Friday, February 22, 2019

Did Burt Reynolds Murder David Whiting? New Interest in the Hollywood Mystery that inspired “The Gatsby Game”

I had a series of weird coincidences happen last Saturday.

I went to a get-together with neighbors where we tried on Gatsby-era costumes for a party we’re planning. (I live in a great neighborhood.)

When I got home, I found a manuscript in my mailbox from the biographer Jonathan Agronsky, who had contacted me a couple of years ago about my book The Gatsby Game, a novel inspired by one of my college boyfriends, a Gatsby-obsessed Haverford student named David Whiting.

One of the 10 Most Notorious Sex Scandals in Hollywood History

David died under mysterious circumstances during the filming of the Burt Reynolds movie, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, in Gila Bend, AZ in 1973.

David’s body was found in the motel room of the film’s leading lady, Sarah Miles, which caused what has been called one of the “10 Most Notorious Sex Scandals in Hollywood History.” It destroyed Miles’ marriage and seriously damaged her career.

Rumors that swirled around the news stories of David’s death have refused to die. Although the coroner ruled his death an accidental drug overdose, stories that David was murdered, or committed suicide, or have never gone away.  (The “Notorious Sex Scandals” article says he committed suicide, although that is the least likely of the rumors, IMO.)   

This article about that night from AZCentral  has more accurate details. 

The Gatsby Game

David Whiting was an odd duck. He was charming and funny in a
way that always seemed touched with tragic undertones. Which appealed to my 19-year-old self. He could be hilarious. And wildly entertaining. He lived his life as if he were a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Every date with him was a kind of performance art. He dressed in three piece bespoke suits in the era of tie dye and love beads.

He was constantly quoting Fitzgerald and singing Cole Porter songs. He also told me he identified with Jay Gatsby, because he too was a loner standing on the outside looking into the world of the careless ultra-rich.

Like Jay Gatsby, David created a fantasy world around himself that helped him climb social ladders, but never got him close enough to the top to satisfy him. He once referred to his own social climbing as “playing the Gatsby Game.”

When I decided to write a novel based on David and his mysterious death, I had to call it The Gatsby Game.

The David Whiting Story 

I was eager to read Agronsky’s manuscript as soon as I found it in my mailbox, but since I’d been gone all afternoon, I had to check my messages first.

And there I found a note from Walter Reuben, the filmmaker whose movie “The David Whiting Story” won the LA Film Critics prize in 2014.

Walter’s film isn’t so much about David as it is about the frailty of human memory. There was an excellent article about it in the Haverford Alumni magazine in 2015.

And here's Walter Reuben's inspiring interview for this blog from the same year. 

But I thought was odd that I heard from Walter within minutes of getting the Agronsky manuscript. Walter wanted to tell me that a tabloid was running a series accusing Burt Reynolds of David Whiting’s murder.

And other gossip sites had picked up on the story. 

David Whiting’s story was hot again.   

The Tabloid Accusations Against Burt Reynolds.

The rumor that Burt Reynolds killed David Whiting has refused to die over the past 46 years. Burt Reynolds was a tough guy. He got his start in Hollywood as a stuntman and was known to have a hair-trigger temper. After I published The Gatsby Game, a number of people contacted me to say they were sure Reynolds killed him.

And I suppose that now Mr. Reynolds is no longer with us, the temptation to run the story would have been too much for a tabloid. It is a juicy story. The recent article accuses Reynolds of killing David in a fight over Sarah Miles. There were several reports at the time about some sort of fist fight breaking out between them on the night David died.

The police didn’t pay much attention to that fight in their inquiries. And it’s not impossible that David was injured in an altercation with Reynolds (who was more fit and an experienced fighter.) David might later have died of his injuries.

But I know the situation was a great deal more complicated than the tabloid’s lurid premise that, “RAGING monster Burt Reynolds brutally beat love rival David Whiting to death with his bare hands in a jealous brawl.”

Dying for Love: The Short Unhappy Life of David Andrew Whiting

But I don’t think Burt Reynolds killed David. Neither does Jonathan Agronsky. His book, Dying for Love, doesn’t have a publication date yet, but keep an eye out for it. I found it unputdownable, even though I don’t agree with all of his conclusions.

