Artistic Murders Misfire by Mat Rand
A TRUE FACT CRIME SHORT
A scientific detective, identified with national and international law
enforcement agencies, is authority for the statement that there are at
least eighteen methods of murder that practically defy detection. Yet
the record shows that there are very few murders committed in any one of
the eighteen ways that go unpunished. In other words the old adage,
"Murder Will Out," is true according to the record in about ninety
percent of all felonious killings.
To commit a murder in any one of the mentioned eighteen ways it would be
necessary for the murderer to be a reasonably advanced scientist. Few
possess the technical knowledge necessary to destroy their fellow beings
by these methods. Nevertheless, all eighteen of the methods mentioned
have been tried from time to time with varying success in escaping
It would appear that persons of scientific attainment could be counted
upon not to attempt murder. This is not true. Education is not a
one-hundred percent deterrent to crime. Educated persons have only a
slightly less average as potential murderers than the illiterate. Not
even motives differ except in cases of murder for robbery. Considering
robbery as greed this difference is removed. Jealousy figures as a
motive in a large number of murders and among the educated murderers it
Considering murder—for that matter all forms of crime—as an art it
would seem likely that the criminals of education or scientific
attainment would excel as master craftsmen. This isn't true either. Just
the opposite prevails. In practically all crimes attempted by scientists
they bungle their jobs completely. The record proves positively that as
criminals scientists are flunkies without a single recorded exception.
Where a murder is committed by a method that destroys its own evidence
or fails to leave what might be called a "trace" or clue detectives are
hampered but not necessarily baffled. In these cases, almost without
exception, it is circumstances that bring the criminal to punishment.
While a jury might refuse to convict on circumstantial evidence a
detective is not so deterred. The scientific detective turns science
against the scientific murderer. He batters the suspect with
circumstantial evidence until in nine out of ten cases the scientific
suspect weakens and acknowledges his crime. Circumstantial evidence
backed by a confession that checks on all angles is about all any jury
needs to be convinced of guilt.
When your correspondent began to dig into this subject of artistic or
scientific murder Government detectives—themselves master
scientists—made a request. They asked that we be "a little vague" in
the use of proper names and in description of the eighteen murder
methods most difficult of detection. So, we will name no chemicals or
poisons but confine ourselves to effects and processes.
The commonest method is the complete destruction of the corpse—the
corpus delicti. Cremation is the usual means resorted to. The body is
burned in a furnace or on a pyre. Effort is sometimes made to make
identification impossible by burning the body or parts of it in gasoline
flames. The scientist has no edge on his uneducated fellow in this type
of murder case. He practically never is able to remain with the burning
corpse long enough to do a perfect job.
In many cases complete dissolution of the corpse is attempted by
immersion in acids. There are acids that completely dissolve bone tissue
and even clothing but circumstances usually reveal these crimes.
Accessibility to such chemicals and procurement of such chemicals
usually lead to a search. The search usually leads to the finding of
bone fragments, identifiable by means of buttons, bits of jewelry,
metallic dentistry and other bits of evidence which escapes or rather
resists the acid effects.
And now we get into some deep scientific water. It is actually possible
by the exact and accurate dosage of a certain poison, over a long
period, to produce death "by typhoid fever." This poison, a common and
easily available one shows up like an electric sign when not
scientifically administered. But when given in frequent and exact small
quantities it produces every symptom of typhoid. Quite often the corpse
is buried as a typhoid victim.
In most of these "typhoid" cases the motive is insurance and the
murderer encouraged by success in one case attempts others. Sometimes
there are a score of victims. In practically all cases the murderer is
convicted in the long run. The circumstances that usually bring about
detection are doctors and nurses and neighbors. They will remember that
the murderer was always quite enthusiastic about insurance. A nurse will
remember that the murderer insisted on preparing the victim's food.
Sometimes a druggist will remember selling some poison to kill a dog or
as an insecticide.
There is, too, a gas that administered in exactly correct quantities
will produce "tuberculosis." This gas kills instantly unless
scientifically administered. A small quantity will cause the lungs to
"rot" gradually bringing death in from five to thirty days with all the
symptoms of rapid or "galloping" consumption. Doctors have so diagnosed
such cases but circumstances usually bring the crime to light. First
among these is that the gas is rare, ordinarily. It can be home-made but
only by a chemist with a well-grounded knowledge.
