Special Sub-Topic: Women and Poison
|For many centuries and in many different cultures, women's bodies have often been considered poisonous in themselves. For the Vish Kanjas, the poison maidens of Indian history, this belief was not folklore or superstition but literal fact. How did they kill?|
With a kiss. The Vish Kanjas were apparently reared from infancy on minute doses of strychnine. By the time they were in their teens their tolerance would have been massive and contact with their body fluids, fatal. Several Vish Kanjas accompanied King Chandragupta's delegation to meet the Emperor Alexander.
|The most notorious poisoner of them all, Lucrezia Borgia, wasn't guilty. Most of the crimes ascribed to her were probably committed by her brother Cesare and perhaps her father. Who was he?|
Pope Alexander VI. The idea of a a deeply evil and promiscuous noblewoman was a lot more fun that the reality of a much-married-off girl with what a contemporary described as a 'plain but sweet face'.
|The Queen of Poisoners was a real queen. She was fond of brewing her own potions and then testing them on indigent subjects who were given royal 'favours'. She then recorded their deaths in detail. One of her favorite means of dispatch was diamond dust. Who was she?|
Catherine de Medici. Ironically, Catherine was also a great gourmet who brought her own cooks with her from Italy. Many of the basics of French haute cuisine actually originated at her table.
|The 16th and 17th centuries were the heyday of poisoners, both male and female. What was a euphemism for poison in 17th century France?|
Inheritance powder. An ugly little name and certainly not gender-specific.
|Signora Toffana provided a popular service for the ladies in Naples at the end of the 17th century. She sold them 'Aqua Toffana', an interesting and expensive liquid they were instructed never to ingest themselves. What was Aqua Toffana sold as?|
A complexion aide. Ladies were told to apply it to their faces, necks and breasts before meeting their husbands. Signora Toffana was executed in 1709 for the murder of 600 men. The 600 rich widows presumably walked free.
|In the 1680s, the Affair of the Poisons scandal broke in Paris. A former midwife turned witch was hawking potions to the nobility and in some cases, more lethal wares as well. When it was discovered that the king's mistress was feeding him one of the witch's love philtres, the scandal broke. The witch's name became a byword for evil in France. Who was she?|
Madame Voisin. Madame Voisin was burned as a witch in 1682 and the king's mistress, Madame de Montespan, ended her days as a Mother Superior. An interesting result of the affair is the Great Decree of 1690, the first European legal statute which sought to define the difference between witches and people who sold potions for profit.
|It was the trial of the century. Madeline Smith, a 22-year-old Glasgow deb, had been arrested for the murder of her somewhat unpresentable lover, Pierre Emile L'Anglier. The evidence was stacked against her - L'Anglier had some incriminating letters he was threatening to show her father and she had purchased poison. A diary L'Anglier had kept linked his terrible bouts of stomach cramps to visits from Madeline. Even her own lawyer thought she was guilty. The trial lasted from July 4 to 13, 1857, only 9 days, and the verdict was...|
Not proven. 'Not proven' was an old Scottish verdict and the Madeline Smith trial was one of its final appearances. The argument for the defense was that anyone suspecting their lover of poisoning them as L'Anglier did, would scarcely have continued to accept food and drink from her hands. Madeline changed her name and married twice, ending her days in New York City in 1926. Recent and persuasive evidence shows that L'Anglier was a highly unstable young man who very likely planned an elaborate suicide in hopes it would send his ex-sweetheart to the gallows.
|He was an American president facing iminent ruin and she was his highly intelligent, effective, and unconventional first lady. When he died suddenly in San Francisco, the whispers started... Who was he?|
Warren G. Harding. Florence Harding did herself no favours when she insisted on an incompetent doctor attending Harding when he collapsed. She then absolutely refused to allow an autopsy. His chronic philandering and the breaking Teapot Dome scandal have both been offered as possible reasons for why she might have dunnit. The jury's still out.
|It was perfect - a quiet, rural area in central Hungary, a cousin who was the medical examiner for the district, and lots of soldiers streaming back home after the Great War to make trouble for their wives. Julia Fazekas and her friend Auntie Suzi were soon doing a roaring trade in under-the-counter strychnine. After 15 years and an estimated 300 deaths, a potential victim blew the whistle and it was all over. What were Julia and Auntie Suzi?|
Midwives.. There were eventually 33 arrests, but only 8 convictions. Midwives were often associated with sorcery, magic, and poison probably because of their access to drugs and knowledge of healing plants. It was only on very rare occasions, however, that they lived up to their bad reputation.
|Incidences of poisoning with murderous intent have dropped off dramatically in the last 60 years. What reason is MOST OFTEN given for this?|
The shift from home to hospital care for the sick.. Poisoning is certainly not exclusively a women's crime, but it seems to have been an overwhelmingly domestic one. The lack of open access to relatives in the hospital and the presence of the hospital staff seem to have cut deaths by poison dramatically.
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