Agronsky talks about those reports from some of the local law enforcement people in Gila Bend who thought that Sarah Miles’ nanny Jane Evans—who was also David’s girlfriend—had killed David. Or at least that she was the one who inflicted the wound that may have resulted in his death.

But if that were true, Agronsky shows the nanny would not have hit David to punish him for dallying with Sarah Miles, but to protect Sarah from David’s violent outbursts.

Agronsky’s book has a lot more information about David’s violent side than I was aware of. The David I knew only vented his aggression passively. He was always Gaslighting me, moving things around while I was gone, so I’d think I was going crazy. But I didn’t take it as aggression at the time. I thought it was more of his performance art—a little obnoxious, but not meant to be unkind.

Later, I realized there was always an undercurrent of belligerence in David's bizarre persona. Reading Agronsky’s book, I understood that better, and saw how that belligerence might indeed have exploded into violence.

But Agronsky finally leans toward the drug overdose theory, and in the end, leaves the conclusion up to the reader. 

Did the Nanny Do it?

The premise of The Gatsby Game is that the nanny was not involved in the death of the David Whiting character (whom I call Alistair Milbourne), although she did seem the most obvious suspect.

I'm grateful that there's new interest in David's story, and that this complex, brilliant and troubled young man won't be forgotten. 

What about you? Do you think Burt Reynolds killed David? Have you heard about this Hollywood mystery? 

You can see if you agree with my conclusions if you read The Gatsby Game, only $2.99 for the ebook and $10.99 in paper.

The Gatsby Game

"In The Gatsby Game, Anne R. Allen blends a perfect combination of witty, sharp narration, a plot that won't let the reader go, and nuanced characters that evoke our caring. A genre novel that artfully transcends its genre.”- Catherine Ryan Hyde, NYT and Amazon #1 best-selling author

THE GATSBY GAME (Romantic Comedy-Mystery) When Fitzgerald-quoting con man Alistair Milborne is found dead a movie star’s motel room—igniting a world-wide scandal—the small-town police can’t decide if it’s an accident, suicide, or foul play. 

As evidence of murder emerges, Nicky Conway, the smart-mouth nanny, becomes the prime suspect. She’s the only one who knows what happened. But she also knows nobody will ever believe her. 

The Gatsby Game is available in ebook at all the Amazons, and also at the regular price at Barnes and Noble for NOOK. It's available at Scribd.

And available in paper on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Bloodroot: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit—Part 39

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) is a pretty little plant that’s native to North America and blooms in spring from February to May. It’s also known as Canada puccoon, bloodwort, and pauson. (I hadn't ever heard of puccoon or pauson. Those names may be more in use in Canada.)
Bloodroot in bloom
In the wild, it has white flowers with yellow centers and roundish, multi-lobed green leaves. The flowers only last a few days, but the leaves form an attractive carpet effect on the forest floor

The showy double-petal version is used in ornamental garden plantings.

But beware! The sap of both versions of this plant is blood-red and extremely toxic. It is especially dangerous to dogs and cats, and herbivores generally avoid it.   

Bloodroot is found on the east coast of North America from Canada to Florida and its habitat extends to the Mississippi.
Bloodroot leaves form a carpet on the forest floor
The Algonquin and other Native Americans used it for a dye, especially for baskets, and in various medicines.

The plant produces a toxin called sanguinarine.  It’s found mostly in the rhizome root structure, which is sweet-potato orange when cut open. But the sap is so caustic it burns the skin on contact. In folk medicine, it was used as an antiseptic, and also to burn off warts and tumors.

Charlatans hawked a tincture of sanguinarine as a cancer cure, and “black salve” was sold widely as a cure for various skin ailments.  It is still available on the Internet, but is not recommended by the medical community.  

It’s been used in various types of medical quackery since the early 1800s.
18th century drawing of bloodwort with rhizome
In the mid 19th century four patients at Bellevue Hospital in New York died after drinking sanguinaria tincture they mistook for a more benign alcoholic beverage.

