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.
Our local TV station anchors mentioned an upcoming segment dealing with Seniors who were being targeted by telemarketing scammers. They stated that law enforcement was very concerned that scams against the elderly were on the rise. Who would do such a thing to people at a more vulnerable stage in their lives? Unprincipled, greedy people who see our Senior Citizens as easy marks.
The phony telemarketers promise ‘Senior Emily’ a “super-duper whatsit” for a mere twenty dollars. The caller lets Emily in on a *secret* – this is half the normal price for this item and she is one of a few handful of lucky people to get this offer – then asks for a credit card # to expedite the sale. “We need to add shipping charges to get it to your house by tomorrow.” Sounds reasonable to Emily. Tomorrow comes and there is no product on the doorstep. But, the scammer now has the credit card # and is already buying electronics and whatever else his/her heart fancies. They won’t be delivered to Emily either.
Our Emily mentions to her son that she never got her half-price whatsit and alarm bells go off as the conversation continues. The credit card is cancelled and counseling is given, but not before thousands of dollars of merchandise has been purchased.
Sadly, this happens day after day all over the country, and is such a big problem in some areas that law enforcement has task forces whose sole purpose is to catch the scammers.
This seems like a simple problem for the family to handle. Have a chat with the Emily in your life about not giving credit card numbers over the phone to anyone? Done. The problem goes away, right? Except that most ‘Emilys’ never mention the phone call until the bill comes in. The scammers keep spending until the credit card limit is reached or the card is closed. These days, credit card companies don’t hold their customers liable for fraudulent purchases, but there are other phone scams that have the potential of wiping out Emily’s life savings with no possibility of ever recovering the money.
The scams include Medicare and other insurance scams, cemetery plot purchases, investment schemes, reverse mortgages, lottery scams, and in my opinion, the lousiest of all, the “relative” scam. In this one, a supposed relative calls the Senior on the phone and without identifying themselves, asks if they know who is calling. The Senior makes a guess from among the younger relatives who would call and the caller now has a real name to work with. Now they can impersonate the relative and ask for money from the Senior for a car repair, late rent, etc. and arrange to have the money sent by wire somewhere. And, sweet Emily promises not to tell the rest of the family that ‘the relative’ is experiencing tough times.
How despicable to prey on family connections!
There are many, many more scams involving Senior Citizens. The National Council on Aging lists the most common, and several of these have multiple variations.
And get this: According to the National Council on Aging, 60% of the financial abuse against Seniors is perpetrated by members of the victim’s own family. Not-so-nice children or siblings or grandchildren cash social security checks and keep part or all of the money. Grocery money goes missing, and the list goes on. Seniors that live alone are especially vulnerable if they have caregivers with them for part of the day who so very ‘kindly’ offer to help with finances.
So, what is an honest family member to do to protect Emily? The next post will reveal some tips.
P.S. The ‘Emily’ in the photo has a lovely family that takes excellent care of her needs.
Thanks to the readers around the world, we have reached another milestone. This is page # 200 for Kerrian’s Notebook. 🙂 Hear Hammett barking? And the shovels clanking?
When Kerrian’s Notebook came into being, Charlie and Sheila Kerrian never expected to be around for 200 pages, not counting the additional posts devoted to our famous (or is that infamous?) Visiting Detectives. That’s a ton of cases, a ton of fun, facts, and a few dead bodies.
In honor of that milestone, we have come up with a few more ways to die an unnatural death, bringing the total on our deadly lists to a lethal 200.
Unnatural death is a category used by coroners and Medical Examiners for classifying human deaths that can’t really be described as death by natural causes. It might cover events such as accidents, homicide, clueless behavior, being attacked by wildlife, or even war.
Keep in mind that law enforcement personnel only investigate these deaths if foul play is suspected. Criminal intent is not always apparent, and autopsies are only conducted when suspicious circumstances surround the corpse’s demise.
Many thanks to all of you that contributed to our earlier lists. It wouldn’t have been as much fun without your (sometimes nefarious) methods of offing some unlucky souls. 🙂
Take a look:
and now… 20 more ways to die an unnatural death.
All true, folks, but #194? Maybe that explains all the Hallmark TV episodes where the good guys are hiding in closets with LOTS of air holes.
The real question: Do you have friends that will help carry the shovels and pitchforks? 😉
If you are a writer and have used any of the ‘200 ways’ in your work, let us know in the comments and you can plug your book here. 🙂
*Photos by Patti Phillips, but nothing dastardly happened while she took them and no bodies were left behind. Promise.
*Kerrian’s Notebook, and all of its content, is intended for entertainment purposes only.