A to Z Challenge: C (poisons & stories of their use)


IMG_Sodium Cyanide
From: Noah Tech

Fast facts:
– Also called prussic acid
– Chemical compound of carbon triple bonded to nitrogen
– Found naturally (fruit seeds and tobacco) or easily manufactured
– Can be ingested (orally or topically) and inhaled
– Exposure leads to death in minutes
– Was the gas used in Nazi extermination camps
– Poison of choice in the Jonestown Massacre and Tylenol poisonings

A chemical substance, cyanide is found naturally in a lot of fruits such as apple seeds and almond and apricot stones, as well as in tobacco (and its smoke). Cyanide is recognisable by its bitter almond smell, although not everyone is able to smell it, and it doesn’t always release the smell.

Convicted Bosnian-Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak died of cyanide poisoning – he drank from a vial moments after a UN appeals judge upheld his 20-year sentence on war-crimes
From: Aljazeera

Spies carried cyanide tablets in WWII as they were thought to lead to a quick and painless death, however modern science now shows that wasn’t the case. Only 1.5mg per kg of body weight is enough to kill in minutes. Essentially it stops the body producing energy resulting in seizures, an inability to breathe and cardiac arrest. It takes 2 to 5 minutes to kill, but doesn’t render the person unconscious, so an horrific death. Survivors, although rare, may suffer Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

There are now measures to counter cyanide posioning: the cyanide antidote kit and hydroxocobalamin. Activated charcoal may also prevent absorption from the gastrointestinal tract if cyanide salts have been ingested.

B17 Amygdalin A Dietary Supplement | The Natural Products Brands Directory

Almonds are now safe to eat, thanks to a mutation thousands of years ago that allowed humans to farm the sweet almonds and leave the unsafe bitter almonds alone. But other seeds, such as apricot, aren’t quite as safe. In 2016, apricot kernels were billed as the next big superfood and cancer cure (claims scientifically debunked) – supplements such as Novodalin or B17 are made from apricot kernels, and yes, they contain cyanide. Eating more than two kernels a day puts an adult over the safe level of cyanide. A 67-year-old Melbourne, Australia man was reported as taking 3 tablets of Novodalin each day, as well as grinding up his own brew at home – adding up to more than 17mg of cyanide a day. Blood tests revealed he had cyanide 25 times acceptable levels in his bloodstream.

There are a number of high profile cyanide homicides:

Jonestown Massacre (1978) – more than 900 members of an American cult called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide-murder under the direction of their leader, Jim Jones. It took place at the so-called Jonestown settlement in the South American nation of Guyana.

Tylenol Poisonings (1982) – The Chicago Tylenol Murders were a series of cyanide deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area. Seven people died in the original poisonings (although several more deaths occurred thanks to copycats. No-one was ever charged or convicted.

Stella Nickell (1986) – was one such copycat of the Tylenol murders. She was the first person to be found guilty of violating the US Federal Anti-Tampering Act after putting cyanide in Excedrin capsules in an effort to kill her husband. Stella was traced thanks to some fish tank algae treatment she mixed in the bowl she then used for the cyanide. She was convicted on two counts of murder.




33 comments on “A to Z Challenge: C (poisons & stories of their use)

  1. Giggling Fattie

    April 3, 2021 at 8:35 am

    Oooooo I was right!! Hahaha

  2. So far, you have a great list of poisons. I’ve heard of most!

    • There were some obvious and easy letters, but there are some coming up which will be much less well known.

  3. I remember the Tylenol poisonings. That’s when we stopped taking Tylenol. Nothing like the feeling that you’re taking your life in your hands when you buy something for a headache. They stopped selling it in capsules after that, which was probably a good idea.

    Nazi officers carried cyanide capsules, too, in the event they were captured. I watch a lot of WWII YouTubes…

  4. Great post, cyanide is indeed a famous poison.
    Quilting Patchwork & Appliqué

    • I think it and arsenic are probably two of the most well-known, and they both fall at the start of the alphabet. Much less famous hereon in.

  5. Ah, the old bitter almond smell. Seems like, no matter what poison, TV cop shows always get that hint of bitter almond aftershave.

    Only problem; if you are close enough to smell it, you are probably poisoned too.

    • I always wonder, what exactly does bitter almond smell like? How do they know when they smell it that is what it is?

  6. Just found your fascinating a-z blogs. Ooh, poisons are fun… as long as I’m not the one being poisoned, lol. But the more you know, the safer you are! (I hope)

    • Thanks, Jen. I totally agree, fun to read about as long as you haven’t been poisoned.

  7. Great theme for a mystery writer. I enjoyed the post. I learned a lot and look forward to more.

  8. Sounds like a painful way to go.

  9. You did a LOT of research for these! Very good. The A story about the Navy sailor who was poisoned by his wife is really sad.

    • Yeah, I did. I started researching last year (although I’m still behind as I had hoped to have them all written by now and I am still writing). The navy story is awful. I didn’t go into all the detail but what makes it worse is there was a daughter (step-daughter to the killer) caught up in it all as well (she was a child when she lost her dad).

  10. Just the other day I was just watching documentaries about Nazi Germany and some cowards swallowing cyanide to avoid arrest, trial and sentencing. Good to hear they didn’t go as painlessly as they were expecting to.

    • I know! I’m glad they had their facts wrong in that regard; at least they were still punished.

  11. No wonder this shows up so often in murder mysteries… I remember being told as a kid not to eat the apricot kernels.
    Interesting theme!

    The Multicolored Diary

    • I remember reading a Trixie Belden mystery as a kid where someone used the apple seeds in a pie and someone ended up being poisoned. That was the first time I heard about it.

  12. I am loving your series. This is absolutely fascinating to me. I never knew that about Apricot seeds or Almonds for that matter. Could you potentially grind up enough Apricot stone to kill someone?


    • Totally! Although I’m not sure how you would get them to eat it because it would be bitter to taste.

      So glad you are enjoying it, Molly 🙂

  13. 2019 New Years Eve dinner at a friend’s house, I ate two cherries and left the pits at the side of my plate. One somehow slid into the food that also had peppercorns. Mistaking the pit for a peppercorn (though thinking it particularly hard), I chowed down. Two minutes later I couldn’t find the second pit and freaked out realizing what I’d done. It stopped dinner down cold. We had to quickly Google “cyanide poisoning.” One more pit and I’d be a goner. Turns out, one pit won’t kill an adult usually, but two pits will. I did feel very ill later that night. Not sure if it was the cyanide or psychosomatic. Thanks for the interesting read.

    • Wow, Jennifer. That would have made for quite a scary end to 2019. I would imagine if you had a 50% dose, then there would be a good chance it wasn’t psychosomatic. Are you still able to eat cherries or has that ruined the experience for you?

  14. It was the Tylenol case that led to the invention and implementation of tamper-evident packaging, such as the plastic sleeves around caps and the paper or plastic covering over the mouth of the jar the first time you open the lid.
    Black and White: C for Camelot

  15. I did a Chicago crime tour a few years ago that included a drive-by of one of the drugstores where the Tylenol was sold. I’m sorry the crime is still unsolved; hate to see people get away with something like that!

    • Oh, that would have been a fascinating tour, Jenny. I bet it would have included some fascinating mob history in that tour as well.

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