A cure-all called “Dr. Pinkard's Sanguinaria Compound” was sold as a “nerve tonic” that was supposed to cure everything from pneumonia to hepatitis, It's inventor, herbalist John Henry Pinkard was convicted in 1931 on charges of misrepresenting its powers, but due to his standing in the community, his fine was only $25.  

Sanguinaria is used more efficaciously to induce vomiting, reduce inflammation, and calm tooth pain. In toothpaste, it is said to reduce plaque and bacteria. Until 2001, it was an ingredient in an anti-plaque toothpaste called Viadent, which I used in the 1980s. Unfortunately, it was linked to a kind of oral cancer called leukoplakia, so it is no longer an ingredient in Viadent.

But other toothpastes do use it, so check the ingredients of your toothpaste carefully.
Ornamental double flowered bloodroot
Bloodroot is also still used in “holistic” medicine, but users should be aware that long term use or overdose is dangerous and can be fatal.

If you're writing a mystery with  a character who’s trying to kill off an eccentric herbalist or holistic practitioner, an overdose of bloodroot might do the trick and look like an accidental incident.

Although bloodroot and bloodroot tincture probably wouldn’t make ideal murder weapons, since sanguinaria is so caustic it immediately causes drooling, vomiting, eye irritation, dizziness and convulsions, which would signal the need for urgent medical attention. 

If the victim gets to a doctor, fluid therapy can flush the toxin out and an antiemetic can keep vomiting under control.

But untreated, the body will go into a coma. Death from organ failure soon follows.

Have you ever used a medicine that contained bloodroot? Do you know any stories that involve bloodroot poisoning? 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Googling Old Boyfriends is Here!

The Seventh Camilla Randall Mystery is out in ebook. The paperback will launch in January. It's a stand-alone, so you can start with this one even if you haven't read the others.

We all do it, don’t we? We start thinking about “the old days” and wonder “what ever happened to…?”

So we start Googling our former significant others.

Somehow it’s kind of embarrassing to let people know. Maybe because it feels a little stalkerish.  But it’s so fascinating to find out how people’s lives are turning out.

  • “OMG, here’s his wedding announcement—to a man! Well, that explains a few things.”
  • “He became a stockbroker? That hippie?”
  • “Three arrests for DUI? I always wondered why his breath always smelled of Listerine and Altoids…”
  • “He’s still single? Hmmm…”

Then there are the tragic ones. The searches that bring up obituaries. And arrests.

One of my high school friends had died in Vietnam. Another had drowned in an ice fishing accident.

The saddest was the arrest report of one of my elementary school crushes…for possession of child pornography.

Light bulbs went off in my head. He had that awful “uncle” he always had to spend time with but hated. The older brother who used such filthy language he was regularly thrown off the school bus.

They had been strikingly beautiful boys, blond Italians. What horrors had my little friend been going through while I was carving his name in my wooden desk top, and chased after him at the skating rink when he’d stolen my hat? Who knowsthe images he was arrested for may have been photos of himself. 

When you get older, the obituaries come up more and more.

Last year, after I’d had my third search in a row come up with an obituary—the idea for a novel popped into my head:

What if a recent divorcee started Googling her old boyfriends and…every one of them turned up dead?

Then all I had to do was introduce the divorcee to Camilla Randall, my oh-so-polite sleuth who’s a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong… and there was the story.  


I didn’t bring in the tragic real-life stuff when I wrote this one. That wouldn’t work in a Camilla book. Maybe I’ll do a serious piece on the subject sometime in the future.

Here’s an excerpt from the opening chapter.

“Okay, ’fess up.” Mickie McCormack’s eyes twinkled as she plunked a book on the counter. “If you’re that distracted by the Internet you’re either looking at porn or you’re Googling old boyfriends.”

I felt my cheeks heat up.

“Um, I’m guilty of the latter, I’m afraid. I’ve just run into an old boyfriend and he’s invited me to dinner, but…”

The bell on the door jingled.

There he was. Captain Maverick Jesus Zukowski, six foot, three inches of tall, dark, and the-one-who-got-away.