It would appear that, among poisons, the most powerful would be the
hardest to detect. This because a small dose would leave less trace than
a large one. It follows only in some cases. One very powerful poison
absolutely defies detection. Another, and the most deadly poison known
to man reveals itself instantly. This second poison perfumes the corpse
and leaves it smelling with a fruity odor. Any doctor or chemist can
identify it instantly regardless of how small the dose might have been.
In the event of the first named powerful poison—the one that defies
detection—there is no odor or other discernible indication of any
nature. When scientifically administered the fatal dose is less than one
billionth the weight of an ordinary human body. Thus, to trace it, the
autopsy doctors would have to find, separate or segregate a billionth
bit of the mass under observation. The body completely absorbs the fatal
chemical and so—.
This poison has its uses but is rare and impossible to obtain even by
most chemists. There are few dispensing druggists who have scales
sensitive enough to weigh the dosage of the chemical. Even for doctors
to obtain it is an undertaking involving considerable red tape. But it
has been used by murderers—scientific murderers. Circumstances in these
cases have proven that the murderer possessed the drug and had a motive
to use it. Confession has followed circumstantial evidence in some cases
and in others conviction has been obtained on expert testimony backed by
positive circumstantial conditions, such as the presence of the corpse
and proof of the ante-mortem possession of the fatal drug by the
A fiction story of the football grid, some years ago, involved the use
of a solution to produce a fatal gas under conditions of bodily heat
produced by violent exercise. This was authentic so far as action and
effects were concerned. In the football story the victim's sweater was
soaked in a deadly solution. Under the heat of the exercise during the
football game the victim's body generated the gas which he inhaled. The
gas stimulated his heart action to the point where a blood vessel was
ruptured causing death.
The actual case from which this fiction story was borrowed involved a
man, a wife, and the wife's clandestine violinist lover. The wife
knitted the sweater for her admirer. Her husband dipped it in chemical
solution and dried it while his wife was absent. When she returned she
expressed the sweater to her admirer. He wore it under his shirt. His
body heat produced the gas which was inhaled by the violinist in
sufficient quantities to cause death.
The hypodermic needle is a weapon of death which has caused autopsy
physicians trouble since its invention. Murder by the hypodermic needle,
no doubt, would escape detection often enough were it not for
circumstances. Such circumstances of death are ever in the mind of
autopsy doctors. Where evidence warrants it corpses are subjected to
microscopic and meticulous search to locate a hypodermic puncture. And
they can be located even when hidden back of an eyelid as was the case
in one instance, that of an infant. The suspected murderer, in this
case, a colored mother, died in an insane asylum.
In cases such as have been described here readers might wonder why
names, dates and places are not revealed. They might ask why scientific
detectives desire the text to be vague. The reason is quite simple and
understandable once it is explained. Even where conviction is obtained
in such cases it is only after the most laborious and expensive
processes and investigations. Living relatives of the accused in each
case might be moved to bring suit on any of many grounds. This would
result in more long, laborious and expensive litigation—to the
Government, the writer, the publisher, doctors, detectives and what not?
This thing has been going on for centuries. As far back as history
records mysterious poisons have been a common means of murder. There are
thousands of poisons. Some of these, products of the jungles held secret
by savage tribes, are still little known to or understood by scientists.
Poisons are given up by the earth, secreted by plants and by animals.
They are produced by combining chemicals and by chemical reactions. In
nature they are begotten by elemental distillation, by the action of the
sun's rays, by the excrement of animals including the fishes, by the
promulgation of minute organisms, and in a myriad of mysterious ways.
Some of these processes are well understood and some little understood
by man. As is the case with electrical and other forms of scientific
research the field of scientific criminal detection hardly has been
scratched. Research is constant and no doubt will be perpetual. No one
knows where any sort of research will lead. Scientific detectives call
attention to this fact:
"Such research is valuable not only in the matter of law
enforcement but might prove of inestimable value in other fields.
It might lead to a discovery that would end cancer or one that
would end war."