Our local TV station provider has one channel dedicated to movies from the late 1940s, 50s and 60s – mostly westerns and mysteries. Last week, a screening of “Arsenic and Old Lace” was in the listing, so we grabbed some snacks and settled in for an evening of murder most nefarious, with a side of laughter.
After discovering a body in his aunts’ house, the sweet little old ladies reveal to their nephew (played by the horrified Cary Grant) that they had spiked their dead guest’s elderberry wine with arsenic, strychnine, and a “just a pinch of cyanide.” And there are more bodies in the cellar.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” was a hit on Broadway in the early 1940s before making it to the big screen, where it became a success as well.
There are several other popular movies that have featured poison as a method of dispatching the victims, but instead of the tried and true ASC (arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide) combo, employ poisonous mushrooms. The victims eat their way to nausea, gastric distress, and death, instead of drinking a ‘lovely’ cup of ‘tea.’
1971’s “The Beguiled” (remake 2017): Confederate soldier takes refuge at a girl’s school, but when he betrays two of the women, he is fed toxic mushrooms.
2017’s “Phantom Thread”: dress designer falls in love with the wrong woman. She makes him toxic mushroom tea, nurses him back to health, and when he doesn’t do what she expects, cooks him a mushroom infused meal. He remains sick enough for her to control him.
Important dating rule to remember: if your girlfriend cooks for you, always treat her well.
Mushroom poisoning symptoms range from the less severe upset stomach to renal failure and death, which may take days. It all depends on which mushroom is chosen for the deed. Agatha Christie had her favorite chemical poisons in her books and selected them according to whether or not the poison was readily available to the criminal and how much time was needed for the bad guy to get away. Read “What poisons were in Agatha Christie’s books?” here.
All poisonous mushrooms cause vomiting and abdominal pain. Testing and experience has shown that mushrooms causing symptoms within two hours are less dangerous than those that cause symptoms after six hours.
Other movies with poisons in the forefront:
In 1949’s “D.O.A.” (remake 1988): a man, lethally poisoned, rushes around trying to find out who poisoned him and why.
“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” (1995) was based on a real case. The “Teacup Murderer” kills two of his co-workers by poisoning their tea with thallium, a highly toxic ingredient used at the camera factory where he works. He continues to select and at least sicken targeted people until new cups are put in place, confusing his plan.
I mentioned “White Oleander,” a movie from 2002, in Kerrian’s Notebook, Volume 2: Fun, Facts and a Few Dead Bodies. Oleanders grow all over the southern United States, so it’s a really good idea to stay on great terms with that neighbor with the oleander hedges. Don’t bug her about returning the weed whacker. Seriously.
Photo credits: taken by Patti Phillips at The Ferguson House, Antiques and Collectibles in Cameron, NC.
Sheila here. This morning, I finished trimming one of the backyard crepe myrtles and hauled the branches out to the curb. I had to use a reciprocating saw to cut through part of the tree, but was able to use a handheld clipper for some of the smaller sections. I felt that clipper fall out of my pocket while I stacked the debris at the curb. It wasn’t going anywhere, so I finished dragging and piling the branches before I looked for the wayward tool.
Guess what? It took me a few minutes to find it, even though I basically knew where it had fallen and had a limited area in which to search.
We frequently watch TV shows and movies telling the tales of people that go missing in the night, people who might have wandered off from a campsite, people or children who might have been separated from a touring group, but who then get lost. Nothing nefarious suspected, but the person hasn’t turned up in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they tripped and fell, hit their head, and became unconscious.
There are search and rescue groups organized for just this purpose, and most of the members are well-trained volunteers. See Fiona Quinn’s article here.
We, the public, think a body in the woods would be easy to find, unless buried in the ground, or hidden behind a rock, so why do we need all the people and the dogs walking close to each other in a well-defined, mapped out grid?
How hard could it be?
Charlie’s crime oriented brain has rubbed off on me, so this is what I did. I stuffed an old pair of jeans, stuck one of my bright pink wellies at the end of a leg, piled the branches on top of ‘the body part’ and took photos. My apologies to the new neighbors who don’t know what Charlie and I do in our spare time.
Can’t possibly miss that bright pink wellie I showed you at the beginning?
This is what you’re searching for:
The ‘leg’ is fully visible from this angle, right?
All I did was walk to the other side of the brush pile. A glimpse of the jeans can be seen, but not the bright pink wellie.
I did not remove ‘the body part’ before taking this picture, I promise you. I knew right where the jeans and wellie were and could not see them. Standing right over the ‘crime scene,’ and just because I was at a different angle, and a few steps in a different direction, the area looked quite innocent. Just another gardening pile, in the middle of a nice neighborhood, waiting for pickup from the city refuse truck.
This is why we need Search and Rescue teams walking close together, looking at every blade of grass in front of their feet. In this case, if the ‘body’ had been in the woods, the dogs would probably be called out as well.
Many thanks to all the hardworking volunteers who train vigorously in tough terrain to get certified and are ready to help whenever called upon.
Disclaimer: I did not use a real body part. The jeans were stuffed with t-shirts. Seriously. 😉
More than ever, it seems as if readers and professional writers that follow the Notebook most enjoy learning about the nuts and bolts of crime as well as the crime fighters that take care of the bad guys. It was fun to see that two of our (always taste-tested) recipes made the list this year as well.
Here are the Top Ten Fan Favorites for 2017, listed in reverse order. Click on the links to re-read the articles (or enjoy them for the first time) and let us know in the comments whether your faves made the list. Happy sleuthing, one and all. 🙂
And the most read new post of 2017?
1. “200 ways to die an unnatural death.” https://bit.ly/2jmDIeE
Take a look at “Kerrian’s Notebook, Volume 2: Fun, facts, and a few dead bodies,” just released. Download to your e-reader and enjoy! 🙂
Happy New Year, everyone!