 The Camilla Randall Mysteries: 

A laugh-out-loud mashup of crime fiction, romantic comedy, and satire. Morro Bay bookshop owner Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong. But she always defeats the bad guys in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

In this stand-alone 7th book in the series, Camilla befriends socialite Mickie McCormack—a sexy, mysterious older woman who’s going through a painful divorce. Mickie has been Googling her old boyfriends to reconnect and “remember who she used to be.”

Unfortunately every one of those boyfriends soon ends up dead.

Is the serial killer Camilla’s old boyfriend Dr. Bob? Or one of Mickie’s old boyfriends? And can Camilla’s old boyfriend Captain Rick protect her and her cat Buckingham from being fed to the sharks before she solves the mystery?


What about you? Have you Googled former lovers and significant others? Were any of the results tragic? Funny? 

A comment will enter you into a contest to win a copy of the ebook for Kindle or other ereading device. I'll announce the winner in two weeks, on January 11th.

Happy 2019, everybody!

Ta-DA!! The winner of the contest is Chick Lit Shop, aka Mary Smith! Thanks for entering, everybody!  

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Potassium Chloride: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit—Part 38.

Potassium Chloride (KCl) is commonly known as a dietary supplement. It’s one of those “electrolytes” you’re always hearing about. You can find it in your Gatorade.
KCl occurs naturally in the mineral Sylvite

It is most widely used in fertilizer (called potash). It’s also used in animal feed, glassmaking, medicines, and foods like the “Mrs. Dash” line of seasonings. It has the appearance and taste of table salt (sodium chloride NaCl.)

But it can also kill. In large doses, it causes cardiac arrest. Some states in the U.S. use it as the third drug in the "three drug cocktail" for execution by lethal injection.

It occurs naturally as the mineral sylvite and in combination with sodium chloride as sylvinite.

Potassium Chloride as a Dietary Supplement.

Potassium is necessary for the normal function of our hearts, muscles, kidneys, nerves, and digestive systems. Most people get enough potassium if they eat a healthy diet.

salt-free seasoning uses KCl

But a number of things can deplete potassium, which is water soluble. Diuretics, high blood pressure medications like Lasix, kidney disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and a number of other medical issues can create the need for a potassium supplement.

Unfortunately, some people think that because it’s a supplement sold over the counter, it must be harmless. But as with many supplements, it can be dangerous—even lethal—at high doses. Pregnant women are advised not to take potassium.

Potassium Chloride Overdose

An excess of potassium in the blood is called hyperkalemia. A dose that’s not high enough to kill outright can cause kidney failure. Even a mild overdose of can cause distress. Here are some signs of an overdose:

  • Slow or irregular heartbeat 
  • Seizures 
  • Shallow breathing 
  • Mental confusion 
  • Lightheadedness or feeling you are about to faint 
  • Leg and arm weakness 
  • Tingling, prickling, or burning sensation in extremities 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Lethargy 
  • Cold, pale skin 

Death by Potassium Chloride (Hyperkalemia)

Hyperkalemia caused by disease or oral ingestion first triggers kidney failure in patients and after that, death can be very quick, even in otherwise healthy patients.

But when KCl is injected, it goes right to the heart and usually kills within 10 minutes.

It’s the ability to kill rapidly that has made KCl one of the ingredients used in some parts of the U.S. for execution by lethal injection. It causes cardiac arrest after the first two drugs have been injected to decrease pain and cause paralysis. Many people consider this method of execution to be inhumane, and other methods are being introduced.

But death from oral potassium overdose is rare. A number of treatments can stop the effects before they kill if the victim gets to the hospital quickly. Unfortunately, the patient’s system may be compromised and they may die several weeks later.

But there are cases of death from oral ingestion of KCl. In the US in the 1970s, A 32-year-old woman became hypokalemic from taking potassium supplements with her liquid protein diet (a big fad in the mid-20th century, starting with the Metrecal craze of the 1960s.)

This woman had been told that if she felt weak from the diet, all she needed was to take a potassium pill. Thinking they were harmless, and feeling weak from starvation, she kept popping the pills. She first developed diarrhea, and was told to stop taking the potassium. But it was too late. She was found dead the next day. An autopsy showed that she had taken 47 tablets of potassium chloride.

