong found a far deadlier use for his doggedness by poisoning his wife and a rival solicitor. There’s just one catch: the man was no criminal mastermind.
In 1955, Japanese babies began getting sick. It took a long time — inexcusably long — for the danger to be publicly announced, and as a result, Japan had over ten thousand victims of arsenic poisoning, and over 100 deaths.
Probably not, unless you're well over 100 years old. In the 1800s, arsenic began being marketed as a health supplement, even though it had been a known poison for thousands of years. So why were people suddenly eating it on purpose?
If you wanted to be Pope (or stay Pope) in the 1400s, there was only one way to do it. Cantarella was the poison of choice for the Borgia family. But what was in the deadly poison? And why has it become infamous?
Robert Bunsen is most famous for inventing the Bunsen burner, which he technically did not invent. What he's not famous for is much more interesting. His most altruistic research, which has saved many lives, very nearly killed him, and led to to the research that gave us the burner.
James Marsh is an ordinary chemist, just keeping his head down and doing his job. But when he sees a murderer go free, he has to do something crazy. Something like . . . chemistry.
Arsenic-contaminated water is a massive problem in the developing world. But, even when you filter it out, the toxic sludge that the process produces often gets dumped right back into the water supply. It's tough to dream up a use for arsenic soup, but one research team finally has: They're making bricks out of it.
There are trace amounts of arsenic in the water supply, and it turns out that even this mild exposure can do lasting damage. In the New York Times today, Deborah Blum explores the dangers of arsenic poisoning in the U.S., and around the world. New evidence suggests it's much worse than we thought.
Arsenic is one of the oldest and most well-known poisons in the world. It changed political dynasties and spawned the science of toxicology. It also might be responsible for two different movie monsters.
In 2010, NASA called a press conference to make one of the biggest announcements in scientific history: researchers had discovered an unusually hardy bacterium that could not only tolerate exposure to arsenic, but actually incorporate the poisonous element into its DNA. The team's findings, if correct, would have gone…
Back in Victorian England, they knew how to inflict macabre, terrible death. Case in point: a single mishap led to the death of 25 people and the poisoning of nearly 200 individuals in one night, after they all consumed arsenic-laced peppermint treats.
In late 2010, NASA scientists announced the discovery of microbes in California's Mono Lake that used arsenic instead of phosphorus in their DNA. The study quickly came under intense criticism — and now we may be about to refute it entirely.
How do you deal with a problem like arsenic in drinking water, especially in developing nations where people can't afford the complex purification facilities needed to clean the water to potable levels? It turns out there's a much simpler way. It involves using chopped up hunks of plastic from soda bottles, and…