Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Death Scream: A Criminal History of Cyanide

Deborah Blum, the thinking woman’s crime writer, tackles the mystery of the Chicago dry cleaner who won a $450,000 lotto jackpot and died in his bed the next day with bloody froth on his lips and a lethal dose of cyanide in his bloodstream:

According to news reports, Kahn’s wife first realized he was ill when he emitted a loud scream. Interestingly enough, that tends to be a classic symptom of cyanide poisoning, an almost involuntary response to the internal collapse. Gettler once described this as a “death scream.” The description of Kahn’s death has him screaming, staggering to a chair, and dying as he sat there.  In other words, cyanide killings tend to set a very specific range for actual time of death.

Kahn’s death is still a mystery, but the killer is likely to be caught when toxicologists determine exactly what kind of cyanide poisoned him. Cyanide is so tightly controlled, and available through so few channels, that toxicology can dramatically winnow the suspect pool, often down to just one person.

[Photo credit: Michael Till, Creative Commons.]