So, swallowing 47 tablets of KCl can kill, apparently. But if you’re writing a mystery where KCl is the murder weapon, injection would be the surest method for your killer.

What about you? Have you heard any stories of potassium chloride used as a murder weapon? 

Coming in December! Googling Old Boyfriends: Camilla Randall Mystery #7

“Okay, ’fess up.” Mickie McCormack’s eyes twinkled as she plunked a book on the counter. “If you’re that distracted by the Internet you’re either looking at porn or you’re Googling old boyfriends.”

I felt my cheeks heat up.

“Um, I’m guilty of the latter, I’m afraid. I’ve just run into an old boyfriend and he’s invited me to dinner, but…”

The bell on the door jingled.

There he was. Captain Maverick Jesus Zukowski, six foot, three inches of tall, dark, and the-one-who-got-away.

The Camilla Randall mysteries are a laugh-out-loud mashup of crime fiction, rom-com, and satire. Morro Bay bookshop owner Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong. But she always solves the case in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

In this stand-alone episode, Camilla befriends socialite Mickie McCormack  a sexy, mysterious older woman who’s going through a painful divorce. Mickie has been Googling her old boyfriends to reconnect and “remember who she used to be.”

Unfortunately every one of those boyfriends soon ends up dead.

Is the serial killer Camilla’s old boyfriend Dr. Bob? Or one of Mickie’s old boyfriends? And can Camilla’s old boyfriend Captain Rick protect her and her cat Buckingham from being fed to the sharks before she solves the mystery?

Here's a list of all the poisons in this series


Friday, October 26, 2018

Dear Abby and The Myth of Poisoned Halloween Candy

Lots of folklore feeds our fears of apples. Snow White got poisoned with one. And Greek legend blames the entire Trojan war on an apple: the "Golden Apple of Discord" thrown at three goddesses by Eris, the goddess of discord. 
Apples get a bad rap

But apples have got a bad rap. And it's unlikely you'll ever find one hiding a razor blade or a sewing needle, in spite of all the horror stories your mom told you when you went out trick-or-treating. 

There are lots of things to be afraid of on Halloween. Your kid getting hit by a car while dressed in black as a ninja, a witch, or Severus Snape. Or somebody kidnapping your black kitty and doing him harm. Or somebody eating too much candy and throwing up on the newly shampooed carpet. 

But poisoned candy isn't one of them.  

All of that is bogus fear-mongering. A lot of the fear was mongered by the advice columnist siblings Dear Abby and Ann Landers. 

Dear Abby and Ann Landers Spread the Panic

According to Smithsonian magazine, on October 31, 1983, advice columnist "Dear Abby" (the late Abigail Van Buren) published a column called "A Night of Treats, not Tricks." In that column, she warned her readers that, on Halloween, "somebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade."

No child has been poisoned by a stranger's Halloween candy

Twelve years later, Dear Abby's sister, advice columnist Ann Landers, also wrote a Halloween article in which she warned that "Twisted minds make Halloween a dangerous time," echoing that concern. She said, "In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy." She even stated flatly: "It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers." This made life difficult for candy companies all over the U.S.

And it turns out these "reports" were entirely bogus. 

Every so often something happens that stirs up the stories again. 

Abby may be forgiven for falling for the drama in 1983. The 1982 Tylenol poisonings that killed seven people were fresh in everybody's minds. So the idea of a crazed madman who wanted to kill random strangers was not far-fetched. It was easy to merge them with the myths that were already out there about crazed child murderers handing out tainted "treats" to the trick-or-treaters.

Some Poisonings That Didn't Happen

Here are some of the incidents that keep the myths alive, as reported by Snopes. 

In 1970, a boy went into a coma from a heroin overdose and heroin was found sprinkled on his Halloween candy.  It turned out he had got into his uncle's heroin stash and his family had sprinkled the heroin on the candy after the fact to protect the uncle.

In 1982 the police in Detroit announced a boy had been poisoned by cyanide in Halloween candy. But medical tests were inconclusive and later FDA tests of the candy turned up no contamination whatsoever. 

