In general, an investigation into a suspicious death must show that the suspect had motive, means, and opportunity in order for a D.A. to pursue and prosecute a case.
A traditional mystery (not much blood and gore, with an emphasis on the howdunit, whodunit, and why) might focus on the little old lady who seems that she would never harm a soul. In fact, she may be the dastardly evildoer in a cleverly plotted story.
A detective must discover why the victim needed killing – the motive. Was the crime committed to cover up another crime? Was the mild-mannered little old lady, barely making ends meet through a glitch in her pension system, cashing social security checks that belonged to a long dead spouse now buried in the garden? Did the victim uncover the truth and need to be silenced before spilling the beans? Readers and jury members alike might relate to her desperate plight as a motive that pushes people over the edge.
The detective must show that the suspect had the means to pull it off.
What would a little old lady do? The victim had no outward signs of blunt force trauma from being struck by a baseball bat or golf club. The answer lies in the multi-colored display of foxglove, readily available in our senior citizen’s garden. Every part of the foxglove plant can cause allergic reactions and a few fresh leaves are enough to kill a person. Collecting the foliage can irritate the skin and eyes, so wearing gardening gloves, eyeglasses, and a mask (commonly worn in pollen season) would have protected her when working with her weapon of death.
A detective must figure out if the suspect had an opportunity to deliver the poison to the victim. The foxglove leaves look very much like large baby romaine, if a bit fuzzier. But lathered in salad dressing at a neighborly gathering, nobody would be able to tell the difference.
Or, the senior citizen could bake up a special plate of brownies and share them.
From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter to Agatha Christie, foxglove has been a popular way to ‘off’ annoying people in fiction. Snape uses foxglove to make a potion in Potions 101 and Christie mixed it with other, edible greens in the garden in “The Herb of Death.”
My wife, Sheila, picked up six plants in three different colors at the garden center. I warned her about washing her gloves after handling the plants. All protocols were followed and no brownies have been made recently at our house.
So, why do we allow foxglove to be grown if it can be deadly?
The botanical name for foxglove is Digitalis purpurea. “Digitalis” is heart medicine made from foxglove. With a controlled dosage, digitalis is valuable in treating heart failure, but the wrong amount of foxglove can cause irregular heart function and death. Long-term use of foxglove can lead to symptoms of toxicity, including visual halos, yellow-green vision, and stomach upset.
The good news is that measuring digoxin (a form of digitalis) concentrations in the blood can help detect foxglove poisoning. If the detective and the other investigators are savvy about plants and gardens and the neighborhood dynamic, asking the right questions will uncover the reason and method of the deed. Case closed.
*Please note: This post is for entertainment purposes only.
Sheila and Charlie Kerrian thoroughly enjoy their cross-country road trips, and besides taking loads of photos of the breathtaking landscapes, have met some truly intriguing people in law enforcement. There was the newspaper owner/editor Ava Logan; the psychic puzzler, Lexi Sobado; the 1880s midwife, Rose Carroll; the vegetarian detective, Becky Greene; and the time traveling sheriff, Will Denton – an eclectic bunch of crime fighters to be sure.
This trip was all about seeing the Pacific Northwest. Sheila’s parents had lived in Tacoma, Washington, for a while and spoke fondly of their time in the area. The plan was to fly out to Seattle, stop in as many coffee shops as they could (Charlie ran out of time well before running out of coffee shops to visit) and then travel by rental car through Oregon and on to California. A break in the drive in the middle of Oregon’s majestic scenery took them to the Cascade Kitchen.
Meet Rainy Dale and friends, in ranch and horse country Oregon:
“Twenty-seven hundred miles from home, Charlie and Sheila marvel at Oregon’s land between the Cascade Mountains and the high desert. Traveling through the central part of the state showcases the transition of coastal fir, spruce and cedar giving way to pine and sage. Black-ribbed buttes thrust out of the sandy loam. The last road sign announces their entry into (fictional) Butte County.
Hunger calls and they pull off the two-lane highway in the pokey little town of Cowdry where they find an unlikely-looking diner called the Cascade Kitchen. Farmland abuts the back of the truck-choked, gravel parking lot. A gleaming red horse stands at the hitching rail. Yes, there’s a hitching rail behind the diner and this horse’s reins are loosely swirled around the thick wood crossbeam. The animal seems perfectly happy to wait there, head low, eyes half-closed, one hip cocked. Maybe the restaurant offers oatmeal to go, perhaps with extra brown sugar.
Inside, garden variety décor screams mere diner, with a wooden sign suggesting they seat themselves. The vinyl booths are dinner-rush-full, but wow—at the first table, a good old boy in overalls and a baseball cap bearing the John Deere emblem is ripping into a ruby red bell pepper with fork and knife. Wild rice, sugar snap peas, and sausage spill out. Stuffed peppers in a diner!
Two seats are open at the lunch counter next to a young woman in jeans and a flannel shirt.
Why is she biting into a hamburger when better food is served here? Charlie and Sheila wonder as they climb onto the last available twirly stools.
The young woman makes eye contact via the mirrored wall facing the lunch counter, then turns to face them.
“You’re new here. Are you moving in? D’you have horses?” She pulls a business card from her shirt pocket and slides it down the counter in front of them.
Sheila and Charlie inspect the card together.
Rainy Dale, horseshoer.
“You’re a horseshoer?” Charlie asks.
