featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Normally when health editor Janice Kerr discusses health issues here on Wednesdays, it’s in the context of staying healthy. Today we have a guest with a slightly different agenda. Lisa Black is a full time latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida. Her fourth book Defensive Wounds was released by Harper Collins on September 27. In it, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean battles a serial killer operating at an attorney’s convention. Read more about Lisa and her books at her website. 

Lisa is also offering a copy of Trail of Blood to one of our readers. To enter the drawing, just post a comment to the blog this week. And be sure to include your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you've won. We have no way of contacting winners if you don't, and we've had a lot of books go unclaimed lately. -- AP

Mystery Writers and the Search for an Undetectable Poison

If there were such a thing as a truly undetectable poison, mystery writers would use it in every book. There are, however, poisons that stand a good chance of not being detected. Whether or not your killer is willing to take the chance is, of course, up to them.

The average autopsy will check for alcohol, narcotics and illegal drugs. That’s all. The average crime lab will not have the equipment or reagents to check for every possible poison. The investigator would have to know what they are looking for. If they do, and there is not currently a way to detect it, a way might then be found. That’s what happened in Toledo when David Davis supposedly killed his wife Shannon with succinylcholine, which instantly breaks down into succinic acid and choline. These two chemicals are normally found in the body anyway. At the time there was no way to detect suspicious levels, but doctors in Sweden and then a doctor at the Medical College of Ohio came up with a test to do so. Davis was convicted (after going on the run for seven years,) but using a brand-new technique in a criminal trial is always a risky proposition, and the accuracy of it is still under debate. Juries—and everyone else—like their forensic science to have lots of studies and decades of time behind it before they vote to convict.

If you want to know how to kill someone without leaving a physical mark or trace, read my book Evidence of Murder. That’s exactly the question my heroine, Theresa, comes up against, and yes, there is an answer, and yes, it’s completely true. But it’s not poison.

Well, maybe not exactly.

The trick is to make the poison fit so perfectly into the victim’s situation that, even if found, it will not necessarily scream murder. Genene Ann Jones killed numerous infants in her pediatric ICU unit by overdosing them with the blood thinner heparin. But with the victims in such a fragile state to begin with, her activities went undetected for quite some time.

Dr. John Hill supposedly killed his wife by poisoning pastries with bacteria so that her death would look like a case of meningitis. It might have worked had his behavior not raised so much suspicion. This method would require a good working knowledge of, and access to, bacteria and runs great risk of not working or not working completely. On the plus side, it wouldn’t look like poison, and one could always try again.

But just because a poison is well known doesn’t mean you can’t get away with it. An older lady killing off her husband is the first thing you think of with the word arsenic, but Audrey Marie Hilley did exactly that, while her husband was in the hospital under the care of an army of competent doctors and nurses.

Thanks, Lisa. I hope you haven’t given any of our non-author readers any ideas! Readers, want to win a copy of Trail of Blood? Post a comment to enter the drawing, and as I mentioned above, don't forget to either include your contact info or check back on Sunday. If you win, and we can't contact you, you lose out. -- AP


Mason Canyon said...

A very interesting and informative post. People have used such creative ways to kill others that authors don't have to make up ways for their characters to kill. By turning on the TV or reading a newspaper there's usually a new method or two. Wishing Lisa much success with her writing.

Thoughts in Progress
Freelance Editing By Mason

Liz V. said...

You post brings to mind a flurry when a Spanish court threw out FBI fingerprint evidence. I must admit the details passed by me, but I just checked Wikipedia and find misapplication of the process and possibly bias played roles. So my faith in forensic science remains intact, and I can enjoy Trail of Blood should I win. Thanks for the giveaway.

Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

Fascinating info. Please enter me in the book drawing. rossel@fairpoint.net

Dru said...

Great post. Love this series.

Sandy Cody said...

Interesting post, Lisa. This is one I'll print out and keep on hand ... for my fiction, of course. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Please enter me in the drawing. sandycody@verizon.net

Cathy Shouse said...

What a fascinating post. I didn't know there were so many ways to kill someone and possibly get away with it.

I'd love to win the book.

cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

Lisa Black said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

ElaineCharton said...

Interesting post. I think I have a new series I have to check out. Thanks!


Lesley Cookman said...

This came just at the right time! I've been researching poisons for weeks, including a long conversation with a doctor yesterday. (For my own next book, you understand!) I shall definitely buy Evidence of Murder.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for this reminder that 'real life' killers are still getting away with poison as a weapon.
Rebecca Butler

Marilyn Levinson said...

Wonderful post! I'm always on the lookout for hard-to-detect poisons for my victims.

Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

I love your possibilities for poisons. I'm filing them away in my brain. Just in case. Please enter me in the book drawing.