In 1990, a 7-year-old Santa Monica girl died of congenital heart failure while trick-or-treating. The police feared a mass random poisoning sent out an alert. Unfortunately the later retraction didn't travel anywhere near as far or wide as the initial false alarm. 

The Halloween Poisoning Sleuth, Dr. Joel Best

For decades, Joel Best a sociologist at the University of Delaware conducted a study of these stories. His findings: He never found a confirmed case of a stranger murdering a child with poisoned Halloween candy.

He did find one case of a father who murdered his own son with poisoned Halloween candy.

This was awful, but it was a one-off act of targeted murder.

In 1974, a sociopath named Ronald Clark O'Bryan took out a large life insurance policy on his 8 year old son Timothy a few days before Halloween. On Halloween, he put some cyanide into Timmy's Pixy Stix and got him to eat it before going to bed. He also poisoned some Pixy Stix he gave out to local trick or treaters, so it would look as if his son's murder was part of a random attack on local children.

Luckily none of the other children ate the candy, partly because of quick reaction from local police, and partly because Mr. Clark had resealed the Pixy Stix with staples that were too hard for a child to open.

Mr. Clark was executed in 1984, and maybe stories of his horrible deeds also sparked the rumors that prompted Dear Abby's misguided column.

Dr. Joel Best has tried hard over the years to destroy the poisoned Halloween candy myth, but he hasn't had much luck. "It's the old problem of trying to prove a negative," he says.

He says his favorite story is the one about the kid who brought a half-eaten candy bar to his parents and said, "I think there's ant poison on this." They had it checked and, sure enough, there was ant poison on it—significantly, on the end he hadn't bitten.

It later turned out the kid had put the ant poison on the candy himself. 

What about those Stories of Razor Blades and Pins in Apples?

These seem to be more of the same.

According to author Jack Santino, who's written a number of books on the history and folklore behind Halloween, "pins and needles" (and razor blade) rumors began to supplant "poisoned candy" rumors in the mid-1960s, and nearly the reports turned out to be hoaxes: 

He said, "more than 75 percent of reported cases involved no injury, and detailed followups…concluded that virtually all the reports were hoaxes concocted by the children or parents. Thus this legend type seems to have grown out of a tradition of ostensive hoaxes relying on an understood oral tradition, rather than on any core of authenticated incidents."

So poisoned candy is very much the stuff of fiction, but it has only the most tenuous attachment to fact. As writers, we'd do better to to write about poisoned chocolate Easter bunnies or Christmas candy canes and at least be creative about it.

What about you, readers? Did you believe these stories when you were a kid? Did your parents? Did your parents ban trick or treating because they were so afraid of mad poisoners? 

The first book in the Camilla comedy-mystery series is  99c

and all the Amazons internationally

Also available at Google Play,


It's available in paper at Amazon & Barnes and Noble 

A wild comic romp set at writers’ conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California. When a ghostwriter's plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with a crossdressing dominatrix to stop the killer—who may be a ghost—from striking again. Meanwhile, a hot LA cop named Maverick Jesus Zukowski just may steal her heart.

It's also available in Spanish on Amazon

Friday, September 28, 2018

Nicotine: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit—Part 37

Everybody knows smoking tobacco is dangerous. It causes lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and a myriad of other awful diseases.

The "Smoking Man" from the X-Files
But smoking tobacco kills slowly. If you wanted to kill somebody with cigarettes, a murderer would have to be patient to the point of pathology. 

However, smoking deaths aren’t caused by the nicotine in the tobacco. The body absorbs only about 1 mg of nicotine from smoking a cigarette (That’s a tenth or less of the nicotine actually contained in a cigarette.) It’s the other toxins in the cigarette smoke that do the smokers in, even though it’s nicotine that gets people addicted to the lethal things.

Full disclosure: I smoked for many years. I quit 30 years ago, with a bit of a slip in the early 2000's. But I still sometimes dream that I’m smoking. The last smoking dream I had was about a month ago. In the dream I was sneaking a cigarette outside in the dark and lit the filter end by mistake. It gave off a toxic stench and I stomped it out on the ground. I think that’s a good sign.

Nicotine is a Strong, Fast-Acting Poison

Nicotine rushes to the brain very fast and the body reacts immediately by secreting epinephrine—the same stuff the body naturally produces during times of fear, excitement, and stress.