A chuckle erupts from the uniformed deputy on the other side of the young woman. Charlie and Sheila look at the mix of people sitting on Rainy Dale’s other side. Two uniformed deputies, a middle-aged man with a crew cut and a young woman with a tight French braid who looks about Rainy’s age, probably young twenties, are finishing their plates. The chuckle came from the male deputy, who nods and says, “She thinks she’s a horseshoeing detective.”
“A horseshoeing detective?” Sheila asks. “That’s a thing?”
A ponytail keeps Rainy’s long brown hair out of her plate as she leans forward and uses both hands to stuff the last bite into her mouth. She looks at Sheila in the mirrored wall and nods.
Charlie reaches for the laminated menu. One burger option is local, grass-fed beef.
A tall, blond young man in a chef’s shirt comes through the swinging doors from the kitchen, plates in each hand. “A sample of blackened spears of butternut squash drizzled in maple-infused vinegar.”
Rainy smiles and wrinkles her nose. “Guy, that looks and sounds suspiciously like vegetables.”
“I’ll try it,” the male deputy says.
Charlie studies the man’s uniform—it’s slightly different from what the woman is wearing. The man’s shoulder patch reads Deputy above the shield, Butte County below. The young woman’s sleeve has two lines above the cloth badge. Reserve Deputy.
The horseshoer and the reserve deputy give each other the stink eye in the mirror. What kind of ire lurks between them?
Guy, the cook, fires up a tiny butane hand torch that hisses as he caramelizes sugar on a small, perfect-looking crème brulée. The scent of browning sugar wafts over them, making Charlie and Sheila think of eating dessert first. Guy carries the dessert to the man at the first table.
Charlie wonders how many homicides the deputy has investigated.
“How many sworn officers are in your Sheriff’s Department?” he asks over Rainy’s head.
(This is how law enforcement officers compare department size—by the number of sworn and non-sworn employees.)
The regular deputy nods as though recognizing he’s likely talking to a brother officer. “Twelve deputies in a county of seven thousand square miles. About as many people as square miles.”
Charlie whistles. “That’s not really enough personnel for full twenty-four-hour coverage. How do you patrol that much land with so few deputies?”
The deputy jerks a thumb to the young woman seated beside him. “With reservists like her.”
The reserve deputy quits making faces at the horseshoer and sips her soda.
This is the modern American West. More going on than would appear at first glance. Maybe Charlie and Sheila will stay a night or two.”
Many thanks to Lisa Preston for stopping by and introducing Rainy Dale, horseshoer, to the Kerrian’s Notebook readers. Rainy is a truly original voice, with a talent for sizing up people and their horses. Horses kick and people get dead around her, but….. 🙂
Click on the link and let Rainy tell her story in “The Clincher.”
“The Clincher,” is the debut novel for Preston’s Rainy Dale horseshoer series. An important scene in the book mentions a practical application of the sport of “Ride & Tie,” and the photo above shows Preston competing in a real life Ride & Tie race. Although her experience and love of horses and other animals did not start out to be research for any of her books, the knowledge gained throughout her globetrotting life flows richly on the pages.
Lisa Preston began writing after careers as a fire department paramedic and a city police officer. She was first published in nonfiction, with titles on animal care, such as The Ultimate Guide to Horse Feed, Supplements and Nutrition. Her debut novel, Orchids and Stone, (Thomas & Mercer, 2016), has been described as a book club thriller, or domestic noir. Her psychological suspense novel, The Measure of the Moon, (Thomas & Mercer, 2017) was also a book club pick. The Clincher (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018) debuted her mystery series featuring a young woman horseshoer. She lives with her husband in western Washington.
Please visit www.lisapreston.com for links to her bestselling books and more about this multi-faceted author of both non-fiction (animals and their care) and fiction.
The local Police Chief has issued a BOLO. (That’s “Be On the Look Out.”)
The Chief wants everyone on active duty tonight to watch for a suspicious guy in a red suit that’s been doing a weird kind of home invasion every year all over town. Here’s the description we have so far:
The suspect has a chubby build – it’s been reported that his belly shakes a lot, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
He is most likely a senior citizen since he has a white beard and hair.
He has a big laugh that was reported as sounding like “Ho, ho, ho.”
There has been no mention of eye color, but they supposedly twinkle.
Several witnesses have mentioned a broad face, dimples, rosy cheeks, and a cherry colored nose.
As for clothes – we had a couple sit with a sketch artist and aside from the face and body type, the guy wears a red suit made of fur, but it’s really dirty – like he rolled in ashes and soot. Six other people corroborated the ID.
By the way, if you see anybody smoking a pipe, call it in. That might be our guy.
In the past, the suspect has been spotted trying to get into houses and leaving boxes behind, but he’s not breaking windows or doors. We think he must be in decent shape, because he’s been up on rooftops, and has been seen jumping down chimneys.
Be aware that he travels in a small speedy sleigh pulled by 8 tiny reindeer. The reindeer are definite accomplices and work as a team, but if you catch the lead honcho, the rest might follow.
One kid caught him inside his own house last year and tried to bribe him with cookies and milk to get him to stay, but it didn’t work. The old guy took the cookie, gave the kid a nod, rose up the chimney and got away in the sleigh.
So far, he’s not dangerous, but he has repeatedly violated the littering laws. We also have him for illegal entry, as well as disturbing the peace. We get a load of complaints every December about the clatter up on the roofs. Nobody can sleep. Plus, it’s getting embarrassing that we can’t stop him.
Let’s catch this repeat offender once and for all so we can have a good night!
Merry Christmas everyone! May you have a light heart, full of hope and kindness during this special season.
*This has been a nod to the famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” generally credited to Clement Clarke Moore.
*Photo by Patti Phillips