The following quote appears after the first few pages of Agatha Christie’s first Poirot mystery – The Mysterious Affair at Styles:
“………………….., owing to the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the medical profession, there were probably countless cases of poisons quite unsuspected.”
I was reading some material on Sunanda Pushkar – Shashi Tharoor’s wife, who was found dead two years ago to the day. No one yet knows what killed her (media reports the incident as if they know who killed her but they would not tell their readers or viewers!). The only conclusion they could draw so far is that it was not a natural death. So, it was plain murder and poison is suspected. Agatha Christie wrote her first Poirot mystery in 1916 and at the time, there might have been poisons as yet uncommon. But this is 2016 and science has made such serious strides that it is unbelievable that the substance which caused Sunanda Pushkar’s death remains elusive even to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Due to the high-profile nature of the victim and her family, it will in all probability be hushed up and consigned to the flames of history as an unsolved crime!
While on the topic of death by poison, I found some curious other cases. Take a look at this one: In 1966, a lady named Janie Lou Gibbs was bereaved when her husband suddenly passed away. A few months later, her second and youngest sons also passed away in strange circumstances. In 1967, her eldest son as well as only grandson (who was just a month old) died weeks apart from each other. The authorities became suspicious and on investigation found that Janie had poisoned all of the victims with rat poison apparently to collect $31,000 in life insurance claims. Janie was labeled insane and was eventually convicted of her crimes.
That one is horrific but luckily solved! There are a couple of unsolved ones that sends chills down your spine! Jane Stanford, one of the co-founders of the famed Stanford University, was the subject of one of those. In 1905, she vomited after drinking water at her home. When analyzed, the water was said to contain strychnine, a deadly poison. A month later, while on a trip to Hawaii, she complained of a stomach bug and asked her assistant to prepare some bicarbonate of soda. After drinking the soda, she started behaving strangely and suffered spasms before succumbing to death. Strychnine was found both in her body as well as the soda which she had consumed. However, some higher-ups in the University contested the poisoning claim and the death was not investigated. This remains an unsolved mystery even to this day.
The second incident occurred in 1948 in Japan. A man identifying himself as Dr. Yamaguchi Jiro appeared in a local branch of a bank and gave the employees a pill to combat a recent dysentery epidemic. All 16 employees of the bank consumed the pill and were immediately disabled. The man stole 160,000 yen from the bank and made his exit. Apparently, the employees were poisoned and 12 out of the 16 died as a result. Investigation revealed that the name the poisoner had used was fake. Their suspicions turned to another person called Sadamichi Hirasawa who had suddenly become rich. Hirasawa was subjected to intense torture by the police and confessed to the crime. However, to this day there is no clear evidence that he did anything of the sort and his family believes he confessed under duress. Many in Japan still believe that the culprit was somebody else; it has not been found out who or the name of the poison that was given to the bank employees!
Well, these are truly shocking incidents and there might be many such murders by poison hidden among the several deaths that have happened unnaturally and suddenly. I really hope that Sunanda Pushkar’s death does not go unsolved and the police will identify and arrest and the courts will punish whoever committed the heinous crime. I also hope the name of the poison which took her life would be revealed. But this is India, and you never know. And yet, the hope remains. How I wish there was a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot or a Byomkesh Bakshi to solve this!