This gives us a short but powerful adrenaline rush. Heart rate and blood pressure go up, along with the output of glucose. Respiratory rates skyrocket.

This means nicotine can kill in a matter of minutes. The lethal dose is 30-60 mg ( In comparison, it takes 70-200 mg of arsenic to kill.)

The International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS) says: "Nicotine is one of the most toxic of all poisons and has a rapid onset of action. Apart from local caustic actions, the target organs are the peripheral and central nervous systems."

Nicotine is a plant alkaloid named for a 16th century Frenchman named Jean Nicot de Villemain. He acquired tobacco plants and seeds from the Portuguese colony in Brazil and promoted their use during the 1560s. He managed to get the tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum named after him.

Nicotine as a Murder Weapon.

The first documented occurrence of someone using nicotine as a weapon was the 1850 case of the Count and Countess de Bocarme of Belgium, who decided to murder her younger brother, Gustave Fougnies, when Gustave was about to inherit the family money and estate.

The Count was an amateur chemist who mysteriously amassed a large amount of tobacco in the summer of 1850. In November of that year, his young brother-in-law Gustave dropped dead after a dinner his sister had prepared. The couple announced the young man had suffered a fatal stroke.

But the servants were not convinced, especially since Gustave's face appeared to have been burned with a caustic substance.
Jen Servais Stas discovered a test for nicotine

Because of their barn had been full of those tobacco leaves, the police suspected that the couple might have poisoned Gustave with nicotine, but they had no test to prove it.

They knew that soaking tobacco and boiling down the extract could make a lethal poison, but they couldn't prove it. 

That's when Jean Servais Stas, a prominent Belgian chemist, decided to create a test for nicotine, known as the Stas-Otto method. 

Soon after, the Count and Countess were charged with murder.

More recently, in 2014, a man named Paul Curry was convicted in Orange County CA of murdering his wife Linda with nicotine—20 years before. It was such an unusual weapon that authorities took that long to build a case (and it would be another four years before he came to trial.)

The medical examiner found it suspicious that Linda, a nonsmoker, had high levels of nicotine in her blood. 

Then there was the half-million dollar life insurance policy Paul had received. 

But still, the police did not initially suspect foul play. 

However after careful examination of the medical evidence, Dr. Neal Benowitz of the University of San Francisco Medical School determined that Linda Curry, first disabled with sleep medication, died within 20 to 30 minutes after being poisoned with nicotine.

There was only one person with her in that time frame—her husband.

Nicotine Poisoning is a Growing Problem in the Age of Vaping

Nicotine poisoning has become much more common since the invention of the e-cigarette. The liquid nicotine in one vaping cartridge contains enough poison to kill a child. Two or three could be lethal for a large adult.

Vape Liquid, or E-Juice, comes in different strengths, depending on the manufacturer. It can be as high as 36 mg or even 42 mg. And you can buy refills in convenient eye-dropper bottles. In flavors like berry, cherry and Candy King. Yum.

It only takes about 60 mg. of nicotine to kill the average-sized person. That would mean smoking 40 cigarettes at once, chewing 15 pieces of nicotine gum, wearing 4-5 patches… or ingesting just 2 doses of e-liquid. 

Swallowing e-juice can be fatal. Even getting it on your skin is dangerous. This liquid is highly toxic, but unfortunately, it's not highly regulated.  

Many Users Don’t Know the Perils of E-Juice

Unfortunately, the candy-flavored vape juice is a magnet for teens and tweens, whose ability to make rational decisions may not have entirely matured.

In researching the hazards of nicotine poisoning from vaping, I found a number of forums where teens discussed their concerns about poisoning. 

Some of their comments were hair-raising.

One young man was understandably worried because his vape pen had leaked and he’d swallowed some of the liquid. He wrote in the forum to ask for advice.

His charming fellow vapers called him a “pussy” and shamed him for worrying and told him not to call the poison hotline.

One vaper claimed he drank “e-juice” all the time with no ill effects. 

Another claimed to be immune to the caustic burns other humans get from the liquid. He bragged he’d felt nothing after a broken vape pen in his pocket leaked e-juice down his pants. He called the worried young man "a stupid hippy" for fearing the caustic poison. 

I wanted to jump in and tell the kid: If you listen to this troll, you'll burn off your face. Please be a "stupid hippy!"

Maybe the trolls were lying, or maybe they’d only had a drop or two of the liquid. (Although even a drop can burn most people’s skin.) 

It’s true they would have to drink at least 10 ml of vape juice to actually kill themselves. They might not even die from that amount, but if they survived, their heart and arteries would be permanently damaged.

If they're not lying, the Dumb and Dumberer folks in that forum aren’t long for this world.  The government is trying to put the brakes on the marketing of this stuff to teens, but they’re fighting an uphill battle.

$10 for a Lethal Dose of Liquid Nicotine.

Not only is vape juice easy to get, but there are many websites that tell you how to make your own vaping concoctions.

They link to sites where can buy liquid nicotine for the DYI e-juice for only about $10 for 60mg, the lethal dose. Very handy for those villains planning a budget murder (although you might want to swing for 2 bottles just to make sure.)

The only obstacle to the perfect nicotine murder is the taste. Apparently it’s awful. This is why e-juice is so heavily flavored.
Murder on a budget? 

There are also the tell-tale caustic burns around the mouth you'd have to explain away. Maybe in a murder mystery, the fictional victim could be shown eating a very hot pizza—you know the kind that seems cool enough on the top, but has that hot cheese underneath that burns the roof of your mouth. Well, that's a stretch...

Signs of Nicotine Poisoning

Early symptoms (15 minutes to an hour.)

  • Feeling nauseated 
  • Excessive watering of the mouth 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Racing heartbeat 
  • Skyrocketing blood pressure 
  • Throbbing headache 
  • Blanched skin 
  • Dizzy, off-balance, or confused 

Late-phase symptoms ( 1-4 hours later.)

Shallow breathing
Slower heartbeat
Lower blood pressure
Feeling weak, slow reflexes, or unable to control muscles

When to Get Help for Nicotine Poisoning

In spite of what Dumb and Dumberer said in that forum, you want to call the American Association of Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 right away if you suspect an overdose or when someone, especially a child or pet:

  • Swallows any type of tobacco or nicotine product 
  • Gets liquid nicotine in their eye 
  • Spills liquid nicotine on their skin 

And if the person who is poisoned can't wake up, has a hard time breathing, or has a seizure, call 911.

First Aid for Nicotine Poisoning

  • Don't try to make someone who's swallowed nicotine throw up or give them antacids to settle their stomach. 
  • Give them lots of water. 
  • Make sure their airway is clear. 
  • Rinse eyes splashed with nicotine well with a lot of warm water for at least 15 minutes. 
  • Where liquid nicotine has gotten onto skin, wash the area well with soap and water (either warm or cool) and rinse for at least 15 minutes.

 Did you know that nicotine was so readily available in lethal doses? Have you ever had nicotine poisoning? Were you ever addicted to the stupid stuff the way I was? 

Here's a list of all the poisons in this series




THE LADY OF THE LAKEWOOD DINER is a comedy that pokes fun at the myth of a Golden Age, making parallels between the Grail legend and the self-mythologizing of the Baby Boomer Generation.

Someone has shot aging bad-girl rocker Morgan Le Fay and threatens to finish the job. Is it fans of her legendary dead rock-god husband, Merlin? Or is the secret buried in her childhood hometown of Avalon, Maine?

Morgan's childhood best friend Dodie, the no-nonsense owner of a dilapidated diner, may be the only one who knows the dark secret that can save Morgan's life. And both women may find that love really is better the second time around. Think Beaches meets Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

"A page turning, easily readable, arrestingly honest novel which will keep you laughing at yourself. Who doesn't remember crashing on a mattress at a friend's apartment with the stereo blasting Iron Butterfly and no idea where you'll stay the next night? A cultural masterpiece for the discerning reader."...Kathleen Keena, author of Adolescent Depression, Outside/In

The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is only 99c until September 30th, 2018 at all the Amazons

Also available iTunesKoboNook and Books 2 Read